Eagles cut 9 to get down to 53

Posted: September 02, 2013

There were several surprises when the Eagles announced their 53-man roster Saturday, but nit-picking over why unknowns such as Jeff Maehl beat out Greg Salas or Casey Matthews survived and Chris McCoy didn't just illustrated the lack of depth on the team.

The Eagles are building from the bottom up, even if there is some optimism about new coach Chip Kelly and his offense eight days before the regular season opens in Washington.

Asked if he thought the Eagles had enough depth to win games this season, general manager Howie Roseman responded with a question of his own.

"Which side of the ball are you talking about?" he said Saturday.

The Eagles have two starting-caliber quarterbacks in Michael Vick and Nick Foles, three talented running backs in LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, and Chris Polk, three tight ends capable of starting, and an offensive line that has an intriguing mix of young and old.

"I'm excited about that," Roseman said.

But what about on defense?

"I do think that we have some good players on that side of the ball," Roseman said. "If they play at a high level we'll have a chance to compete."

If is the key word there. Aside from defensive end Fletcher Cox and inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks, second-year players who Roseman said should "be big-time players" in the NFL, there are many question marks.

Cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher and safety Patrick Chung comprise three-fourths of a secondary and are free-agent castoffs from other teams. And Nate Allen has yet to win the other safety spot from rookie Earl Wolff.

Aside from Connor Barwin, also signed as a free agent this offseason, former defensive ends Trent Cole and Brandon Graham are the only outside linebackers on the roster. The Eagles are transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4, but there are many holes because they were not filled by the 2010-11 drafts.

"When you have drafts that don't work out," Roseman said, "you got to find those players somewhere else."

Graham and Allen were drafted first and second in 2010, but third-round defensive end Daniel Teo-Nesheim is long gone. From 2011, second-round safety Jaiquawn Jarrett was cut last September and third-round corner Curtis Marsh is hanging by a thread.

Most significant, the Eagles parted with guard Danny Watkins, their top pick in 2011, on Saturday. He joins other infamous Eagles first-round busts such as Kevin Allen, Jon Harris, and Jerome McDougle.

There were a number of now-obvious reasons Watkins didn't work out - he was drafted at 26, played football for only four years - but Roseman said that Watkins succumbed to the pressures of being a top pick.

"I think getting away from Danny Watkins the first-round pick and just being Danny Watkins will really help him," Roseman said.

Some team will likely take a flyer on Watkins, just as the Eagles will be combing the waiver wire starting Sunday at noon. Roseman made it clear that bubble players who survive the first deadline shouldn't rest.

"How it looks today, to tell you that is how it's going to look in Week 10, we're going to be constantly on the lookout," he said.

The Eagles are fourth on the waiver wire pecking order. They need help at cornerback, outside linebacker, safety, and on the offensive line. Six cornerbacks are still on the roster, but Brandon Hughes and Marsh are recovering from surgeries following hand fractures.

"They're not long-term injuries at all," Roseman said. "We expect them both back shortly."

Chris McCoy, formerly of the CFL, did not make the cut at outside linebacker. He recorded two sacks and forced a fumble in the preseason finale at the New York Jets, but Roseman intimated that McCoy, along with other fatalities, didn't have an expansive skill set.

"When Chip talked about the versatility on the back of the roster, we didn't want to duplicate a lot of skills," Roseman said. "Maybe some guys that played well in the preseason were duplicating the skills of guys that we had."

So Maehl, who Roseman said could play receiver both outside and in the slot, trumped Salas and undrafted rookie Russell Shepard. And Emil Igwenagu, who Roseman said was the best blocker among the tight ends, beat out Clay Harbor.

Matthews didn't beat out another inside linebacker, per se. He made the team, as did Emmanuel Acho and undrafted rookie Jake Knott. Roseman pointed to Matthews' versatility as a plus and said he could play outside linebacker in a pinch.

Chung, Maehl, and Matthews gave the Eagles three players who played at Oregon under Kelly.

Knott was one of three undrafted rookies to make the team. Defensive lineman Damion Square and tackle Matt Tobin were the others. A total of nine rookies are on the roster. There are 20 new players overall.

Typically, there is a lot of turnover with new coaches and on teams coming off 4-12 seasons.

"We'll continue to look for ways to upgrade this team," Roseman said. "It's a constant evaluation."

Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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