PHILADELPHIA - Teams that still have something to play for with one game remaining don’t typically shuffle the roster to the extent that the Eagles did on Tuesday, with two additions and two subtractions.
The Eagles’ season, though, has been anything but typical. They have made 46 personnel moves since Sept. 1. That’s more than a month’s worth in just over a three-month span.
Here’s what happened the day before Christmas:
Subtractions: Running back Jay Ajayi was released and cornerback Ronald Darby was placed on Injured Reserve.
Additions: Receiver Deontay Burnett was promoted from the practice squad and tight end Richard Rodgers was signed from the free agent heap.
What the subtractions mean
Ajayi clearly had nothing left to offer a team that has gotten by with just two running backs the past two weeks. He was nothing more than an insurance policy should something happen to either Miles Sanders or Boston Scott as the Eagles waited and crossed their fingers that Jordan Howard would be able to return at some point before the season ended.
With that in mind, it is likely that the announcement that Howard has been cleared for contact could come as soon as Thursday when head coach Doug Pederson meets with the media again. Howard has missed the last six games.
The team is off on Christmas Day.
Offensive coordinator Mike Groh made a curious comment on Tuesday regarding Howard and how he will be incorporated into an offense that has been primarily fueled by Sanders.
“We have to see how the week goes first and see where he is at,” said Groh. “I am sure Coach and (Executive Vice President/General Manager) Howie (Roseman) will have an announcement later in the week.”
Roseman hasn’t met with reporters since the roster was trimmed down at the end of training camp. Would something like an extension for Howard prompt him to talk?
As for Darby, his loss isn’t anything new. The team has played without him for long stretches since he arrived in a trade prior to the 2017 season. This is the second straight year Darby’s season will end on the IR. He was on the IR in 2017, too, but returned late in the season and helped the team’s push to a Super Bowl title.
Darby returned this season on a one-year deal, so he is a free agent at the end of the season. He is most assuredly moving on to another team, provided the hip flexor that ended his season is properly healed when teams can begin signing free agents in March.
In three seasons with the Eagles, Darby played in just 27 of a possible 48 games. Still, he had two interceptions this season and six in those 27 games.
What the additions mean
Rodgers was with the Eagles in training camp the past two years, but preseason injuries ruined both seasons. He played in seven games with the Eagles last year and made one catch.
His familiarity with the offense was vital to the Eagles, who may be without top pass catcher Zach Ertz. The tight end broke a rib in the win over the Dallas Cowboys.
If he cannot play on Sunday – and maybe Pederson will shed more light on that when he meets the media on Thursday – that would be a big loss. Ertz caught two touchdowns in the Eagles’ win over the Giants three weeks ago and has 88 receptions for 916 yards and six touchdowns this year.
“He knows our system, terminology,” said Groh. “It's just kind of getting re-acclimated. Obviously putting on pads and playing football is a lot different than what he's been doing. Regardless of how much he's been thinking about playing, still have to get out there. Rich is very dependable, he's conscientious, and we know he’ll do a good job.”
It appears that the Eagles will finally go into a game with four healthy receivers if Burnett is active on Sunday against the New York Giants. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why he wouldn’t be.
The Eagles have had just three healthy receivers active during their three-game winning stretch.
Burnett has a little experience having played five games with the New York Jets last year, making 10 catches for 143 yards.
“Deontay has come in and done a really nice job,” said Groh. “He's shown up quite a bit in the practice squad stuff getting the defense ready, and he's a guy that's got some position versatility for how we're putting this game together and we think he'll do a really good job for us.”