What in the world is Chip Kelly doing with the Philadelphia Eagles? Last time I checked, opinions always run rampant and that is what makes the sports world great, especially the National Football League. Alright, so you’ve read the title and probably agree with the opening statement about the head coach in Philly. After the shift in power and title with Howe Roseman, from general manager to executive vice president, Kelly has been given added role of general manager to form the team he wants to coach on the field.
At this point, you can’t help but hear about the subtractions. Last offseason was highlighted with the release of receiver DeSean Jackson. This offseason: running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, right guard Todd Herramans, and outside linebacker Trent Cole are all gone. Kelly has purged several veterans from the roster, one of which he inherited after a 4-12 season with somewhat of a toxic locker room. The combination of offensive scheme fit, salary, and personality, has led to Kelly to move on from the popular names of Jackson, McCoy, and Maclin. It just so happens, Cole and Herremans were picked up by a former member of the Eagles’ front office, General Manager Ryan Grigson of the Indianapolis Colts. The classy Herremans thanked fans with a billboard on his way out. In actuality, I’ve been clamoring for Cole’s role to be reduced with the emergence of Brandon Graham in limited action, who recently re-signed, and I think he’s been held back behind the departed veteran.
The biggest motivator for the landscape change is shifting the salary cap over from offense to the weaker side of the ball, defense. Think about it, Kelly took turned a 4-win team into a 10-win team, twice. It was good enough to win the division in 2013 and host a playoff game, one that ended with a disappointing loss to the New Orleans Saints. Double-digit wins was not good enough to re-join the playoff picture in 2014. Quickly dating back to the end of the Andy Reid era in Philly, we’ve really seen that Eagles’ core peak at the highest level, being together for several years. Fast-forward to this wild offseason start, the fans and media are immediately uncomfortable with this drastic changing at hand. Everyone can agree about the Eagles cutting ties with last year’s starting cornerbacks, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, and maybe some understand the Cole and Herremans decisions.
The confusion comes at the skill positions, but believe that these big names have all had issues with the team in one form or another. McCoy struggled in the first half of the season, and stormed back to finish third in rushing after finishing first in the previous season. I will say, he did have a makeshift offensive line to run behind for half of last season, but by now you may have heard that he ran too East and West. Meaning, he was losing yards, running for no gain, looking for the big play most of the time instead of hitting the holes and taking the yards in front of him.Am I overstating things here? McCoy, since 2011, leads the league in negative rushes.
Philly wants someone to put their head down into the trenches, something Chris Polk looked good doing when he got to spell McCoy later in the season and in goal-line situations. So, Shady lost goal-line duties, is never shy in front of the cameras, and was due $10 million for the upcoming season, in hindsight I get it. Initially, I was as stunned and livid as anyone else as a die-hard Eagles fan. McCoy is one of my favorite Eagles of all-time and in the record books, but objectively, he should have been up there competing with DeMarco Murray for his second straight rushing title. More on Murray later.
Kelly traded Shady for a star linebacker that he coached at Oregon, Kiko Alonso, who is coming off of an ACL injury after winning Defensive Rookie of the Year. Alonso racked up 159 tackles, snagged four interceptions, and instantly became one of the best inside linebackers in the league. Alonso enters the season as the projected starter inside with the budding Mychal Kendricks, and veteran leader DeMeco Ryans, recovering from an achilles injury. After the surprising retirement of Patrick Willis in the Bay Area, who was paired with Navarro Bowman as the best 3-4 inside linebacker duo, now I see the Eagles with the best on paper. On paper because of the injury concerns with Alonso and Ryans, but with three starting caliber options, there’s insurance to uphold that production in the middle of the defense.
Jackson was the first of the big names to go with the biggest personality, giving the team more than enough concerns with who he surrounded himself with. The transparent truth is only known behind closed doors, but I say, look at the Aaron Hernandez and Chris Johnson situations. There’s just no room for that type of concern, the business of football and the game of football provide more than a full plate of work. Believe me, I just might be the biggest fan of Jackson who isn’t in his inner circle, often calling him elite when he gets overlooked in conversations about wide receivers and playmakers.
Maclin, he’s always been a guy that I didn’t rate as high as everyone else did. Most actually preferred Maclin over Jackson and regarded him as the Eagles’ true top receiver. It was an outstanding tandem, one that featured Jackson and he excelled every season. Maclin is good, above average, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into making elite money with the franchise tag. Philly offered Maclin, after a career-year, $10 million per year, the same deal that Randall Cobb agreed to stick around in Green Bay. Look, Maclin was drafted out of Missouri, so he went to play in his home state for his former coach in Reid. The Kansas City Chiefs had a need and it was the perfect situation for both parties to strike a deal.
On top of all that, all that money that was tied into that side of the ball with those players for several seasons, we watched the Eagles peak with that roster and now the money is being shifted to finally shore up the defense. These moves, along with position from last offseason, have allowed the Eagles to net the best available cornerback on the market. Not only did they bring Byron Maxwell to the next, but they signed Walter Thurmond on a 1-year prove-it deal, both former members of the Legion of Boom. Maxwell was peppered in targets last season and excelled, he will continue to play on the right side of the field. Maxwell and Thurmond thrive in the cover-3 scheme. These corners join the best slot corner in the game, Brandon Boykin, and Nolan Carroll, who used to start down in Miami. Moving on from Cole paved the way for Graham to get his opportunity to man the position, opposite of Pro Bowler Connor Barwin, forming a strong and more well-rounded linebacker unit.
If by this time you still can’t get that trade with the St. Louis Rams out of your head, I understand. Philly gets one draft pick, the Rams get two, and they swapped starting quarterbacks. Coming from a guy that predicted Nick Foles, when he got drafted, to overtake Michael Vick’s starting role and make the Pro Bowl one day. Turns out, everything happened so quick, with Foles guiding the Birds to the playoffs and winning Pro Bowl MVP. I think we will see him help turn around the Rams’ offense, already a team with a strong defense, so they now have realistic playoff hopes.
That brings Sam Bradford, the former Oklahoma quarterback that played in a spread offense, to Philadelphia. When you pair Coach Kelly with a number one overall pick in the draft,e specially at quarterback, don’t you expect great things? The answer is yes, but you can’t ignore the fact that the player is Bradford. He’s played in two complete seasons, a 10-game season, and only seven appearances in 2013 before missing all of 2014. Bradford got bit by the injury bug bad, but remember, a quarterback can recover to play like he did pre-injury, and signal callers can play longer than most positions. The reason Mark Sanchez was paid handsomely is because he’s regarded as a top backup in this league, knows the offense, and brings insurance as a spot-starter if Bradford were to go down again. What Kelly is openly proud of, is his player specific workout and training program, so you know he’s betting on taking care of Bradford’s body. Kelly is betting on his system, which has earned him a 20-12 regular season record, top-5 ranks in scoring and yards, traded for a QB that has familiarity with the system, and possibly bringing in a running back that has the specific style he wants in the backfield.
That running back happens to be DeMarco Murray, who has officially fled the rival Dallas Cowboys for the City of Brotherly Love. From one leading rusher in McCoy to another in Murray, this is another former Oklahoma Sooner that played with Bradford, they were also roommates, and good friends that are still communicating. In fact, it was Murray that personally called Kelly with interest, after feeling slapped in the face by the Cowboys. To Dallas’ defense, the running back value is up in the air, they are tight against the cap, and they have built a strong O-line that can ease the loss of Murray, who has only been healthy and dominant for one season, in all honesty. However, he is the reigning rushing champion that even played through a broken bone in his hand during the stretch run. I think we can all agree, Murray doesn’t dance as much as Shady, and the Eagles generally have a top-10 line up front in their own right. It just goes to show, not all veterans are leery of Kelly’s activity, considering that Murray made the call after the Bradford trade.
Whether Ryan Mathews reneges on the 3-year agreement or not, with the Murray signing affecting his decision, Kelly still has Darren Sproles for passing downs and special teams. Adding Murray and Mathews for an annual salary comparable to what McCoy was due to make alone, along with Sproles and productive Polk in limited action, this backfield could either be fantastic, or ridiculous if both Murray and Mathews are added to the roster. Oh, and one tidbit on Murray, he was only caught under wraps a few times last season as the focal point of the offense. Murray’s fewest yards per carry in a game last season: week 13 vs Philly 3.6, week 15 at Philly 2.6, and week 16 vs Indy 2.6. So, he lands with the only NFC team that was able to contain him in his career-year, 1,845-yard campaign. Coach Kelly held off his travels to his former team that he probably knows everything about anyway, Oregon’s Pro Day, to alter the star into an eagle on Murray’s helmet.
Mathews is a back that plays similar to Murray, both with injury concerns, only separated by last season’s breakout by Murray when you really think about it. Mathews has played a dozens games in two seasons, 14 games once, all 16 games once, and only six in 2014. He has a pair of 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, a 400-yard receiving season, and the north-south running style that the Eagles couldn’t get with Mark Ingram (re-signed with Saints) or Frank Gore (signed with Colts).
Kelly is an offensive guru, who has won 20 games with three different starting quarterbacks, two different number one receivers, and the worst statistical secondary. His reserve offensive linemen got extensive playing time last season, maybe the answer to replace Herremans at right guard is already on the roster. The last draft class consist of receivers Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff. Matthews had a good rookie year, playing mostly from the slot and biting into the underwhelming Riley Cooper’s snaps. Kelly is high on Huff, who struggled to adapt to the pro level as a rookie, but is one of nine former Oregon Ducks now in Philly. There’s the upcoming draft to address the wide receiver position, with still a few veteran free agents out there: Percy Harvin, Wes Welker, Michael Crabtree, and Cecil Shorts.
All in all, Kelly is a man with a plan and although initial reactions are part of every new scenario, the ultimate test and truth will come on the field when all is said and done.