NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly does everything fast. His uptempo approach may work on the football field, but it remains to be seen if it is effective in other areas.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy, Chip Kelly
Alex Brandon/AP ImagesCould Chip Kelly and the Eagles have gotten more for LeSean McCoy?

 When Kelly wanted to trade LeSean McCoy, it took about 30 minutes. That information came from Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan. At the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix this week, Ryan said the Eagles called the Bills and offered them McCoy. In exchange, they asked for either linebacker Kiko Alonso or wide receiver Robert Woods, according to ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio.

Woods, a 6-foot-1, 201-pound former second-round pick, caught 105 passes for 1,286 yards and eight touchdown in his first two NFL seasons.

The Bills were willing to part with Alonso, and the deal was done. The whole process took about a half-hour, according to Ryan.

But here’s the thing: Could the Eagles have done better if they’d taken their time? It’s efficient to trade the franchise’s all-time leading rusher in 30 minutes, but is it smart?

On Wednesday, Kelly talked about some of the trades that have had huge impacts on franchises’ fortunes. He cited the trade of Herschel Walker that kick-started the Dallas Cowboys’ 1990s dynasty, as well as the 1999 trade in which the New Orleans Saints gave up their entire draft to get Ricky Williams.

The Walker trade was made during the 1989 season. The Vikings received Walker and four picks in the 1990 and 1991 drafts. The Cowboys received five players and a bumper crop of eight draft picks.

But that trade took a lot longer than 30 minutes to negotiate. The Cowboys talked to several teams, including the New York Giants. They got a substantial offer from the Cleveland Browns before the Vikings made their history-changing offer.

In 1988, his last full season with the Cowboys, Walker was 26 years old. He carried the ball 361 times for 1,514 yards.

In 2014, McCoy was 26 years old. He carried the ball 312 times for 1,319 yards. McCoy had led the NFL in rushing in 2013. He was the same age as Walker when he was traded and had accomplished more.

That doesn’t mean the Eagles could have gotten what the Cowboys did for Walker. It is likely that no one will ever make such a lopsided trade again. But there is a large gap between getting five players and eight draft picks for a star running back and getting one linebacker for a star running back. Perhaps the Eagles could have closed that gap by spending more than 30 minutes on the process of trading McCoy.

Or maybe not. In 1989, running backs were valued quite a bit more than they are today. Just two years ago, the Cleveland Browns traded running back Trent Richardson to Indianapolis for a first-round draft pick. That trade was widely considered lopsided in favor of the Browns.

Maybe Alonso was as much as Kelly could have gotten for McCoy. It’s just hard to know when the trade was carried out so quickly.

PHOENIX – The Philadelphia Eagles have some holes in their lineup after coach Chip Kelly’s offseason overhaul. It turns out they may have some players who can fill those holes, as well.

Kelly created an opening at right guard when he released veteran Todd Herremans. That seemed like a major issue until you heard how enthusiastic Kelly sounded about Allen Barbre.

“I’m really excited about Allen,” Kelly said Wednesday. “We’ve been high on Allen for a long time. Was playing really well and then hurt his ankle in the first game. He came in the year before and did an unbelievable job when [Jason Peters] was out against Green Bay in a real tough matchup against a real good team in Green Bay and really did well for himself. Versatile player. Feel very confident in Allen Barbre.”

Barbre started at right tackle in place of suspended starter Lane Johnson throughout training camp. In the season opener, Barbre went down with a high ankle sprain. He ended up on injured reserve.

So Barbre could be Herremans’ replacement. If Evan Mathis returns at left guard, as Kelly seemed to expect, that leaves the Eagles with Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner as backups at the guard positions.

The departure of free agent Nate Allen left the Eagles without one starting safety. The free agent market dried up. But there are candidates on the roster to start along with Malcolm Jenkins.

“We’ll take a look at that,” Kelly said. “That’s what this process is all about, the offseason, you get a chance to see guys on the field. What is Earl [Wolff] like in Year 3? There’s guys on our team right now that can certainly play that role but it depends where they are when you get a chance to see them through OTAs, through minicamp, through preseason camp.”

Wolff has had season-ending knee injuries the last two years. He had surgery, including a version of microfracture surgery, on his knee last year.

A healthy Wolff would give the Eagles at least some experience at the safety position. Jaylen Watkins, who played some cornerback as a rookie, and Ed Reynolds were drafted last year. Chris Prosinski and Jerome Couplin were added to the team during the 2014 season. All four could compete with Wolff for the starting job.

“Yeah, Jaylen’s got versatility,” Kelly said. “How it will all play itself out, we’ve got a ton of time, and we’ve got a ton of reps between now and when we’ve got to make a decision on who’s going to end up opposite Malcolm. Jaylen’s another guy who will have an opportunity at the safety spot.”

Chip KellyRich Schultz/Getty ImagesChip Kelly has made plenty of changes to his roster this offseason.

PHOENIX -- Chip Kelly's hyperactive March makes more sense when you look at it as a product of lessons learned during his first two years in the NFL.

Kelly tried to win as much as possible with the Philadelphia Eagles team he inherited from Andy Reid in 2013. He won 10 games and the NFC East title in his first season. He won 10 games in his second season. Meanwhile, he looked around, saw how other teams were constructed and decided he was ready to put his stamp on the Eagles.

They had about $65 million committed to offensive players in 2014. They had about $55 million committed to defensive players. According to current salary-cap figures, the team has $74 million of cap commitments on the offensive side of the ball. But the defensive players account for about $64 million.

“You can’t pay everybody,” Kelly said Wednesday during the NFL owners meetings. “Everybody has the same amount of money. You’ve got to divvy it up however you’re going to divvy it up. We were inadequate in terms of the money allocated defensively to offensively, and we’re trying to balance that out. I think it showed in our play.”

That’s why Byron Maxwell’s $63 million contract isn’t the same problem that LeSean McCoy’s $12 million cap hit was. The Eagles now have three running backs -- DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles -- taking up as much cap space as McCoy would have by himself.

That was the driving force behind the McCoy trade. As long as he was making the correction, Kelly figured he might as well acquire running backs whose style better fit his offense.

“I was very fond of LeSean McCoy,” Kelly said. “I think we all are. When you look at moving forward, that was just a really big number. They [McCoy and his agent] weren’t moving off the number so that was where the decision was made. You’re talking about the all-time leading running back for the Philadelphia Eagles. He led the league in rushing two years ago. It was a real difficult decision. But it was a decision we felt we had to make. We had too much money at the running back spot so we had to move in a different direction.”

Meanwhile, Kelly found that his specific requirements for players were not being met. There was a disconnect between the coaching and scouting staffs. That came up in his end-of-season meeting with owner Jeff Lurie. And that led to Lurie’s decision to give Kelly final say on personnel decisions. General manager Howie Roseman was out of the decision-making process.

“I didn’t go in with a plan and say we need to make all these maneuvers,” Kelly said. “I just said this is how I see my vision of how this organization should be, but it’s Mr. Lurie’s decision on what he wants to do. If he came back and said this, this and this and I just want you to just concentrate on that, then that’s what I would have done.”

Kelly also believed the Eagles needed another option at quarterback. He said the trade talks for Sam Bradford originally involved the Eagles sending draft picks to the St. Louis Rams. But the Rams decided they wanted to get a quarterback in return, and they insisted on Nick Foles.

“It went on for a couple weeks,” Kelly said. “We were trying to keep Nick if we could. It was just at the last second, they wanted players. We were trying to get it done with draft picks, but it didn’t work out that way.”

For two years, Kelly was content to do the best he could with the team he had. Starting with this offseason, he is going to see what he can do with a team built according to his own blueprint.

PHOENIX -- Five years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles had Sam Bradford graded as the best NFL quarterback prospect in a decade.

That was long before Chip Kelly was head coach of the Eagles, as Andy Reid was in charge of the team’s draft.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Matt SlocumFive years ago the Philadelphia Eagles had Sam Bradford rated as the best quarterback coming out of the draft.

“When he was scouted out of college, we thought -- and this goes back to Andy -- we thought he was the best young quarterback we’d seen in a long, long time,” Lurie said Tuesday. “Probably since Peyton Manning coming out of college. Rookie of the year his first year. Outstanding. Pat Shurmur had him as an offensive coordinator, reconfirmed everything we’d heard about him in the draft process. Extraordinary competitor. Incredibly accurate and needs to stay healthy.”

So Lurie wasn’t completely surprised when Kelly decided to go after Bradford, who had been the first overall in the 2010 draft by St. Louis.

As Lurie sees it, finding a franchise quarterback is the No. 1 priority in building a Super Bowl contender. His team had drafted Donovan McNabb second overall back in 1999. That led to a decade of success, including the franchise’s second every Super Bowl appearance.

With Michael Vick, Lurie thought the Eagles took a gamble on a franchise-caliber quarterback. That is what Bradford represents. He has missed most of the last two seasons after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament twice.

“There was an opportunity to do an upside gamble with an outstanding young quarterback who you hope can become healthier throughout his career,” Lurie said. “It is so hard to get a franchise quarterback, as you know. It sets the ceiling on what you have as a team, and do you want to take upside gambles or not? You’ve got to make that decision.”

Kelly spent roughly a month doing research on Bradford. He came away convinced that Bradford could be the franchise quarterback he appeared to be in the 2010 draft.

So Kelly traded Nick Foles, his quarterback for most of the past two seasons, for Bradford. The belief, Lurie said, was that Bradford can elevate the Eagles’ level of quarterback play.

“These are not flippant decisions of a head coach,” Lurie said. “These are very studied decisions. He watched Sam Bradford hundreds of times. He talked to every coach he ever had. This is well-researched. It wouldn’t satisfy me if it wasn’t.”

PHOENIX -- Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeff Lurie is no stranger to interoffice politics and organizational reorganization. He has refereed power struggles involving coaches from Ray Rhodes to Andy Reid.

So when it came to giving Chip Kelly final say over player personnel decisions at the end of the 2014 season, Lurie didn’t have to go through another conflict. Lurie saw that Kelly’s vision could best be realized by giving Kelly control, so that’s what he did.

“I think it evolved,” Lurie said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. “I think Chip was new to the league and it took a couple years to assess how to maximize him. I think that was legit. It would have been a different way to maximize him Day 1 than in the third year.”

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsGiving Chip Kelly control over player personnel made more sense to Eagles owner Jeff Lurie than trying to find someone to train in Kelly's vision.

Kelly has very involved and detailed qualities he seeks from each position, Lurie said. Rather than try to train the existing personnel and scouting staffs in Kelly’s specifications, Lurie said, it made sense simply to let Kelly run the personnel and scouting staffs. That’s why he decided to remove general manager Howie Roseman from the evaluation process and let Kelly promote Ed Marynowitz to be his top personnel assistant.

Lurie made the changes a few days after the end of the 2014 season, and just days after saying that Roseman would be back as GM.

“I changed my mind,” Lurie said. “What we do at the end of every season -- which is why it’s probably not the greatest idea to talk about things in the locker room being an away team in the final game -- we sit down and have real serious conversations with all the senior people and we were I know one of three teams in the NFC that had double-digit wins twice in a row but that’s not what we are about. I think you all know that. it’s not what our goal is.

“We really sat down and just looked and we are as self-analytical as you can possibly be. After thinking about it, I just thought the best way to align ourselves was to try to do this relatively rational, seamless way, with Chip of taking scouting and integrating into every aspect of the operation in terms of making it seamless with on-field performance and sports science and all that. There was a vision I wanted to support.”

Lurie said he was at first convinced the Eagles were “on the right track” after two 10-6 seasons under Kelly. But after meeting with Kelly at the end of the season, he said, the coach convinced him that 10 wins were not good enough.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Well, you had it going well and you already said you were going to stick to the status quo that way,’ but I don’t think that’s the best way to operate. You learn after the season exactly how you might become better. It was worth taking that alternative structure and acting on it.”

Lurie said he didn’t take any action to assure that Kelly will stay through the end of his contract. He has gotten no indication that Kelly intends to return to college football any time soon.

“I’m an owner that tends to absolutely be supportive of a coach and his vision if it’s a real sharp and smart vision,” Lurie said. “I really believe in that. I’m probably influenced by some of the people that we all respect, with Bill Walsh, Jimmy Johnson and others in other sports.”

PHILADELPHIA – So it turns out that nobody is too tough to die.

If Chuck Bednarik wasn’t, then nobody is. Because Bednarik was a tough man. Tough enough to fly as a waist gunner in missions over Nazi Germany during World War II. Tough enough to play center and linebacker in 1960. Tough enough to win championships in polite, patrician Philadelphia.

Bednarik is perhaps best known for a hit he put on New York Giants star Frank Gifford during that 1960 season. Gifford caught a pass over the middle. Bednarik dropped a shoulder into Gifford, knocking the ball out of Gifford’s grasp and knocking him out cold.

The photo of Bednarik celebrating the fumble, which clinched an Eagles victory, is iconic. Gifford is flat on his back, unconscious. Bednarik’s body is contorted, his fist pumping, in a primal act of celebration. Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly criticized Bednarik for celebrating the injury to Gifford. But Bednarik was celebrating the fumble and the victory.

[+] EnlargeChuck Bednarik
NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesChuck Bednarik's hit on Frank Gifford in 1960 is one of the most famous in NFL history.

That was him. He wasn’t thinking about Gifford much, if at all. For what it’s worth, Gifford said it was a clean hit. He was knocked out when his head struck the ground. Gifford missed the rest of the 1960 season and all of 1961 before returning to the field.

It was significant that the play occurred in New York. For most of its history, Philadelphia has suffered from its proximity to the Big Apple. The site of the nation’s founding and once its capital city, Philadelphia developed an inferiority complex when compared to its ever-expanding neighbor to the north.

Chuck Bednarik didn’t do inferiority complexes. He was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, near the Bethlehem Steel works. After serving in World War II, he played his college football at the University of Pennsylvania. The Penn Quakers shared a home stadium, Franklin Field, with the Philadelphia Eagles.

He won a championship with the Eagles in 1949 as a rookie. He won another in 1960 as a 35-year-old veteran. In between, he played out a Hall of Fame career as a center and middle linebacker.

Bednarik was that old veteran when he tackled Green Bay’s Jim Taylor inside the 10-yard line on the last play of the championship game. He played every down of that game and still had the energy to hold Taylor down until the clock ran out. Then he let him up, because “this game is over.”

Much later, when players like Roy Green and Deion Sanders were taking a few snaps on the other side of the ball, reporters called Bednarik for his reaction. How did the last of the two-way players see these new-school two-way guys?

Bednarik didn’t see them at all, frankly. Running around at wide receiver and cornerback made them more like ballet dancers than like two-way football players in Bednarik’s eyes. He made sure to let it be known that they were earning way too much money doing it, too.

He was “Concrete Charlie” because he was tough, yes, but also because of his offseason job selling concrete.

He was also, arguably, the greatest Eagles player of all time. When the Eagles built their training facility, the NovaCare Complex, owner Jeff Lurie wanted the wall of the auditorium to feature four all-time Eagles greats. He chose Reggie White, Tommy McDonald, Steve Van Buren and Bednarik.

White, the youngest, died first. Van Buren was next. McDonald, the happy-go-lucky Hall of Fame wide receiver, is still with us.

At 89, Bednarik proved that even the toughest among us have to die.

PHILADELPHIA -- What Chip Kelly has been doing isn’t that unusual. When he is doing it is very unusual.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesThe Eagles hope Chip Kelly's roster moves will point the team in the right direction.

Kelly became head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles two years ago. At that time, it would have been standard operating procedure for him to do a few basic things: root out some highly paid veterans who were mainstays of the previous coaching regime and who didn’t figure to be around when the team was prepared to contend, identify and acquire a young franchise quarterback to build the offense around and sign or draft some new core players who fit his system.

That sounds quite a bit like Kelly’s agenda for the past couple of weeks. He did a teardown of his offense, removing the quarterback, running back and the top wide receiver. He parted ways with pricy veterans like Todd Herremans, Trent Cole and Cary Williams. And he brought in Sam Bradford, who has a chance to be his cornerstone quarterback, along with DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell and Ryan Mathews.

But Kelly is just beginning his makeover of the team after two seasons. That’s a little peculiar.

The parallel situation was in 2001 when Andy Reid, beginning his third season as Eagles coach, won full control of personnel decisions. The difference was that Reid had begun the teardown from the very beginning. He drafted Donovan McNabb, signed new wide receivers and rebuilt his offensive line. Getting final say on personnel decisions didn’t represent the beginning of the building process. It helped simplify and streamline the continuation of that process.

Here’s the rub: By his third season, 2001, Reid took the Eagles to the NFC Championship Game. They lost to the St. Louis Rams, but they would reach the NFL’s final four in each of the next three seasons, too.

Kelly hasn’t asked for any slack from fans or the media or his boss. But it seems obvious that he spent two years trying to make the best of what he had, realized it wasn’t enough and is now doing what many coaches would have done from Day 1. Kelly won 10 games in each of his first two seasons, and that’s a sign that he’s capable of much more.

But Reid won a playoff game his second year. He won at least 11 games in years 3 through 6. He developed a young quarterback into a perennial Pro Bowler.

The differences between Reid and Kelly are many, but the most relevant one here is experience. Reid had started out coaching at the college level. But he had spent the seven years before becoming Eagles coach as an assistant with the Green Bay Packers. Reid had plenty of time to get a feel for the NFL and how it worked before coming to Philadelphia and putting his own spin on things.

Kelly jumped straight from Oregon to coaching the Eagles. His first season or two, he seemed perfectly content to take the roster he inherited from Reid and see what he could get out of it. Most importantly, he worked with Michael Vick and Nick Foles, the quarterbacks who were on hand.

Now, two years into his tenure, Kelly has begun reshaping the roster. He won enough games in 2013 and 2014 to keep the heat off, but it will be interesting to see whether that changes now. It may take a year or two to get the Eagles playing like contenders. That’s not unreasonable, but those will be years 3 and 4 for Kelly.

The common wisdom on Kelly is that he can always go back to the college game and make a lot of money at an elite program. That takes a certain kind of pressure off. But Kelly is competitive and wants to succeed sooner rather than later. The problem is that he started the clock running two years before he got his program up and running.

PHILADELPHIA – In looking at the breakdown of DeMarco Murray's deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, a couple of things stand out.

As ProFootballTalk points out, Murray’s five-year, $40 million deal is essentially the same as the contract LeSean McCoy signed after being traded to the Buffalo Bills. Basically, the Eagles got Murray and linebacker Kiko Alonso in exchange for McCoy and his contract.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy, C.J. Spillman
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy's cap number for 2015 became too much for the Eagles to bear.

But the structure of Murray’s contract is fascinating, too. As PFT reported it, he received a $5 million signing bonus. That is prorated at $1 million per year over in salary cap space over the term of the contract. In 2015, Murray also receives a guaranteed roster bonus of $3 million and a guaranteed salary of $1 million.

So Murray receives $9 million for 2015. In 2016, he gets a guaranteed salary of $7 million. His salary cap number doesn’t top $9 million during the course of the contract.

That is significant. McCoy’s contract with the Eagles called for a 2015 cap hit of $11.95 million. That underscores a point made here previously. The deal worked out between the Eagles and McCoy in 2012 was a bad one. That cap number was cited by Kelly as a major impetus for trading McCoy.

A contract that forces you to trade a 26-year-old running back who finished third in the NFL with 1.319 rushing yards in 2014 is not a smart contract. For proof of that, look no further than Murray’s contract. The Eagles did not repeat the structure of McCoy’s deal, and for good reason.

This has nothing to do with the merits of Kelly’s various moves. By adding Murray and Ryan Mathews for a cost of just $7 million in total 2015 cap space, Kelly got insurance against injury as well as almost $5 million in cap space this year. About $1 million of that goes for Alonso, who figures to start at one of the inside linebacker spots.

Taking out the sentiment that fans have for favorite players, and that teams indulge at their own risk, the exchange ended up being beneficial for the Eagles. Murray and Mathews are straight-ahead, one-cut runners. Kelly prefers that style in his zone blocking scheme.

McCoy drew comparisons to Barry Sanders for his ability to make sharp cuts and his running style. That made him fun to watch, and his production was the best in Eagles history. But for what Kelly was looking for, Murray could be a better fit. It was McCoy’s contract that created the urgency to make a change this year.

PHILADELPHIA -- As Mark Twain once said about the weather, everybody’s talking about quarterbacks in Philadelphia right now, but nobody does anything about them.

ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio, appearing on 97.5 The Fanatic, said Mark Sanchez is the Philadelphia Eagles' No. 1 quarterback going into training camp. That jars with the common assumption that Chip Kelly acquired Sam Bradford to be the Eagles’ starting QB.

Sports anchor Dianna Russini of NBC-4 in Washington reported the Eagles are trying to trade backup quarterback Matt Barkley. If they are able to trade Barkley, Russini said on Twitter, there’s an “80 percent chance” the Eagles will sign Tim Tebow. The Eagles worked Tebow out earlier this week.

And, of course, everyone is still talking about Marcus Mariota.

Let’s take a look at these items one by one (except for Mariota).

First, it’s hard to imagine Kelly obtained Bradford and his nearly $13 million salary-cap hit for the No. 2 quarterback spot behind Sanchez. Kelly just jettisoned LeSean McCoy, the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, for having a salary-cap number that was high, but as high as Bradford’s. That is the kind of money you pay a starting quarterback.

However, Bradford is coming off a second tear of his left ACL. He said he expects to be ready to take the field when training camp begins. Offseason workouts are still up in the air. Bradford said his medical advisors wanted to take his rehab a little more slowly this time than after his first ACL tear.

If Bradford’s recovery lingers into the summer, then Sanchez would be getting a lot of important practice reps with the Eagles’ starters. There is a point where that could swing Kelly’s thinking and have Sanchez start ahead of Bradford early in the season. Part of Kelly’s thinking with quarterbacks is that, sooner or later, you’re going to need at least two. If Sanchez begins as the starter, Bradford would likely be in there at some point.

As for the Barkley item, there is no reason to link signing Tebow to trading Barkley. There is no salary-cap benefit. If the Eagles can trade Barkley, then fine. They should do it, for Barkley’s sake as well as their own. Clearly, Kelly doesn’t see Barkley as a legitimate option at quarterback. It makes sense to give him an opportunity elsewhere.

In that spirit, the Eagles could simply release Barkley. But they may as well wait until after the draft. If a team isn’t able to come out of the draft with a backup quarterback prospect, it might offer a mid-round pick in 2016 for Barkley.

With the first OTAs scheduled for May, there’s no reason to make a decision until then -- on Barkley or Tebow. It’s just that they’re unrelated decisions.

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly accomplished quite a bit in the first week of NFL free agency. He remade his offensive backfield and added the consensus best cornerback available.

For all the additions Kelly made, though, he also did some subtracting. And those moves left the Philadelphia Eagles with some very obvious holes to fill.

A quick inventory shows the Eagles must fill these specific holes: a starting safety, a starting right guard, and a starting wide receiver. Considering that the Eagles got exactly one starter out of the 2014 draft -- slot receiver Jordan Matthews (pictured) -- that is a fairly significant challenge facing Kelly and the Eagles in this year’s draft.

The Eagles have their own picks in the first (20th overall), second (52d) and third (84th) rounds of the draft. They hold Miami’s pick in the fourth round, plus two fifth-round picks. They also have their own sixth- and seventh-round picks.

Can the Eagles get three starters out of those eight picks? It will take some doing. For one thing, their previously stated philosophy was to draft based entirely on their grades for available players. That is why they took Zach Ertz in the second round two years ago even though they had Brent Celek and James Casey on the roster.

The Eagles seemed to stray from that philosophy last year in the first round. Their need for an outside pass-rusher spurred them to take Louisville outside linebacker Marcus Smith instead of sticking to the best-player-available model. Smith barely played as a rookie. If the Eagles had drafted a defensive back -- and several were taken right around their spot -- they might not have been so badly in need at that position this year.

Howie Roseman was the general manager who espoused the best-player strategy. Roseman said that when you draft for need, that’s when the biggest mistakes get made. That is why it seems inconsistent that Roseman would be the one who pulled the trigger on the Smith selection last year. When asked about it last week, Kelly said that Roseman had "final say" on last year’s offseason moves.

That was true, in terms of the Eagles’ official front office structure. But it doesn’t account for the possibility that Kelly or other coaches were lobbying hard for Smith and Roseman acquiesced. Roseman’s other stated policy was to accommodate the Eagles’ coaches whenever possible.

Bottom line: The Eagles will likely be able to address one need with their first-round pick. There figure to be some very good candidates at each position on the board: safety Landon Collins, wide receivers Jaelen Strong and Phillip Dorsett, offensive linemen Jake Fisher and Ali Marpet. The Eagles might be able to get one of them in the second round, although the amount of uncertainty increases with each round of the draft.

Free-agency review: Eagles

March, 17, 2015
Mar 17

Most significant signing: Sam Bradford came in a trade, not a signing, but either way, I’m going to go with DeMarco Murray here. We don’t know whether Bradford is the new franchise QB or a placeholder until Marcus Mariota gets here. And besides, the quarterback’s chances for success seem directly tied to the running game in this offense. Nick Foles’ best performances came while LeSean McCoy was leading the NFL in rushing in 2013. Bradford or Mariota or Mark Sanchez will thrive if Murray can set the tone in the running game. Plus, it weakened the Dallas Cowboys, so Eagles fans have to love that.

Most significant loss: Jeremy Maclin was a tough player to lose on the face of it but also because of the rest of the wide receiving corps. The Philadelphia Eagles were able to overcome the release of DeSean Jackson last year because they had Maclin returning from an ACL tear. They don’t have the equivalent player this time. Jordan Matthews is very promising, but Maclin was a first-round draft pick (in 2009) who had proved to be reliable in the past. Plus, Chip Kelly wanted Maclin. He failed to lure him back. That created a hole on the roster that will have to be filled.

Biggest surprise: No question it was the trades. In a few days, Kelly traded away his starting quarterback, Foles, and his franchise running back, McCoy. That’s a breathtaking amount of change in less than a week. McCoy brought back linebacker Kiko Alonso and the cap space to sign Murray. Foles brought back Bradford. Time will tell whether the Eagles came out ahead. But we already know the moves were about as shocking as anything that happened in the NFL this offseason.

What’s next? Kelly indicated the other day that he doesn’t want or expect every offseason to be as cacophonous as this one has been. The plan is to build through the draft and use free agency only as needed. But this offseason makeover was Kelly putting his stamp on the team he inherited two years ago. It is mostly done, although it would not be surprising if the Eagles signed a safety, a wide receiver and an offensive lineman in the less expensive second wave of free agency. After that comes the NFL draft and the final act of the Mariota drama.


PHILADELPHIA -- Connect the quarterback dots.

In 2007, Florida’s Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy. Tebow became the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman. He returned for his junior season at the University of Florida and had another great season. This time, Tebow finished third in the Heisman voting.

The winner? Sam Bradford. Tebow actually had more first-place votes than Bradford by a margin of 309 to 300. Bradford had more total points, 1,726 to 1,525.

Tebow was a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos in the 2010 NFL draft. He spent two years playing for Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2010 was Bradford. He was taken by the St. Louis Rams, whose offensive coordinator was Pat Shurmur. After going 7-9 in 2010, Shurmur was hired as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

His replacement? Josh McDaniels. The Broncos had fired McDaniels in December of 2010. St. Louis hired Steve Spagnuolo to be its new head coach, and Spagnuolo hired McDaniels. The two were fired after one season.

Meanwhile, Tebow played for the Broncos in 2011. After the season, Denver signed Peyton Manning to be its quarterback. Tebow was released. He signed with the New York Jets as a backup quarterback.

The Jets’ starter? Mark Sanchez.

When Tebow worked out for the Eagles on Monday, as reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, he was vying for a spot with a team that just made two moves at quarterback.

The moves? Trading for Sam Bradford and re-signing Mark Sanchez.

Obviously, Tebow couldn't be far behind.


PHILADELPHIA -- Just when you thought Chip Kelly couldn’t top himself after last week, the Philadelphia Eagles coach throws another curveball.

Tim Tebow.

As first reported by ESPN Insider Adam Schefter, the former Heisman Trophy winner worked out for the Eagles on Monday. Tebow, who hasn’t played in the NFL since the 2012 season, left without signing a contract. But considering Kelly’s approach to this offseason, it would be foolish to rule anything out.

Last week, Kelly traded Nick Foles to St. Louis for Sam Bradford, another former Heisman winner. He also re-signed Mark Sanchez, whose one-year deal for 2014 had expired.

Tebow and Sanchez were teammates on the New York Jets during the 2012 season. In 2013, Tebow worked out at the NovaCare Complex with the New England Patriots, who spent three days practicing against the Eagles. Kelly spoke highly of Tebow at that time, but did not sign him during the 18 months since the Patriots released him.

Bradford and Sanchez figure to be the Eagles’ No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks. The No. 3 quarterback for the past two years has been Matt Barkley. To complete the picture, there has been considerable speculation that Kelly would like to move up in this year’s draft and take Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Kelly coached Mariota, another former Heisman winner, for two years.

Tebow, 27, has not signed with another team since trying to make the Patriots’ roster. He worked last year as a color analyst on college football games for ESPN.

With his running ability, Tebow would seem like a perfect fit for Kelly’s spread offense. However, Kelly’s acquisition of Sanchez and Bradford, along with his commitment to Foles, has dashed assumptions about what Kelly seeks in a quarterback. Tebow would reopen that conversation.

Kelly likes the challenge of working with different quarterbacks, tweaking his offense to fit their particular skill sets. It would probably be a personal challenge to coax NFL success out of Tebow, especially after Kelly’s friend and role model, Bill Belichick, could not.

Of course, Kelly’s primary concern is winning games. If he signs Tebow, it would be as competition for Barkley’s No. 3 quarterback job. Kelly could also use Tebow as a change-of-pace player, much as the Jets did in 2012 when Sanchez was their starter. Tebow played in 12 games, throwing eight passes (six were complete) and running 32 times for 102 yards.

PHILADELPHIA -- It seems fair to say that Sam Bradford did not have the career in St. Louis that was expected when the Rams took him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. Even before the ACL tears that cost Bradford most of the past two seasons, his numbers were not exactly on par with Andrew Luck's.

Luck, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, has started all 48 regular-season games in his three-year career so far. His record is 33-15. He has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 12,957 yards and 86 touchdowns. He has thrown 43 interceptions. His career passer rating is 86.6

Bradford started 42 of 48 games in his first three seasons with the Rams. That was before the ACL injuries that derailed him in 2013 and 2014. His record was 15-26-1. Bradford completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 9,379 yards and 45 touchdowns. He threw 34 interceptions. His passer rating over the first years was 77.3.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Matt SlocumSam Bradford is joining an Eagles team that's had a good record recently but is short on proven playmakers.

Bradford was close to Luck in completion percentage. He was not as close on wins, yardage, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating.

Of course, Bradford was playing for a different team, with different coaches and different teammates. His leading receiver in his rookie season was Danny Amendola, who caught 85 passes. Steven Jackson was the Rams’ leading rusher with 1,241 yards. In 2011, Jackson was at 1,145 yards and the leading receiver, Brandon Lloyd, caught 51 passes.

In 2012, Bradford was playing for his third offensive coordinator. Brian Schottenheimer replaced Josh McDaniels who replaced Pat Shurmur. Jackson was down to 1,045 yards rushing. Leading receiver Amendola was back and caught 63 passes.

But here’s the rub. Bradford was excited by coming to the Philadelphia Eagles. He told Peter King in this MMQB story that, “Usually … when you get to go to a new team, you’re going somewhere that’s rebuilding, or somewhere starting over. How often do you get to a team that’s won 10 games the last two years?”

That sounds very promising. But Bradford would do well to look a little bit closer. In Chip Kelly’s two seasons, the Eagles got 2,926 rushing yards from LeSean McCoy. They got a combined 167 catches for 2,650 yards from DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Those three players combined to score 35 touchdowns.

Bradford will not find any of those three players at the NovaCare Complex when he reports for OTA sessions. They’re all gone. And while Kelly did go out and sign Bradford’s college friend and teammate, DeMarco Murray, to replace McCoy, the cupboard is a bit bare when it comes to wide receivers.

Riley Cooper is not the equal of Amendola. Jordan Matthews may turn out to be better than Lloyd. Josh Huff has potential, but that’s about it at this point. Kelly could very well use a high draft pick on a wide receiver in the draft, which is loaded at that position.

The point is, Bradford walked into a very unstable situation in St. Louis. Five years later, he’s walking into a fairly unstable situation in Philadelphia. The difference is that the Rams were trying to find some stability. Kelly purposely created the instability in Philadelphia, jettisoning offensive stars and pressing the reset button.

Bradford is a part of that reset. If it’s going to work, Kelly needs to give his new quarterback a little more support.

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly swung for the fences during the first week of NFL free agency. At one position, at least, he may have swung too hard.

The Philadelphia Eagles were reportedly in the mix for New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty last week. McCourty, 27, was widely considered the best safety available in free agency. A former cornerback, McCourty was a vital cog in the Patriots' Super Bowl-winning defense.

[+] EnlargeNolan Carroll
Matt Rourke/AP PhotoCould cornerback Nolan Carroll fill a need and adjust to playing safety for the Eagles next season?

So it wasn't a shock that he decided to remain with the team he'd just won a ring with. McCourty signed a five-year, $47.5-milion contract with the Patriots.

Credit Kelly for aiming high. It worked with Byron Maxwell, who was lured away from the team with which he had won a Super Bowl. But once McCourty signed, the safety market wasn't exactly what you would call attractive.

Nate Allen, who spent the past five years in bad secondaries in Philadelphia, signed with the Oakland Raiders. The price: $23 million, $11.8 million of it guaranteed, over four years.

Ron Parker, who was cut eight times by NFL teams before landing a job in Kansas City, signed a new deal with the Chiefs. The price: $25 million, with a $5 million signing bonus, over five years.

Da'Norris Searcy, a solid player for the Buffalo Bills, decided to cash in with the Tennessee Titans. The price: $24 million ($10.5 million guaranteed) over four years.

In a market where Allen is getting $11.8 million guaranteed, the Eagles were probably smart to cool it after losing out on McCourty. The problem is, they are still going to have to play football in six months and they will very likely need someone to play safety alongside Malcolm Jenkins.

There are some internal candidates. Nolan Carroll, who signed as a free agent last year, has played mostly cornerback during his career. But the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Carroll lined up in a quasi-linebacker role in the Eagles' dime package last season. That suggests he could adapt to playing safety.

And then there is Earl Wolff, who missed most of his first two seasons with knee problems. Wolff underwent what he described as "mini-microfracture" surgery on the knee. It isn't a lock Wolff will be healthy enough to play this season. And it's still unknown just how good the 2013 fifth-round draft choice can be.

Jerome Couplin, who was signed off Detroit's practice squad late in the season, and Ed Reynolds, a sixth-round draft pick in 2014 who spent his rookie season on the practice squad, will get a look. Neither seems like a sure thing, but both have potential.

Chris Maragos and Chris Prosinski are special teams players who have yet to convince coaches they are ready for bigger roles on defense.

The Eagles could still add a veteran through free agency. Both LaRon Landry and Dawan Landry are still available.

The draft is the other avenue for filling the hole at safety. Alabama's Landon Collins is widely considered the best safety in this year's pool. The Eagles would probably have to use their first-round pick to get him.

If they wait until the second day of the draft, there are a few candidates: Arizona State's Damarious Randall, Samford's Jaquiski Tartt and Fresno State's Derron Smith are all likely second- or third-round picks.

The safety position has vexed the Eagles for years. They have drafted Allen, Reynolds, Wolff, Kurt Coleman and Jaiquawn Jarrett since 2010. They have signed Jenkins, Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips just in the past two offseasons. And still, they found themselves trying to pry McCourty away from the Patriots.