August 27, 2023
The preseason is over, final cuts are trickling in as the Eagles whittle their roster down to 53 names, and the wait to that first game in New England is only getting shorter.
It's almost go time, but we're not quite there yet.
Until then, here's what they're saying about the Birds...
In a league-wide review of all 259 of April's draft picks, ESPN's roster of writers published a team-by-team breakdown heading into Week 1, and collectively – accounting for camp and preseason performances – the Eagles' rookie class looks like the one most ready to make some immediate noise.
First-round picks Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith are obviously the ones leading the charge through the pass rush, as ESPN's Eagles beat Tim McManus wrote below, but on the whole, the majority of the team's seven draft selections from the spring are either in a position to contribute right away (Carter, Smith, and Sydney Brown) or sit behind and learn from some of the league's best (Tyler Steen, Kelee Ringo, Tanner McKee, and Moro Ojomo).
Really, with so much veteran wisdom to go around and arriving within a Super Bowl-contending window, Philadelphia is probably one of the best places for a rookie to be.
Round 1 (No. 9): Jalen Carter, DT. Carter looks poised to make an instant impact. His number of "wow" plays has shot up over the past couple of weeks, most notably when he put All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio on his back during joint practices with the Browns. Carter started the summer working with the third-team offense, but he is now mixing in with the starters and is expected to be a regular part of the rotation starting in the season opener against the Patriots. "The biggest thing is just seeing him go out and destroy people. And being a pro. He's soaking it up and he's learning each day," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said.
Round 1 (No. 30): Nolan Smith, OLB. Smith has been one of training camp's biggest standouts. He is lightning-quick around the edge and has the motor to consistently finish plays. Injuries have sidelined Haason Reddick for much of the summer, allowing Smith to get a bunch of reps with the first-team defense. He is on track to be a part of defensive coordinator Sean Desai's rotation right away. "Man, the kid is a sponge," Desai said. "He asks questions, he's watching, he's learning. He's another guy who has been having a good camp." [ESPN+, $]
Tanner McKee has looked great through training camp and the preseason as the third-string QB. Marcus Mariota, as Jalen Hurts' backup, has not.
This has sparked buzz over whether McKee should actually jump ahead of Mariota on the depth chart in what will (hopefully) be the closest thing the Eagles ever get to a quarterback controversy for quite some time.
Eric Edholm over at NFL.com took the conversation a step further though, laying out a case for the Eagles to try and trade Mariota, after having just signed him in the spring, or to just cut him entirely.
Who says the backup quarterback is the most popular man in town? That doesn't appear to be the case in Philadelphia, where Jalen Hurts is adored but his prospective backup has become the focus of consternation this preseason.
Mariota initially appeared to be a smart addition as Hurts' backup this offseason, despite his controversial departure from Atlanta. But after two lackluster preseason outings and a series of rough camp reports, Mariota's job feels at risk. Part of that has to do with the work of impressive sixth-round rookie Tanner McKee, who is stating his case of the QB2 job.
The Eagles signed Mariota to a $5 million contract, although they'd incur a 2023 salary-cap hit of about $1.9 million if they cut him, according to Over The Cap. Not exactly small potatoes, but getting the backup-QB spot right is what matters most in a season where the Eagles believe they can vie for a Super Bowl title. After all, they weathered Hurts' two-game absence last season and nearly won it all. If the coaches aren't confident in Mariota, this should not be a financially motivated decision; they should trust their instincts and just cut him. [NFL.com]
My feelings on that matter, personally, run very much in line with our own Shamus Clancy's. Keep Mariota as the backup, and in the event that he does have to play, give it a week to build a proper game plan around his strengths on the ground, but do so with a short leash.
McKee is promising and probably on track to be the Eagles' backup QB next year, but I wouldn't cut your other option out entirely just because his development might be ahead of schedule.
The Eagles are paying Mariota $5 million, after all, and besides, you're gonna need three quarterbacks. Don't be like the 49ers (but also don't be like the 49ers by having a backup tight end block the other team's leading pass rusher).
When the clock hit zero on the Eagles' final preseason game Thursday night, so began the nerve-racking wait for all the players on the roster bubble.
It can be a taxing and emotionally draining couple of days standing by to see if your NFL dreams have either become reality, taken a setback, or possibly ended entirely, and it's a feeling only few in the world can ever relate to.
But Josh Tolentino over at The Inquirer tried to share a window into that world, interviewing a few Eagles hopefuls on their perspective through that anxious 24-48 hours.
Here was reserve offensive tackle Fred Johnson's, who latched on to the Eagles last November and for the first time in his career, signed a multi-year contract after getting released a day prior:
“After five years, I was wondering, ‘if I was a journeyman?’” he said. “This is the best opportunity I’ve had in my five years of playing where there’s no politics or anything. Everybody gets a shot; everybody gets a chance, and I took my chance and ran with it.
“It’s been the most locked-in camp I think I’ve had. I did whatever they asked me to do…The way [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] taught me was what I needed for my body type. He honed in with what I’m gifted with…I came in when they were still undefeated [last season] and I kind of questioned, ‘Why did they bring me in?’ But their belief and passion with how this team goes — you’ve got to trust the coaches and what Stout was teaching.
“It’s a great feeling. Honestly, everywhere else I’ve been — I’ve been waived; I’ve been picked back up and waived again. It’s only so much you can do before you start thinking, ‘Damn, am I really worth it?’ When I came in here, I took the opportunity. To feel wanted, it motivated me that much more to go hard and make this home.” [The Inquirer]
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