It’s Super Bowl or bust this year for the Eagles, who have the makings of their finest roster of the free agency era.
Saturday, they unveiled their first 53-man roster, a strong, deep cast that likely will be improved upon as early as Sunday. Because right after taking care of the most heartbreaking chores in their business, the personnel department, led by executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, began in earnest to scan a waiver wire suddenly flooded with more than 1,000 players.
“It’s a quick 24 hours, and again, affected by the fact that we play on Thursday,” Roseman said.
There’s always room for improvement. But with this Eagles team, there’s not much.
Running back? Not really. Keeping Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles in bubble wrap this summer should pay dividends for Pederson. They also have Corey Clement, a pro’s pro who is better at this level than he was in college.
Some people may not like Wendell Smallwood, but he’s a solid fourth back who’s figured things out with his body and how to avoid the nagging things that kept him mostly off the field for this first two seasons.
They have to feel pretty good about their 1-2 punch of Zach Ertz and freshly drafted Dallas Goedert. Just to be safe, they added a slick veteran with good hands in Richard Rodgers.
Certainly not the best in the game, as some contend. And maybe not even the best in the NFC East. But realistically they’re not going to do much better than their starters (tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, guards Stefen Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks and center Jason Kelce) and no less than four backups with valuable starting experience.
Put it this way: The Dallas Cowboys would be foolish not to jump on at least one of the playmakers — Markus Wheaton, Bryce Treggs, Rashard Davis or Greg Ward — among those who did not earn one of the six spots the Eagles filled on Saturday.
Hmmm, let’s see: Fletcher Cox, Haloti Ngata, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Michael Bennett. That’s some good football there. And it will get better when Tim Jernigan returns from his back injury.
OK, yeah, this is a potential trouble spot because of inexperience behind solid, proven starters Nigel Bradham (who technically is not on the roster now because of a one-game suspension he must serve this week) and Jordan Hicks.
Or is it?
“The way the league is going, the linebacker position has really changed,” Roseman said. “You’re really in nickel 60-plus percent of the time, and so it’s almost become a sub role, a third linebacker role.”
In the secondary, there’s excellent continuity with proven players. Starting outside corners Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills return. So do their top three safeties: Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod and Corey Graham. And then there’s corner Sidney Jones, who’s healthy now and would have been a high first-round pick last year had he been healthy then.
Their kicking and punting positions are manned by some of the best young talent available in Jake Elliott and Cameron Johnston. Both will be weapons.
Once again the Eagles are loaded.
Once again they were forced to say goodbye to players they absolutely believe could help them remain champions if needed.
Roseman was asked if this year’s roster is better than last year’s.
“I think that — I was going to say, ‘Proof is in the pudding,’ but I feel like I’ve used that before,” he joked. “Have I used that before? I’ve used it? The proof is in the pudding.”
Jokes aside, it is the best position the Eagles have been in going into a season in the modern era.
And it comes right after the most depressing time.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz on Monday offered a brilliant and heartfelt take about roster decisions. It should be required reading for every NFL team.
“People don’t make teams for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “Whether it’s not a good scheme fit, maybe a numbers position or maybe an injury. It’s very rare that a guy just flat-out isn’t talented enough. I mean, that certainly happens, but perseverance is a big thing.
“I think the only thing I’d say to people on the outside looking in, I saw something where somebody called somebody a scrub that was in a preseason game. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. All these guys are here for a reason. All of them are here on their own merit. All of them have ability, that in the right circumstances and with enough perseverance and maybe being fortunate a little bit here and there, they can all get some traction.
“It’s without a doubt the worst day of this job to see guys that work as hard as everybody else that literally don’t get on that bus. You certainly feel for those guys, but at the same time you’re also appreciative for what they’ve done and know that they’ve played some role in the team.”