Make the Right Call  

 

Chip Kelly goes all in on Philadelphia Eagles' total makeover

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Did the Philadelphia Eagles make the right call/trade/release/acquisition?

Elliot Harrison examines some of the busiest NFL teams this offseason and attempts to answer whether the moves they've made will pay off in the 2015 campaign.

Maybe we should back up here. The Eagles jettisoned and took on so many big names this offseason, it's hard to remember some of the less sexy transactions -- like, say, the ones that didn't involve exchanging starting quarterbacks with another NFC team. Yep, Chip Kelly has taken full advantage of having the kind of personnel control so many head coaches have longed for, the grocery-buying power Bill Parcells educated us about when leaving the Patriots two decades ago.

Parcells is the appropriate comparison here, as the big tuna in Philadelphia now is clearly Kelly. Just as the Hall of Fame coach did, Kelly is importing "his" guys. These are not necessarily ex-Oregon Ducks; rather, they're the players who buy into and help propagate his system. So Kelly said goodbye to LeSean McCoy and Cary Williams while acquiring, by any means necessary, guys who will make it easier to do what he wants to do, both schematically and practically. Put another way, he's smoothing his predetermined path to victory with players who don't get in the way -- in the locker room, on the financial ledger or from a skill-set perspective.

Did Kelly make the right calls? You'll see below. As always, your take is welcome ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let's start with the last thing we mentioned -- skill sets -- and a juicy trade that revolved around them.

What a swap

They say head coaches are married to their young quarterbacks, and Kelly clearly wasn't committed to Nick Foles, whom he shipped to the St. Louis Rams for former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford. Of course, if Bradford's skill set doesn't work out in Philadelphia -- especially if he gets hurt -- then the city might divorce its bold coach.

The Eagles wanted Bradford over Foles presumably because the latter was not an accurate vertical passer, or at least not accurate enough for Kelly. Plus, Bradford's talents, going back to his time at Oklahoma, include being able to run a faster-paced spread offense. That doesn't mean his abilities will translates directly to Kelly's Eagles attack. But the move does mean Kelly won't settle for 10-win, non-playoff seasons while relying on players other guys brought to town. He went out and got a quarterback who fits what he wants to do -- and he did so come hell or the high water of locals questioning his judgement.

Oh, and that was the Eagles' second major trade of the offseason.

Did the stars align?

The LeSean McCoy-for-Kiko Alonso deal took everyone by surprise. It was the first major reminder to the masses that there is no offseason in the NFL, regardless of how infrequently (to put it mildly) big blockbuster trades go down. The move made headlines -- and McCoy created a sub-story when he said he didn't think Chip Kelly "likes or respects the stars." Maybe Kelly simply wanted a player who bought into his system.

McCoy's endless dancing behind a makeshift line didn't always endear him to those who watched the team closely -- a group that likely included the head coach. Yes, I know Philly dealt with a mess of injuries up front, but McCoy sometimes needed to hit the hole more expeditiously than he did. Truth is, situationally or not, Darren Sproles was often more effective than Shady. So McCoy, the star who led the league in rushing in 2013, was dealt.

Forget that the Eagles got a promising young linebacker -- Alonso will certainly be able to man the ILB spot in Bill Davis' defense -- in the trade. How about that DeMarco Murray signing?

That's where you can stick your star system, LeSean. In Murray, the Eagles acquired the leading rusher of 2014, a player who just so happens to be around the same age (27) as McCoy (26). In McCoy's stead, he picked up an instant starter (and upgrade) at linebacker, then acquired an effective Murray for less per year than he was slated to pay McCoy in 2015. That is quite a successful move -- provided, of course, Murray stays upright all season, which had been a problem for him prior to 2014.

The accidental tourist

The stories of Ryan Mathews touring the Eagles' facility during the initial free-agency frenzy got a little weird. Mathews was kept in a holding pattern, even as the deal for DeMarco Murray was being finalized. Some felt his orbit was going to seriously decay upon confirmation that Murray was officially an Eagle, and that Mathews might perhaps back out of a verbal agreement. Others thought Chip Kelly was determined to honor their handshake deal, despite the apparent lack of a need for Mathews with Murray in the fold. Then there are some league observers who feel Kelly wanted a complementary back. Given Sproles' skill set, Mathews projects as a share-the-load guy, not a third-down guy.

Missing Maclin

There is no way to gloss over the departure of receiver Jeremy Maclin, who left to sign with the Chiefs. Wideouts who post 85 catches, 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns aren't exactly out there chillin' on eBay. Maclin might have been one star worth hanging atop Kelly's tree. Given that second-year pro Jordan Matthews is penciled in as the WR1 and Riley Cooper figures to be the WR2, losing Maclin certainly does not qualify as an improvement.

Maybe Kelly's system does not figure on WR1s and WR2s -- i.e., it might not matter to Kelly if the club has a T.O. type. But there's no way you can tell me Philly's fans wouldn't have preferred spending the money the team threw at Ryan Mathews on retaining Maclin.

Max-imizing their opportunity

Make no mistake, Philadelphia paid solid coin for cornerback Byron Maxwell. ... I'm talking that Franklin Mint stuff. Civil War chess sets aside, Maxwell could end up being the queen on the chessboard if he is 90 percent of the player he appeared to be in Seattle. Of course, that's the big question with Maxwell: Was he really that good with the Seahawks, or was he a product of the team he was playing for? At a cost of more than $10 million a year, the answer had better be the former.

At the end of the day, the Eagles' faithful probably won't be reminiscing about the halcyon days of Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. That pair had a rough go of things in 2014. Both are now gone, with another former Seahawk in Walter Thurmond joining Maxwell in the secondary. Things are looking up in this department.

A thought for the road ...

I'll stop short of pulling the fire alarm, but I hated to see Trent Cole leave this football team. When Kelly first got to town, there was concern Cole -- who was already 30 at the time -- wouldn't be able to convert from a 4-3 edge guy to a 3-4 rush linebacker. Well, Cole acquitted himself just fine, posting 14.5 sacks in two years. Now he's gone, and both his productivity and veteran example will be difficult to replace.

That said, the Eagles did save $8 million in cap space by letting Cole go. And of course, it's always better to get out on a veteran one year too early than one year too late. See ya at the Indy 500, Trent. It's been fun. (In related news, that represents a solid signing for the Colts.)

... make that two

Brief thought here: All those who have made fun of the Tim Tebow signing should take a step back. An educated guess says Kelly will use Tebow in packages, while not expecting him to either a) start at quarterback or b) convert to H-back.

Let's let this thing play out. #lowrisk

Did the Eagles make the right calls?

Let's just say the Eagles made ... different calls. Sam Bradford has more upside than Nick Foles. DeMarco Murray proved last year he can be a workhorse. Byron Maxwell was the best corner on the free-agent market, outside of Darrelle Revis.

But even the most ardent Eagles fan -- the guy with the James Thrash underroos -- can't deny that losing Jeremy Maclin and Trent Cole is going to hurt. And while Murray led the NFL in rushing last season, Shady has been more reliable in the long run.

This offseason was about Chip Kelly making this his team and winning with his style of player. While it's unclear at this point whether this squad is leaps and bounds stronger or merely incrementally better than last year's edition, the bottom line is this: The 2015 Philadelphia Eagles will be inarguably different.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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