First, here’s your preseason schedule for the Birds. In the old days, teams used to negotiate their own preseason schedules. Now, the NFL mandates who plays whom in August:
Earlier this week the Eagles signed a bunch of fringe players to tryout contracts to fill out their 90-man roster. Among them was WR Greg Ward Jr., and this will be Greg’s third attempt to play for the Eagles.
Ward (5-11, 185, 4.59 ’40) last played with the San Antonio Commandeers of the now defunct Alliance of American Football, catching 22 passes for 214 yards in eight games. He also had nine punt returns for 135 yards (15.0 yards per return) and one touchdown, which went for 79 yards in Week 7 against the Atlanta Legends.
Ward has spent the last three years trying to be taken seriously in the NFL as a receiver and punt returner. He’s one of those guys who flashes on occasion but inevitably gets left out of the 53-man roster picture. It’s got to be maddening to get so close but ultimately get cut down every time…so far.
Ward had nine catches for 63 yards in the 2017 preseason for the Eagles. An undrafted free agent out of Houston, Ward was let go by the Eagles on 53-man roster cutdown day, but signed with the practice squad a day later. He was released again, but signed back in September of 2017. He spent the 2018 preseason with the Eagles but was released yet again on September 7, 2018.
The guy was told he would never make it as a QB in the NFL, so he switched positions. Playing quarterback out of Houston, Ward was one of the nation’s top statistical passers, completing 67.5 percent of his passes for 8,704 yards and 52 touchdowns compared to 26 interceptions in his four years with the Cougars. He also rushed for 2,381 yards and 39 touchdowns. Ward did start his career at Houston as a wide receiver, just looking for an opportunity to get on the football field. He had 228 receiving yards and two touchdowns in his career with the Cougars.
Former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich was a big advocate of Ward’s conversion to receiver in July of his rookie season of 2017. “I think Greg’s transition has been phenomenal,” Reich said. “Again, I say that, I get excited as a coach. I see he has some instinctive natural movements as a slot receiver, things that are hard to coach that he does exceedingly well. He has a knack, he has very good ball skills. I’m just really surprised. I think he’s way exceeded expectations.”
But all those nice words didn’t add up to an active roster spot, and three seasons later Ward is getting yet another shot, once again against horrible odds that anything will come of it.
So the questions EYE have: Why do the Eagles put guys like Greg Ward through the ringer only to dump him in the rinse cycle again and again? And why do guys like Greg Ward keep coming back for more?
My intuitive answer to the first question— I think the Eagles really like Ward’s work ethic and attitude and they consider him a very positive influence on the players in camp. The son of a Texas pentecostal minister, he radiates self-confidence in a humble way, if that makes any sense. The example he sets helps create a very healthy competitive environment in camp.
I also think the Eagles like him as a potential special teams contributor. Maybe he’s insurance for Darren Sproles at PR? Who knows? I just can’t see him cracking the numbers game as strictly a wide receiver.
As for the second question— the 24-year-old simply enjoys the challenge of competing for a job in the sport he loves. He will never have regrets as an older man that he quit too soon.
The Eagles have a history of signing, cutting then re-signing players. Then cutting them again.
Offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde had those steps committed to memory, at least when it comes to the Eagles, who released him three times in 2015 since the beginning of September, and signed and cut him six times each in total since they drafted him with the 30th pick of the fifth round (No. 161) in 2011. Aside from a one-month stint in 2012 with the Buccaneers (who in that span signed him, released him two days later, added him to their practice squad and dropped him from their practice squad), Philadelphia is the only franchise Vandervelde knew, accounting for all 16 regular-season games he’s played in and 14 of the 18 transactions that outline the stop-start-repeat roadmap of his five years as a pro.
At least Vandervelde actually got activated for a few regular-season games, something Ward can only dream of at this point.
The record for getting cut and re-signed without ever playing in an actual game? Saints receiver Andy Tanner was added and then taken off the practice squad or cut 21 times between 2011 and 2015 while never appearing in a game.
It’s not all terrible. You get paid about $1500 a week on a tryout contract. Also, teams are required by the CBA to put signees up in a hotel for a week as they adjust to a new city, along with transportation to and from the team facilities.
[P.S. The Birds also signed fringe quarterback Luis Perez to a tryout contract. Perez completed 70.6 percent of his passes for 4,999 yards, 46 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his senior season at Texas A&M Commerce in 2017. He won the Harlon Hill Trophy as the Division II National Player of the Year and led Texas A&M Commerce to the national championship. Perez passed for 298.3 yards per game that season, which ranked ninth throughout the entire NCAA, one of the only three players in all NCAA divisions with over 4,000 passing yards.
Perez was signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Rams before being released in August. The AAF gave Perez a second look by NFL scouts, and apparently the Eagles decided to take a flier. Probably just an extra camp arm, but in Perez’ mind, it’s another chance to make an NFL team.
The Birds also gave a tryout contract to journeyman receiver Charles Johnson, who led the AAF with 45 catches and 687 yards for the Orlando Apollos, finishing second in the league with five touchdowns. Johnson had eight catches for 135 yards and a touchdown in his final AAF game.]