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NFC East Notebook: Takeaways from a week of roster cuts

Let’s dive into the major headlines from around the division this past week

New England Patriots v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

After an active week for all 32 NFL teams, let’s take a closer look at the major roster changes and implications around the NFC East.

Washington Football Team

Facts to know:

  • The roster includes just 15 players from the previous regime
  • It is the sixth-youngest roster in the NFL
  • The roster features TE Sammi Reyes, who is the first Chilean-born NFL player

Notable cuts: WR Antonio Gandy-Golden, a fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft but re-signed on Wednesday to the practice squad, CB Jimmy Moreland, RB Peyton Barber, C Keith Ismael, DE Williams Bradley King

Notable signings: TE Sammi Reyes, who has never played football before this year, WR and punt returner Dax Milne, seventh-round pick Shaka Toney, a defensive end, and undrafted RB Jaret Patterson

Takeaway: This is Rivera’s team.

One of the most important facts to consider about the Football Team’s initial 53-man roster is how different it looks from year’s past. Only 15 players remain from the roster that Ron Rivera inherited when he joined the team at the start of last offseason. Rivera discussed the importance of moving on from players that no longer fit the larger vision for the team during training camp and his actions Tuesday reflected that belief. DE Williams Bradley-King, a seventh-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, became the first member of the rookie class to be released. Rivera also left go of safety Jeremy Reaves and former starting left guard Wes Martin.

Washington now has the sixth-youngest roster in the NFL. There are returning young stars like DE Chase Young and WR Terry McLaurin and then there are even younger potential contributors in rookie CB Benjamin St. Juste and the penultimate pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, WR Dax Milne.

It is no secret that Washington has spent the past two seasons reinventing itself. But those major changes - the abandonment of an 87-year-old name, the retiring of jersey numbers, the removal of statues - has all taken place off the football field. Since Rivera’s arrival, he has led such an important culture shift off the field, that the on-field improvements became secondary.

But the competition at almost every position group this training camp, the willingness to release players and take a chance on others, has illustrated that Rivera’s on-field changes are just as notable - especially for a team that has not won a playoff game since 2005. Perhaps last season’s NFC East division title was just the start for Rivera’s budding franchise.

Philadelphia Eagles

Facts to know:

  • QB Jalen Hurts was named the Eagles’ starter despite the recent signing of QB Gardner Minshew from the Jacksonville Jaguars and the presence of Joe Flacco.
  • Eight of the Eagles’ nine draft picks made the initial roster, along with undrafted TE Jack Stoll. Only sixth-round pick JaCoby Stevens, who battled injuries throughout camp, did not make the cut.
  • After an up-and-down 2020 season that included off-the-field contract drama and low on-field production, Pro Bowl TE Zach Ertz will be back for his ninth season in Philadelphia.

Notable cuts: WR Travis Fulgham, RB Jordan Howard, DT Hassan Ridgeway, S Andrew Adams, OL Kayode Awosika

Notable signings: TE Zach Ertz, LT Jordan Mailata, WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, DT Marlon Tuipulotu

Takeaway: Some controversial roster moves by first-year head coach Nick Sirianni illustrate that this team is still working on finding its identity.

One of the most surprising roster changes was the Eagles’ decision to keep WR J.J. Arcega Whiteside over Travis Fulgham. Fulgham’s breakout month last season was short-lived but he also recorded more receiving yards in that three-game span than Arcega-Whiteside has in his two years in the league. Fulgham began training camp as a starting wide receiver and slowly fell down the depth chart while Arcega-Whiteside opened camp as a backup slot receiver and remained a backup slot receiver throughout camp.

It makes sense that Sirianni chose Arcega-Whiteside based off of what he observed during camp this summer. But the decision to take Arcega-Whiteside over Fulgham suggests a lack of perspective as Fulgham has demonstrated more upside long-term than Arcega-Whiteside.

Another unexpected addition to the 53-man roster was sixth-round defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu. He struggled early in camp but had a strong performance in the final preseason game. The Eagles also waived one of the more pleasant surprises of camp in OL Kayode Awosika. It makes sense for Philly to prioritize youth but it’s been interesting to see which young players they have chosen.

Dallas Cowboys

Facts to know:

  • In his weekly radio appearance, Jerry Jones said that he is encouraged by QB Dak Prescott’s status heading into the team’s Week 1 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “Frankly, as far as him being able to execute and execute the throws and move around the way he should against Tampa, I don’t have any concern at all about that,” Jones said.
  • Cooper Rush will be the backup QB as the Cowboys released both Garrett Gilbert and Ben DiNucci.
  • Big names like wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and safety Damontae Kazee were not named to the initial 53-man roster but this is because they are on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Spots will have to be cleared to make room for them.
  • The entire 2021 draft class made the initial 53-man roster.

Notable cuts: QB Garrett Gilbert, S Darian Thompson, TE Jeremy Sprinkle

Notable signings: WR Malik Turner, WR Simi Fehoko, DE Azur Kamara, DE Bradlee Anae, LB Francis Bernard

Takeaway: Things appear to be on track for Dallas as their franchise quarterback Dak Prescott is making a smooth return from injury. Prescott was on pace for a record-breaking season last year before suffering a season-ending ankle injury against the Giants. Throughout his five-year career, Prescott is often at the top of the leaderboards amongst signal callers around the league.

But while Dallas has plenty to be excited about, it also has reason to be cautious. Though Prescott appears to be recovered from his ankle injury, he also sustained a shoulder injury during training camp. It’s possible that this injury could become aggravated during the regular season. This is concerning because the Cowboys currently have only one other quarterback on the roster besides Prescott in Cooper Rush - a player who has taken just 26 regular-season snaps and thrown three passes in four NFL seasons.

There is still a lot of shuffling in store for Dallas as it finalizes the roster before opening up the 2021-22 NFL season on Sept. 9. The Cowboys are thin at quarterback, have two running backs in Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard and will also only have two healthy tight ends as Sean McKeon is on IR. Look for the Cowboys to add some depth to these position groups as the regular season fast approaches.