When the Eagles face the Jets Thursday night, several of the compelling storylines of this offseason will be either completed, or sitting on the bench. Sam Bradford, Carson Wentz and a host of starters will not feature in the game.
That doesn’t mean the game isn’t worth paying attention to, as everyone is hungrily eyeing the Sept. 11 season opener. Here are a couple storylines vital to the Eagles, and one competition to keep an eye on in their opponent’s camp:
Who stays, who goes
The latest round of roster cuts included a rather shocking sampling of veterans on the Eagles’ roster, although after two offseasons of Chip Kelly, no one could be blamed for reading the list without batting an eye.
Rueben Randle and Chris Givens, the two biggest free agent signings at receiver, are gone. More importantly, they’re gone while several undrafted free agents remain. That speaks volumes. Randle had at least 600 receiving yards the last three seasons with the Giants, and 20 touchdowns in four seasons in the league. Givens had 353 yards last season, more than any Eagles receiver not named Jordan Matthews. He was supposed to be the deep threat Bradford could ignore every game.
Randle had five catches this preseason, none for longer than 7 yards. Givens finally got his first catch against the Colts. Their absence (and Paul Turner’s continued presence) is a great argument for how merit matters for keeping your job on Doug Pederson’s team. Turner has 11 catches for 99 yards.
But their release, along with that of defensive lineman Mike Martin, is also a shocking dismissal of many of the depth free agent signings made this summer. At defensive tackle as well, their are several undrafted free agents now vying for Martin’s spot along with Beau Allen and Taylor Hart. A young team just got younger. Givens was already the oldest wide receiver on the team at 26.
A lot of roster spots on this team were predicted to go to veterans by default. The Eagles just showed that’s not the case. Watch Thursday night to see who gets those final spots.
It’s all about the Chase
With Bradford resting and Wentz still injured, this will be our most extensive glimpse at Chase Daniel. Daniel’s main selling point thus far has been as a mentor to both Bradford and Wentz as the team installs Pederson’s offense. But if he has to earn some of his considerable salary on the field, it is less clear what he has to offer.
Following the abysmal protection he was offered from the second team offensive line in preseason Week 1, Daniel has steadily improved this preseason. While the “it’s just preseason” retort might be uttered, when a player has 38 pass attempts this preseason and 77 attempts in seven seasons, it’s valuable evaluation time.
Another performance like the one he turned in against the Colts (9-for-12, 104 yards, TD) would go a long way towards instilling confidence in Eagles fans that Daniel can deliver if he has to step in this season. If you’re not already well-familiar with why it’s likely Daniel might have to play this season, you must have come upon an article about an Eagles preseason game accidentally.
Meet the Jets
Tom Brady’s four game suspension opens the door for a serious challenge to be mounted in the AFC East, where the Patriots have won 12 of the last 13 division titles. The Jets, now with Ryan Fitzpatrick back in the fold, are the natural choice for challenger. They beat the Patriots in December but finished two games back in the division and missed the playoffs. They beat the Eagles 24-17 in Week 3 of the 2015 season.
While the Jets are a team built to win right now, most of the veterans contributing to that will, like the veteran Birds, be on the sideline Thursday. The battle taking place on the field will be between young quarterbacks Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg.
Since drafting Hackenberg in the second round and resigning Fitzpatrick, the Jets have four quarterbacks on their roster. And it isn’t easy to figure out whether they’ll keep all four or, if one is cut, which one it will be.
Fitzpatrick threw for 31 touchdowns and 3,905 yards a year ago, so he’s in. It’s hard to imagine cutting a quarterback you just spent a second round pick on as well, barring a Johnny Manziel-esque scenario. That certainly hasn’t developed around Hackenberg, so one assumes he’s safe as well.
That leaves Petty, entering his second year in the league after being drafted in the fourth round out of Baylor, and Geno Smith, entering his fourth season and the final year of his rookie contract. The most likely scenario may be the Jets trying to trade one of these two, so Petty may be auditioning for other teams (hello Minnesota) as well as the Jets.