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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Philadelphia Ducks

As in, 10 players and counting who played for head coach Chip Kelly at Oregon.

As in, an offense now without many weapons and with an immobile starting QB.  At some point, the offensive linemen might have to yell, "Duck!"

A few years ago, Chip Kelly was touted as this innovative coach who would take the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory.  Fast forward to a review of his letting DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin leave and in trading Nick Foles and some good draft picks for oft-injured Sam Bradford, and it makes fans wonder whether a) Chip is acting like a below-average Fantasy League General Manager or b) he is blowing up the team on purpose because he's angry at someone for something.  It's probably the case that he isn't (yet) the next Vince Lombardi, but that he's certainly better than the likes of Joe Kuharich, Jerry Williams, Rich Kotite and Ray Rhoades.  The question is how quickly can he propel himself to the Lombardi end of the continuum.

Let's review some facts:

1.  He took a team to the playoffs in 2013 that had no business going there.  When he came in, the pundits figured he'd go 6-10 with the remains of a neglected Andy Reid regime.  Instead, the team went to the playoffs and almost beat a pretty good Saints team.  That, of course, was a real positive.

2.  He had an injured starting QB and replaced him with a back-up and still managed to win 10 games and just missed the playoffs.  Why is that considered a step back?   Yes, it was disappointing that after all the progress Chip Kelly made in 2013, the team missed the playoffs in 2014.  But the offensive line was decimated for the first half of the season and he lost his starting quarterback and his defensive captain and they still won 10 games.  How many coaches would have done that?  True, the tenth win was rather meaningless and a loss there would have given the Birds a better draft pick.  All that said, it's hard to view 2014 as a failure given all of the injuries.

But within Kelly's success arise some questions:

1.  Did the team suffer injuries because Kelly overworking them?  It's hard to know, but at least one player publicly complained that the pace Kelly was trying to sustain in practices was not sustainable. 

2.  Did Kelly begin to lose the locker room over the release of DeSean Jackson?   I'm not sure that he did or that he didn't, but the way that Jackson was released compelled more questions than it answered.  At best, there was innuendo, and, at worst, there were negative things said.  Either way, the release smacked more of a dictatorial college coach with the power not to renew a talented but troubling player's scholarship than a professional coach's media savvy panache in handling something like that more gracefully.  The manner of the release might have created some dissension and fear among players that was not helpful.  Memo to Coach Kelly:  You are not in college anymore.

3.  And that leads to Kelly's Oregon bias.  Is that helpful for the team?    The answer is probably not.  Sure, people like people they trained, know, want to work with, etc., but the Oregon bias more reflects a parochialism about what might have worked in polychromatic Eugene than what could work in the NFL.  The last time I checked, the NFL is a brutal meritocracy.  It could hurt a team's competitiveness if players start to believe that where you went to college matters as much as what you do on the field.  Where you went to college might help if you're looking for a job in investment banking or a New York law firm, but it shouldn't in the NFL.  Malcolm Butler of the University of West Alabama proved that in the last minute of the Super Bowl.

4.  Does Kelly know what he is doing as a head of player personnel?  Either he knows something that everyone else does not, or he is making a huge gamble with a gimpy quarterback.  And while Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy while excelling at Oklahoma and was the overall number one pick in the draft, he hasn't been able to stay healthy.  And he's not mobile.  So either Kelly sees something in him that no one else does, or he blundered big time.  Especially since the team's skill position depth -- once a major asset -- has been depleted.  Who, precisely, will Bradford throw to?

Of course, Kelly was supposed to be different.  Many college coaches have failed when trying to make the jump to the NFL.  Dick Vermeil, adored in Philadelphia still, did, and Kelly coming out of Oregon was supposed to be much better than Vermeil (who was the Eagles' sixth choice in the 1970's after winning the Rose Bowl at UCLA in a big upset).  Vermeil had a fire, affability and media savvy that Kelly lacks.  Kelly appears irritated with the reporters constantly, makes snide comments and doesn't care how he comes off.  Vermeil didn't live for the media, but he was great with them and, correspondingly, the fans.  Kelly doesn't come close to Vermeil.  Heck, he doesn't come close to Buddy Ryan (who got a lot of love despite never winning a playoff game). 

So here are the Philadelphia Eagles.  Are they better off going into the 2015 draft than they were a year ago? 

It's hard to argue that they are.

It's easy to argue that they are not.

And the buck stops not only with Kelly, but also with owner Jeffrey Lurie, who seems to have had a hand in helping create the atmosphere behind this current mess.

Perhaps there are some free agents still lurking who can help the Eagles' roster markedly.  Right now, it looks like the big winner out there is the Colts, who, while adding a few pieces, might just have added enough to help their superstar QB get to the Super Bowl.


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