For players and personnel people around the NFL, roster cutdown day is one of the most difficult days of the year. The Eagles trimmed their roster to the required 53 players Friday night, completing what was one of the most difficult and competitive preseasons in recent memory.
General manager Howie Roseman admitted as much after the 9 PM deadline for roster cuts.
"This is always the hardest day of the year," Roseman said. "We had a tremendously competitive Training Camp. We let go of a lot of good players. At one point or another, every single one of the players we let go of today was someone that we fought for, we scouted and we wish them all the best of luck."
One of those difficult cuts was Antonio Dixon. The defensive tackle was claimed off waivers following the final roster cutdown prior to the 2009 season and quickly became the team's go-to run stopper. While he was a disruptive force in the middle, Dixon never quite fit what defensive line coach Jim Washburn was looking for.
"That's a hard one," Roseman said. "Antonio Dixon is a guy that we got this time of year. He brings great personality to our football team. He's someone we care about personally and professionally. Sometimes on these days, you have to make tough decisions and that was certainly one of the hardest ones."
Dixon's release underscores one undeniable fact – the Eagles may have the deepest and most talented defensive line in the NFL. The Eagles kept six defensive ends and four defensive tackles, and believe the unit will be one of the keys to a successful season. After all, the line picked up in the preseason where it left off last year. After 50 sacks in 2011, which was tied for best in the league, the Eagles ranked first in sacks during the preseason with 20.
"The defensive line is an area that we put a lot of resources in just in terms of draft picks and money," Roseman said. "For us, we want that to be one of (our strengths) if not the strength of this football team. As we went through this process, that was something that we wanted to maintain."
While Friday was a day of endings for many players, it also marked the beginning for several as well. Rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin beat out incumbent Joselio Hanson, meaning the fourth-round pick is the starting nickel corner.
"We just felt like this was a move that Brandon was going to play for us," Roseman said. "He was eventually going to fill this role, and he had shown enough that he was ready to go right now."
Friday was also a day to welcome in a new Eagle, as former Browns safety David Sims was acquired from Cleveland for a conditional draft pick. The safety can play both positions as well as special teams.
"He can do a little of everything," Roseman said. "He can cover. I mean he's five-nine-and-a-half so I'm not going to tell you he's going to cover six-foot-six tight ends all the time. He's got good feet. He's got good athletic ability and he's got a good feel for the game."
But perhaps the best news of the day came for quarterback Trent Edwards. The former Bills starter joined the Eagles in the spring and was given next to no chance to make the roster. But despite seeing very limited practice time throughout the summer, Edwards turned it on in the preseason and beat out Mike Kafka for the third quarterback job.
"(Edwards) wasn't getting a lot of reps in mini-camps, and he continued to persevere and learn the offense," Roseman said. "He didn't complain about anything and he was the consummate professional and teammate. When he got his opportunities, he continued to perform."
Even Roseman didn't expect to see Edwards on the final roster. But to Roseman, Edwards' story is a perfect illustration for fringe players looking to make the Eagles in the years to come.
"That's the great part about Training Camp," he said. "That's the great part about the preseason games and I think that's a great lesson to all of our scouts and all the players that we have, so next year when we stand in front of them and say that we're going to go with what our eyes see and it doesn't matter where you came from; if you're the best player, we're going to put you on our roster. I think we can look them in the eye and they'll know that's the truth."
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