This means a lot to everyone who steps on the field tonight as the Eagles host the New York Jets in the preseason finale (7 p.m., 6abc). Jobs are on the line.
You hear that a lot, and sometimes it's maybe not quite so true. Tonight, the truth is that the Eagles will use performances on the field to evaluate their 53-man roster -- the roster must be cut from 75 players to 53 by 4 p.m. on Saturday.
The truth is that, more than in recent years and thanks to a deeper pool of talent, some very good football players won't be part of the roster by the end of the weekend.
The truth is, there is nothing "meaningless" about this preseason finale for the Eagles.
When someone asks you what you're watching tonight, the proper answer is "everything," because there is no limit to what matters tonight. Matt Barkley gets his first extended playing time of the preseason at quarterback, and his first start since his college days at USC. The placekicking battle with Alex Henery and Cody Parkey will be played out in real time, with no certainty what the Eagles are thinking about the position. The running backs are jammed with talent and some good ones won't make it here. The defense has "bubble" players throughout and they will try to make a lasting impression tonight to earn spots here.
And so on and so on. I'm watching everything, with some emphasis on the following:
- Lane Johnson starts at right tackle tonight and then, beginning on Monday, is not permitted to have contact with the coaching staff or be present at the NovaCare Complex for the next four weeks as he serves his NFL suspension. Johnson has held up well throughout the preseason and he determined to return to the team in the best shape of his life and ready to step into the starting lineup.
- What to look for from Barkley? Good play. Solid decisions. No turnovers. Touchdowns and accuracy and everything you want from a quarterback who has designs on starting in this league some day. Barkley doesn't have his starting receivers, but there is enough here to score some points against a good Jets scheme.
- Who is the sixth receiver? Is it Arrelious Benn? Jeff Maehl? Someone else? The Eagles have five that you could pencil in with some certainty: Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Brad Smith and Josh Huff. After that? Do they even keep six receivers?
- Remember that the practice squad has been extended by two players, to 10 total. All of the running backs except LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles are eligible for the practice squad. Of course, neither McCoy nor Sproles is headed for the practice squad. But Chris Polk, Kenjon Barner, Matthew Tucker and Henry Josey are eligible. The Eagles can't keep six backs.
- Polk said a couple of days ago that he expects to play tonight. He needs to be tough and durable with that hamstring that has given him problems all summer.
- Looking forward to seeing how the placekickers are used. Henery and Parkey are both likely to have chances to perform tonight, and the Eagles have said they are keeping their eyes open around the league, as well.
- Really good competition along the defensive line with the likes of Taylor Hart, Damion Square and others battling for roster spots.
- The Eagles have used Travis Long both inside and outside at linebacker. He's going to get a lot of playing time tonight, as will Marcus Smith II. Important game for both players.
- Nate Allen appears to have the starting job alongside Malcolm Jenkins, but Earl Wolff is still pushing. There doesn't appear to be any sort of "set-in-stone" starter here. Both Allen and Wolff have pushed each other to play their best football this summer.
- Looking at cornerback Jaylen Watkins tonight. He could see time at both slot and outside cornerback, and he should get a lot of time.
- David Molk seems to have all but won a roster spot as Jason Kelce's backup, and he will look to take advantage of some reps tonight heading the starting offensive line that also features Johnson, Matt Tobin, Dennis Kelly and Andrew Gardner. Kevin Graff and Josh Andrews will see a lot of time, too.