PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Danny Watkins can put out fires full-time now.
A former first-round pick who was a firefighter before the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him 23rd overall in 2011, Watkins was released Saturday. He started 18 games at right guard in two seasons before losing his job early last year.
“A change of scenery was necessary for him,” general manager Howie Roseman said. “The pressure of being a first-round pick in Philadelphia, how he internalized that, the way for him to get his career back on track is to go to a new place and both I and Chip (Kelly) told him that today.”
Watkins was a surprise pick by former coach Andy Reid two years ago. The Canadian played hockey and rugby in high school and had more experience as a firefighter (five years) than a football player (four) when the Eagles selected him at age 26, making him the oldest first-round pick since 1980 at that time.
There were questions about Watkins’ passion to play the game and whether he turned to football just to make money.
“Part of his personality, him being a firefighter, is that he feels he has to save people,” Roseman said. “He put a lot of pressure on himself. He couldn’t just go out and play. Getting away from ‘Danny Watkins, the first-round pick’ and just being ‘Danny Watkins’ will really help him.”
The Eagles also released tight end Clay Harbor, safety David Sims, offensive lineman Michael Bamiro, linebackers Travis Long and Chris McCoy, wide receivers Greg Salas and Russell Shepard, and running back Matthew Tucker to reach the 53-man roster limit.
Harbor was a fourth-round pick in 2010 who still has potential. He learned to play linebacker in offseason workouts and also played wide receiver in training camp in an effort to increase his versatility. Harbor had 47 catches, including four touchdowns. He became expendable when the Eagles signed free agent James Casey and drafted Zach Ertz in the second round.
On Friday, the Eagles cut 12 players. Among them were quarterbacks Dennis Dixon and G.J. Kinne and 2012 starting center Dallas Reynolds.
Watkins’ departure means the Eagles already have cut ties with their first two picks in the 2011 draft. Safety Jaiquawn Jarrett was released last year. Their third and fourth-round picks in that draft, cornerback Curtis Marsh and linebacker Casey Matthews, are barely clinging to roster spots.
Reid, who presided over that draft, is gone. Team owner Jeffrey Lurie already absolved Roseman from blame for drafts before 2012. The Eagles restructured their personnel department after hiring Kelly to replace Reid.
“A lot of the leadership positions and the responsibilities have changed in our organization,” Roseman said. “We’ve obviously changed a lot of people in our personnel department. We’ve changed the way we look at things because we have new people in place.”
The Eagles have 20 players that weren’t on the team last year, including 10 rookies. Only 15 players remain from 2010 when the Eagles won the NFC East title. They followed that up with an 8-8 finish before a disastrous 4-12 season cost Reid his job.