NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles rank 141st out of 333 international teams surveyed in an ESPN/SportingIntelligence report revealing the sports franchises that spend the most money on their players.

The Eagles’ total payroll of $116.7 million is the 36th highest among the 333 teams. The average Eagles player’s salary is $2.2 million.

That is the same average as the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA. The Sixers, with their 12-man roster, finished with the third-worst record in the NBA last year. Their entire payroll of $30.9 million was a fraction of the Eagles’ payroll.

The report concluded that professional athletes in team sports will earn a staggering $17.94 billion this year. The players with the largest annual salaries were in European soccer as well as Major League Baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers, with an average player salary of $8 million, were the most expensive team in American sports.

Because of the NFL’s roster size and team-friendly collective bargaining agreement, the highest ranking NFL team was the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins’ $2.3 million average salary ranked 124th among the 333 teams.

PHILADELPHIA – With the Philadelphia Eagles proposing a rule change to make two-point conversions easier, a strange little misconception has taken on new life. That is, that Chip Kelly is gung-ho to go for two after scoring a touchdown.

In 2014, the Eagles scored 54 touchdowns. They attempted (and made) 54 point-after kicks. In 2013, Kelly’s first season in the NFL, the Eagles attempted a total of eight two-point conversions. They were successful three times.

That is a bit more willingness to try for two, but hardly the go-for-broke attitude that many expected to see from Kelly. His apparent desire to make the two-point conversion half as difficult – by moving the line of scrimmage from the 2- to the 1-yard line – will keep that false assumption alive.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsChip Kelly might have a reputation as a gambler on two-point conversions, but the statistics don't back that up.

It’s not clear where that assumption even came from. Kelly was known to try for two earlier in games at Oregon rather than sticking to the fourth quarter, like most coaches. But he simply didn’t do it all that often.

In 2012, Kelly’s last season at Oregon, the Ducks were 4-for-6 on two-point conversions. That’s right: The team scored 89 touchdowns that season and tried for two just six times. In 2011, Oregon scored 88 touchdowns. Kelly went for two after just seven of them and was successful five times. Things were about the same in 2010. The Ducks scored 81 touchdowns and went 7-for-8 on two-point conversions.

That’s a reasonable number of gambles on two-point conversions. It is hardly the stuff of some wild, common-wisdom-scoffing iconoclast.

But that’s how Kelly’s image has differed from the reality ever since he got to Philadelphia. His offense is innovative, but Kelly himself says he isn’t doing anything that offbeat or risky. He is deeply committed to running the ball, for example. Compared to Kelly, Andy Reid was an off-the-charts, pass-happy maniac.

In Philadelphia, with a reliable kicker (something he didn’t always have at Oregon), Kelly has been content to take the easy point and move on. If the NFL had approved the Eagles’ proposed rule change and made two-point conversions easier, maybe we would have seen a different approach from Kelly in 2015. Even from the 2-yard line, he might find it tempting to let Tim Tebow try for two occasionally.

But expecting Kelly to toss the coach’s manual out the window and do whatever strikes his fancy is a losing proposition. He hasn’t been nearly as unconventional as his reputation said he might be.

PHILADELPHIA -- You will not be surprised by the conclusion drawn by Football Outsiders. In an Insider piece for ESPN.com, they looked at each team in the NFC East and identified the biggest hole on its roster after the NFL draft.

Philadelphia Eagles fans know the conclusion here: safety. As hyperactive as Chip Kelly may have been in his first offseason with complete control of personnel decisions, Kelly managed to not add a single pure safety to the roster. A couple of draft picks played both safety and cornerback in college, but that's about it.

What catches your eye in the piece, though, is the recurring theme. In naming the biggest weakness on each team's roster, Football Outsiders sounded repetitive.

The Eagles? Safety.

The Dallas Cowboys? Safety.

The New York Giants? Linebacker.

The Washington Redskins? The secondary.

Washington added cornerback Chris Culliver and safeties Dashon Goldson and Jeron Johnson in free agency. The Redskins added players at their need position. It isn't clear yet whether those players will provide an upgrade, but at least there is hope there.

Dallas still has the same safeties as last season. J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church weren't great, but there is a chance they will build on last year's experience together. The Eagles let one starter, Nate Allen, depart via free agency. They tried to sign New England's Devin McCourty but never produced a Plan B when McCourty re-upped with the Patriots.

Second-round pick Eric Rowe could move back to safety, but he has the body type of a cornerback. Rowe is starting out at corner in OTAs. It is hard to imagine him moving to safety unless he really struggles at corner.

Earl Wolff, who had season-ending surgery on his knee, is the most likely starter at safety. If he's healthy, he can build on the promise he showed as a rookie. That was in 2013. At least this year, he'll get to work with Malcolm Jenkins as the other safety.

The Eagles have been looking for a solution at safety since 2008, Brian Dawkins' last season with the team. Even the wackiest offseason in memory didn't provide it. It is still the Eagles' biggest need and, in the NFC East, they aren't alone.

PHILADELPHIA -- It will be surprising if the Eagles’ proposed changes to the point-after-touchdown procedure is adopted this week at the NFL owners meetings.

There are three proposals. The Eagles submitted a plan that allows two options after a touchdown is scored. The team can kick a PAT from the 15-yard line, the equivalent of a 32-yard field goal. Or the team can line up from the 1-yard line and run a play that, if successful, would be worth two points. If the defending team is able to create a turnover and score on the play, it would get two points.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow, New York Jets
Bob DeChiara-USA Today SportsTwo-point conversion attempts could be an area where Tim Tebow helps the Eagles.

The New England Patriots proposed similar choices. The PAT try would be from the 15-yard line, but the two-point conversion option would be from the 2-yard line. There is no way for the defense to score in the Patriots’ proposal.

The most likely option was recommended by the NFL competition committee. It resembles the Patriots’ proposal -- PAT from the 15, two-point conversion from the 2-yard line -- except it allows for the defense to score two points on a turnover and return.

The Eagles, who did not try a two-point conversion at all last season, appear to be trying to take advantage of having Tim Tebow on their roster. With his ability to run and throw, Tebow would be a tough guy to stop from the 1-yard line.

But that’s part of what makes the Eagles’ proposal seem like a long shot. The other 31 teams know the Eagles just signed Tebow. They also know that Chip Kelly, as a college coach, was aggressive when it came to going for two after a touchdown. So making it easier for the Eagles to get two points doesn’t seem like something that would be that appealing to the rest of the league.

Teams like Seattle, San Francisco and Carolina might see an advantage for themselves. Quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton bring the same dual-threat element as Tebow. So some teams are apt to support the plan for their own benefit.

But teams with quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo are not likely to be as enthusiastic. They may welcome the uncertainty introduced by the longer PAT distance, but stop short of cutting the two-point distance in half.

For the Eagles, it may be just as well. On paper, they seem to have an edge right now. But last year, with a couple of injuries to their offensive line, they were unable to score a touchdown from the 1-yard line in San Francisco. Kelly opted to call two pass plays because he didn’t trust his run game. Both were incomplete.

Injuries happen. They can change the makeup of the team. A rule change like this will last a long time. It may wind up benefiting other teams more than the Eagles in years to come.

PHILADELPHIA -- The debate in New England and elsewhere is whether Tom Brady's suspension is fair and what impact it will have on the AFC East race.

But what about the NFC East? The two divisions match up this year, which means each of the four teams in the AFC East plays each of the four teams in the NFC East during the season. The Dallas Cowboys, the defending NFC East champions, are scheduled to host the Patriots on Oct. 11.

That will be the fourth and final game of Brady’s suspension. There’s no getting around it. Brady’s absence gives the Cowboys a huge advantage in that game. And since the other three NFC East teams will have to play the Patriots with Brady, that gives Dallas a huge advantage in the NFC East race, as well.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesIf Tom Brady's suspension remains at four games, the Cowboys will be the only NFC East team to face the Patriots next season without Brady.

Since 2009, the NFC East has been decided by two or fewer games every year. So one likely loss turned into a likely win is a pretty significant development. Of course, that can and does happen because of injuries all the time. Two years ago, the Eagles played the Packers in Green Bay after quarterback Aaron Rodgers fractured his collarbone. The Eagles won, 27-13.

The Cowboys played Matt Flynn and the Packers about a month later. They lost, 37-36.

Injuries change the nature of games, but they are not imposed by the commissioner’s office. In punishing Brady and the Patriots, Roger Goodell is creating a competitive disadvantage for three teams in the NFC East. And that competitive disadvantage -- having to play against Brady -- is more significant and more decisive than the one Brady allegedly created by taking the air out of footballs.

There is a chance that Brady’s suspension will be reduced after his appeal. If it is cut in half and he misses two games, that will mean games against Pittsburgh and Buffalo will be affected. The Pittsburgh game will have an impact on the AFC North race, but the Steelers are the only team from that division scheduled to play the Patriots. So Pittsburgh’s break from playing Brady isn’t aggravated by having the other AFC North teams play the full-strength Patriots.

Buffalo is an AFC East rival of the Patriots. If the Bills get an edge in that game, it will be gone when the teams play again later in the season. Miami and the New York Jets have to play Brady and the Patriots twice each, so they have a little bit of a grievance. But the AFC East is not much like the NFC East. The Patriots have won the AFC East every year since 2002 except for 2008, when Brady blew his knee out in the season opener. Otherwise, the Patriots typically have won the division title by three or four games.

So the impact on the NFC East figures to be greater than the impact on the AFC East, even with Brady being unavailable for four games. The Patriots will likely be favored in two to three of those games: against Buffalo, Jacksonville and possibly Pittsburgh. Without Brady, they will likely be underdogs against Dallas.

Last year, the Cowboys beat the defending Super Bowl champions in Seattle. The Eagles lost to the Seahawks at home. That went a long way toward deciding the NFC East race. But the Cowboys earned that victory. The Eagles had home-field advantage but were unable to handle the Seahawks.

This year, thanks to the NFL, the Cowboys catch a break when they play the Patriots. The Eagles very likely catch a beating.

PHILADELPHIA -- Sports science may be the chicken soup of the 21st century. Does it really help players have a competitive advantage? Well, it can’t hurt.

This came to mind while reading Mark Saltveit’s piece on Bleeding Green Nation about Chip Kelly’s reconditioning program. The story is about Shawn Huls, formerly Kelly’s sports science coordinator. Huls’ title is now “director of sports science and reconditioning.”

With Kelly’s apparent fondness for players coming off of serious injuries, reconditioning may be the key to the Eagles’ season. Quarterback Sam Bradford (torn anterior cruciate ligament), linebacker Kiko Alonso (torn ACL) and linebacker DeMeco Ryans (ruptured Achilles tendon) are all returning from season-ending injuries. Other players, including cornerback Walter Thurmond, linebacker Jordan Hicks and running backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, have significant injury histories.

Can Kelly and Huls prevent or minimize time missed because of injuries? The evidence isn’t very encouraging.

Ryans tore his Achilles tendon right in the middle of the 2014 season. Nothing he was doing as part of the Eagles’ training methods prevented that. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks missed four games with a calf injury. Kelly seemed annoyed by the amount of time that Kendricks missed, but that didn’t change the facts.

The Eagles’ offensive line, which was impressively free from injuries in 2013, was wracked by aches and pains in 2014. Center Jason Kelce needed surgery to repair a sports hernia. He missed four games. Left guard Evan Mathis sprained his knee and missed seven games. Right guard Todd Herremans tore his biceps and went on injured reserve for half the season. Backup tackle Allen Barbre missed 15 games with a high ankle sprain.

None of this is meant as a knock against Kelly or any of the players. Herremans tried to play through the injury but couldn’t. Kelce returned from surgery in remarkable fashion. The injuries were significant and they were real.

The point is only that there isn’t much that anyone can do to prevent such injuries in a sport like football. It is a violent game. Human bodies are vulnerable to breaking bones and tissue tearing. Healing takes time.

Can the sports science initiatives and reconditioning approach help players stay healthy or heal faster? Possibly. At worst, they can’t hurt.

PHILADELPHIA -- At the admitted risk of beating a dead horse here, there was one more thought worth discussing on the topic of Chip Kelly and race.

The topic was perhaps overdiscussed this week after former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy told ESPN The Magazine that Kelly “got rid of all the black players” during his offseason shakeup. Of course, Kelly also acquired a number of African-American players, including DeMarco Murray, who was signed to replace McCoy.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesChip Kelly has shown that you can be outspoken as long as you buy in to his program.

Part of McCoy’s point seemed to be that Kelly doesn’t like outspoken or defiant black players. It seems more fair to say that he doesn’t especially care for outspoken or defiant players of any race. Kelly is trying to build a culture around the Eagles, and it certainly helps that effort if players buy in to what he’s doing.

Case in point: Cary Williams. Williams is African-American. Williams has been the most outspoken player in the Eagles’ locker room for the past two years. Williams is the one who got into a fight during the Eagles’ joint practices with the Patriots. He’s the one who skipped voluntary workouts two years ago to shop for sconces for the home he was building.

Most notably, Williams was the guy who declared (after a game the Eagles won, by the way) that Kelly’s uptempo practices were having an impact on the players. They were tired by Sunday and it was making it difficult to compete with fresher teams.

The next day, Williams drove to the NovaCare Complex and had a one-on-one meeting with Kelly. The two men cleared the air. Williams addressed the team at a meeting on Tuesday and the incident was over with. Williams was back in the starting lineup the following week.

That whole episode is worth reviewing in the wake of McCoy’s comments. Kelly released Williams in March. But, like McCoy, Williams was going to have a very high salary-cap number in 2015. That $8.17 million cap charge was awfully high for a player who was part of the league’s worst secondary for the past two seasons.

To replace Williams, Kelly signed Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell, who is also African-American. The Eagles signed two other cornerbacks and drafted three more. All five of those players are African-American.

The point is, Kelly can have differences of opinion with players. He could even clash with players at times. But his handling of the situation with Williams seems about as even-handed as possible. Ultimately, like McCoy, Williams had a contract that made it very difficult to keep him on the team.

If any color is a factor in these things, it appears to be green.

PHILADELPHIA -- It is admirable to build your team with high-character players. The problem is that some of the players who fall short of that requirement wind up playing for your opponents.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly said the team took LSU guard La'el Collins off its draft board after Collins was questioned by police in the murder of his former girlfriend. Although Collins had visited the NovaCare Complex as part of the Eagles’ pre-draft preparations, there was no sign the Eagles were in the mix to sign Collins after police said he was not a suspect.

Instead, the Dallas Cowboys signed Collins on Thursday. So the Eagles will have to play against the first-round talent twice a season. Same with Randy Gregory, an outside linebacker the Cowboys selected in the second round after positive marijuana tests caused him to drop out of the first round.

In Collins, Gregory and first-round pick Byron Jones, the Cowboys got three projected first-rounders out of this draft class. The risk they took is jeopardizing their team chemistry .

Gregory, who tested positive for marijuana at the scouting combine, could have more of an impact on the Eagles than the other two players. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Gregory has the chance to be a very good pass-rusher. That will require extra attention from the Eagles, who will likely be starting the injury-prone Sam Bradford at quarterback.

The Eagles could have used Collins as a replacement for right guard Todd Herremans. They could have used a sixth- or seventh-round pick to secure his rights while his investigation was being completed.

The Cowboys are expected to start Collins at left guard, making their already formidable offensive line that much more solid. The Cowboys didn’t draft a running back, which was something of a surprise after they lost free agent DeMarco Murray to the Eagles. But their line could be dominant enough to make Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden into elite backs.
But the Cowboys’ line figured to be very good even without Collins. With Gregory and Greg Hardy, the Cowboys’ pass rush appears to be vastly improved.

The Eagles may win any character contests between the two teams. The Cowboys may eventually regret some of those moves -- Hardy was available because of his impending suspension for a domestic violence case -- but they unarguably added some pretty good football players.

PHILADELPHIA – If there are still unanswered questions about the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster – and there are – it’s not because the team didn’t do a good job in free agency and the draft. It’s because Chip Kelly’s big makeover of the team created more holes than it was possible to fill in one offseason.

Kelly traded away quarterback Nick Foles and running back LeSean McCoy. He acquired quarterback Sam Bradford and running backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. So those holes were filled with similar, potentially more effective, players.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsChip Kelly seemingly has found top replacements for departed starters at the skill positions, but other spots still have question marks.

At cornerback, Kelly released Cary Williams and allowed Bradley Fletcher to leave in free agency without a contract offer. But Kelly signed free agents Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond to fill those spots.

Kelly tried to re-sign wide receiver Jeremy Maclin but dropped out when Kansas City raised its offer to $11 million per season. By drafting Nelson Agholor in the first round, Kelly got a receiver who is physically similar to Maclin with more potential upside.

But Kelly’s efforts weren’t quite comprehensive. His decision to release right guard Todd Herremans created one hole along the offensive line. The possibility that left guard Evan Mathis will be traded or released could result in a hole at left guard. Kelly was unable to land a possible replacement in the draft.

Meanwhile, safety remains a concern. The Eagles moved up in the second round to take Utah’s Eric Rowe, who was converted from safety to cornerback in college. Rowe could replace the departed Nate Allen at safety, but he is built more like a cornerback and Kelly said he would start practice as a cornerback.

Bear in mind that capable cornerbacks are more valuable than safeties. If Rowe is a cornerback, that’s a good draft choice. But it still leaves a question mark at safety.

Each individual move the Eagles made can be understood and even appreciated. But Kelly’s attempt to change as many as 10 starters in one offseason could prove to be a little too ambitious.

There have been reports that Kelly attempted to sign free agents Devin McCourty, a safety from New England, and Orlando Franklin, a guard from Denver. He wasn’t able to close those deals, though. That left only the draft to fill the holes remaining on the roster.

Kelly was smart not to reach for either position. Rowe was a solid pick in the second round, whether he winds up playing safety or corner. In the third round, the Eagles went with linebacker Jordan Hicks instead of an offensive lineman they didn’t think was worthy of the pick. Faced with the same predicament in the fourth round, they traded their pick for a third-round pick in 2016.

With holes still remaining, Kelly turned to the players who are already on his roster. There are risks there. Allen Barbre can step in at right guard, but he’s about to turn 30 and missed more of last season with a high ankle sprain. Matt Tobin, who also had injury problems last season, could be ready to step in for Mathis, but he was unable to nail down a starting job in 2014. At safety, the leading contender would be Earl Wolff, who had surgery on his knee after being limited for two seasons because of it.

PHILADELPHIA -- Mark Sanchez believes there will be open competition for the Eagles’ starting quarterback job. He said so in an interview on CSN Philly this week.

Is he right? Does Sanchez, who played the second half of the 2014 season, have a fair chance to beat out Sam Bradford, who was obtained from the St. Louis Rams in exchange for Nick Foles?

Probably not. Sanchez might have a legitimate chance to be the starting quarterback when the season opens. He has a head start: Sanchez is healthy, while Bradford is still rehabbing a surgically repaired anterior cruciate ligament. Sanchez also has been in coach Chip Kelly’s offense for a year longer than Bradford.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
AP Photo/Kathy WillensMark Sanchez believes he has a chance to win the starting quarterback job with the Eagles, but the deck is likely stacked against him.

But that doesn’t equal a fair chance. The tie goes to Bradford, and if the competition is close, it is probably scored a tie and awarded to Bradford. That is the difference between being the guy with the $13 million salary and the guy with a $4.5 million salary. That is the difference between the guy obtained in exchange for Foles and a second-round pick, and the guy who was signed twice as a free agent.

Early in his career, Sanchez was the quarterback with the upper hand in any competition. He was the No. 5 pick in the 2009 NFL draft. He was making the most money. The New York Jets had people whose reputations relied on Sanchez being successful.

This year, Bradford has all those advantages. Let’s put it another way: Sanchez can win the competition, but if he does, it will point to significant trouble for Kelly and the Eagles. It will mean Bradford has had a setback in his recovery from the ACL injury, that he has trouble adapting to Kelly’s offense, or that he otherwise performs less capably than Sanchez.

None of those three possibilities would be good for Kelly. He assumed the injury risk when he traded for Bradford, so that would signify a mistake on the coach’s part. Kelly also studied Bradford’s career and concluded that Bradford would be a better quarterback in his offense than Foles was. If Bradford is a poor fit, that also would count as a mark against Kelly.

All of that said, there’s nothing wrong with Kelly telling Sanchez it will be an open competition. If you’re Kelly, you want Sanchez to bring his best performance to the practice field every day. The better Sanchez is, the better Bradford must be to win the job. And if Bradford can’t win the job, Kelly will need Sanchez playing at his best.

As for Bradford, there’s nothing wrong with seeing how he responds to a real challenge. Kelly said Bradford’s former coaches told him that Bradford is a great competitor. What better way to find out?

So yes, Bradford and Sanchez will get the same number of practice reps. They will both have every chance to prove themselves the better quarterback. It’s just that after seeing Sanchez go 4-4 as a starter last season and then trading Foles, Kelly really needs Bradford to win that competition. And that means he almost certainly will.

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PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly is in a trap with no easy way to extricate himself.

The whispers about the Eagles head coach have turned into public declarations. Running back LeSean McCoy, who was traded from Philadelphia to Buffalo in March, said it on the record in an interview with ESPN The Magazine:

"The relationship was never really great," McCoy said. "I feel like I always respected him as a coach. I think that's the way he runs his team. He wants the full control. You see how fast he got rid of all the good players. Especially all the good black players. He got rid of them the fastest. That's the truth. There's a reason. ... It's hard to explain with him. But there's a reason he got rid of all the black players -- the good ones -- like that."

McCoy cited comments by ESPN's Stephen A. Smith as support. Earlier in the offseason, former Eagles offensive lineman Tra Thomas, who spent two years as an assistant coach under Kelly, echoed those sentiments.

"One of the things that you're seeing right now, and these are the things that you have heard from the locker room from different players is that ... they feel like there is a hint of racism," Thomas said on WTXF-TV Fox 29. "When you put that tag on someone, you've got to be careful with that, but there are some of the players that kind of feel like that's what it is. Especially when there was a report that came out last year that the Eagles were one of the whitest teams in the NFL. So you start to see the culture of the team change extremely quickly, when Coach Kelly takes over."

At the NFL owners meetings in March, Kelly said he was "disappointed" by Thomas' comments.

"I didn't really see it, but I heard about it," Kelly said in Phoenix. "I was just disappointed. We gave Tra a great opportunity. He came in on a Bill Walsh minority internship program. Mr. [Jeffrey] Lurie was nice enough to keep him on for two years -- one on offense, one on defense -- see if he could find a job in the NFL. So I hope Tra does find a job in the NFL. We don't have a job open."

[+] EnlargeRiley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin
AP Photo/Alex BrandonRiley Cooper (right), who was involved in a racially charged verbal exchange in 2013, has a long-term deal with the Eagles. That appears to affect the perception of coach Chip Kelly.

Kelly was asked about the number of white players on the roster.

"I don't look at the color of any player," Kelly replied. "I just look at how do they fit on our team. In 2015, I don't think that's something that's ever come into my mindset."

There are a couple of elements at work here. Let's take them one at a time.

The most provocative element is the presence of wide receiver Riley Cooper, who is white. During Kelly's first training camp, in 2013, a video of Cooper using the "N-word" surfaced on a local website. It was Kelly's first crisis as head coach of the Eagles. He decided to let Cooper remain with the team after apologizing to his teammates and speaking to many of them face to face. After the 2013 season, Cooper signed a new five-year contract worth $22.5 million. He remains on the roster.

That was the foundation of Smith's criticism on ESPN's First Take. Kelly released wide receiver DeSean Jackson last year. This year, he traded McCoy and lost Jeremy Maclin in free agency.

"We're sitting here looking at some of the decisions that Chip Kelly makes and I'm like, what is up -- what's up with that? It's like you've got to be his kind of guy, you know? And when Riley Cooper's your kind of guy?" Smith said. "Now I'm not saying I know, I'm just going to say that it does strike me as a tad bit odd. I'm going to repeat this. Gone: LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson. Staying: Riley Cooper. Really? Really?"

A little context might be helpful here. Kelly traded quarterback Nick Foles, who is white. In free agency, Kelly replaced McCoy with another African-American running back, DeMarco Murray (on a five-year, $42 million contract). Kelly also signed cornerback Byron Maxwell to a six-year, $63 million deal -- the largest contract of Kelly's tenure.

In the NFL, if you trade or release a Pro Bowl-level player like McCoy or Jackson, there is a good chance he'll be black. A 2014 study showed that 68 percent of NFL players are African-American.

Kelly tried to sign Maclin to a new contract, but dropped out when Kansas City went to $11 million per year. To replace Maclin, Kelly drafted Nelson Agholor in the first round last week. Five of the Eagles' six draft choices are African-American. Only seventh-round pick Brian Mihalik is white.

The Eagles had 21 non-black players on their 53-man roster at the end of the 2014 season. That's about 40 percent, compared to 32 percent league-wide. Of those 21 players, seven were originally signed or drafted while Andy Reid was the coach. Cooper is one of those seven.

One of Thomas' points was that the Eagles have only one African-American position coach, running backs coach Duce Staley. Tight ends coach Ted Williams was recently transferred to the scouting staff. Staley and Williams were with the Eagles before Kelly was hired.

Of Kelly's 23 assistant coaches, seven are African-American.

Finally, when Kelly became head coach of the Eagles, he inherited Foles and Michael Vick as his candidates for starting quarterback. Vick won the competition. At Oregon, Kelly's starting quarterbacks included African-Americans Darron Thomas and Dennis Dixon before Tongan Marcus Mariota took over.

Kelly is caught in a trap. It was set when he decided not to release Cooper after the racially inflammatory episode in 2013. It has been sprung by public remarks from Thomas, Smith and now McCoy. Kelly has declined to comment on this latest incident. That might be easier than trying to challenge the perception that's out there, but silence only seems to make the trap stickier and harder to escape.

PHILADELPHIA – In the aftermath of the NFL draft, with Marcus Mariota on the cover of Sports Illustrated in a blue Tennessee Titans jersey, Chip Kelly’s offseason strategy makes a lot more sense.

Kelly tried to cut a deal with the Titans for the No. 2 pick in the draft. He called the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to see if they were any more willing to part with the No. 1 overall pick. He found what he expected, that the price for making either move would mean “mortgaging the future” – something Kelly said he would not do for any player.

He said that immediately after trading Nick Foles to St. Louis for Sam Bradford. So when you view the landscape as Kelly saw it going into this offseason, it seems pretty clear. The Eagles did not have, in Foles, what Kelly considered to be a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. The odds against moving up for Mariota were long and the cost would likely offset the acquisition of a franchise quarterback.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Matt SlocumUltimately, Eagles coach Chip Kelly decided that giving Sam Bradford a shot was better for the franchise than a lopsided trade for Marcus Mariota.

So Kelly made the deal for Bradford, obtaining the player drafted with the first overall pick in 2010 from a team that had run out of patience with him. Bradford’s twice-torn ACL had put his career, and the Rams’ development, on hold for two years. The Rams needed a fresh start and so did Bradford.

Kelly made the Bradford deal when he could. He took a shot at getting Mariota when he could. When all was said and done, he was never going to be able to get Mariota – not for lack of interest or effort, but because teams just don’t move down 18 spots in the draft and pass on a potential franchise quarterback. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the other 31 teams in the NFL aren’t just waiting around to see how they can help the Eagles.

So now what? The pessimistic view would be that Kelly simply took on the burden that the Rams were eager to shed. By most measures, Bradford would be added to the list of first-round busts at the quarterback position, along with Ryan Leaf, Vince Young and David Carr.

But here’s the thing that gets overlooked when reciting that list of busts: It never happens in a vacuum. In 1999, when Andy Reid avoided busts Tim Couch and Akili Smith by taking Donovan McNabb, it wasn’t purely chance. Reid had a proven, successful offensive system. He had job security. And he had a plan – the one used in Green Bay with Brett Favre – for developing a young quarterback.

If Reid had taken Smith, the strong-armed quarterback from Oregon, and if McNabb had wound up in Cincinnati with Bruce Coslet and Ken Anderson (and with Dick LeBeau, by his second season) running the offense? Who knows which quarterback would have succeeded and which would have been the bust?

As a rookie in 2010, Bradford played for offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who was on Reid’s staff when McNabb was being developed. Bradford completed 60 percent of his passes and was named the AP offensive rookie of the year. Shurmur was hired to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Josh McDaniels became the Rams’ offensive coordinator for 2011.

By 2012, McDaniels was gone and so was head coach Steve Spagnuolo. New coach Jeff Fisher hired Brian Schottenheimer as his offensive coordinator. By the time Bradford blew out his knee for the first time, he’d had two head coaches and three offensive coordinators in St. Louis. Considering each change in offense means learning a new language and different fundamentals, that is not an ideal situation.

In Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers has played in the same basic offense for his entire career. Tom Brady has had different coordinators with different systems, but those changes were made by the masterful Bill Belichick, with an eye toward Brady’s evolution as a quarterback.

In Philadelphia, the offensive-oriented Kelly is the head coach and figures to be for some time. The offensive coordinator, who happens to be Shurmur, is going into his third season with the team. There is a run-oriented offensive system, a veteran and competent offensive line and plenty of talented skill players to work with.

It is the opposite of the situation Bradford had in St. Louis. Everything is in place for a quarterback to succeed. The only question was, who would be the quarterback? Now we know.

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly exudes confidence most of the time, and he certainly didn’t hesitate to make bold changes in the Philadelphia Eagles' roster after a 10-6 season.

But Kelly offered a glimpse into the underlying reasons for the offseason shakeup. In an interview with Comcast Sportsnet Philly, Kelly acknowledged that, entering his third season in Philadelphia, he can hear the clock ticking.

He traded for Sam Bradford because he didn’t feel Nick Foles gave the Eagles a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback, and because he knew that it was going to be nearly impossible to acquire Marcus Mariota in the draft. Without a championship quarterback, Kelly felt the Eagles would be treading water and his tenure would be brief.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Matt SlocumChip Kelly believes Sam Bradford is a QB who can help the Eagles compete for championships.

"The only way you’re going to get a quarterback is you got to be really not very good so you finish in the top one, two in the draft," Kelly told CSN-Philly. "If we’re not very good and we finish with the top one, two (pick) in the draft, I don’t think I’m going to be here. So we better find another way to find a quarterback. And that’s what we did with Sam."

It’s an interesting paradox. When Kelly took the job two years ago, he had the leverage to use a couple of seasons to rebuild the 4-12 team he inherited.

Unfortunately for Kelly, the Eagles had the fourth pick in a 2013 draft that had no clear franchise quarterbacks available. E.J. Manuel went to Buffalo in the first round, and the Jets took Geno Smith in the second. Both of those teams are uncertain about their quarterback situation just two years later.

But Kelly’s approach was to take the team at hand and win as many games as he could. That made sense, given that Kelly had spent his career at the college level and was testing himself at the NFL level. He did well, too, winning the NFC East title with a 10-6 record in his first season. In his second, the same record was not good enough to make the playoffs. The Eagles’ three-game losing streak in December convinced Kelly that his roster had limitations, beginning at the quarterback position.

Here’s the catch, though. Though Kelly demonstrated that he’s a very good coach, especially on the offensive side of the game, he did all that with a team largely assembled by Andy Reid and Howie Roseman. Recognizing that team’s limitations was relatively easy to do. Building a better team is en entirely different matter.

At the college level, Kelly proved to be an adept program builder. He is now trying his hand at building an NFL team. With the salary cap and the draft, that is a very different challenge. It has been clear that Kelly has no reservations about making changes.

In his third season, Kelly is likely to have at least eight new starters. That means at least 36 percent of his lineup will be different from last season. That’s the kind of change you often see in the first year under a new coach -- Reid and Buddy Ryan both started their Eagles tenures with similar turnover -- but it’s pretty unusual in Year 3.

Kelly now has two years of NFL experience. He has a feel for how the league works and what it takes to build a winning team. He also has full control over personnel decisions. It’s his team to build.

And the clock is ticking.

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly tried to fix the Philadelphia Eagles' secondary during his first two seasons with the team. In Kelly’s first two seasons, the Eagles added 12 defensive backs -- six through free agency, four through the draft and two more via the waiver wire.

In Kelly’s third offseason -- his first with full control of personnel decisions -- the Eagles added six more DBs: Free agents Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond III and E.J. Biggers and draft picks Eric Rowe, JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans.

[+] EnlargeEric Rowe
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesSecond-round draft pick Eric Rowe will compete for a starting job at corner and can also fill in at safety for the Eagles.

After adding undrafted free agents over the weekend, the Eagles now have 16 defensive backs on their roster. The 24-year-old Brandon Boykin, a fourth-round draft pick in 2012, has been with the Eagles longer than any of the others.

Kelly is taking the baby turtle approach to the secondary this season. The mother turtle lays a bunch of eggs on the beach and hopes some of them make it to the water without being carried off by predators.

“We're going to throw them all out on the field and figure out who the best corners and safeties are,” Kelly said. “I don't care on Monday who lines up where. Let's start working on technique, let's start backpedaling. We've got a long way to go. You've got three weeks (where) you can't even go against (an offensive) look. ... But the more people you have to select from, the better we think our prospects are in the secondary.”

Malcolm Jenkins will start at one safety spot. Byron Maxwell will be one of the starting cornerbacks. The other roles are up for grabs.

Going into the draft, the Eagles' most glaring hole was at safety, where Nate Allen left a starting spot open. Rowe, who began his college career at Utah as a safety, is one candidate to fill that spot. So is Evans, the second of two sixth-round picks. Earl Wolff, who was hampered last season by a knee injury, is expected to be back in the mix, as are in-season roster additions Jerome Couplin III and Chris Prosinski.

Jaylen Watkins, a fourth-round pick last year, played cornerback as a rookie. He was planning to switch to safety this year. Sixth-round pick Ed Reynolds, who spent the season on the practice squad, will also get a chance to compete.

That makes seven candidates for one safety job.

Rowe is also a contender for the starting cornerback spot opposite Maxwell. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Rowe switched to cornerback for his senior season at Utah and said it’s his first preference in the NFL. In person, he looks like a corner. With Rowe and Maxwell, the Eagles would have two cornerbacks of about the same height and weight. Carroll, Thurmond and Shepherd will compete with Rowe for that spot.

Thurmond has a lot of experience as a nickel corner, playing opposite slot receivers, and could compete with Boykin for that role. So could Nolan Carroll, who started one game in place of Bradley Fletcher last year, and Evans.

The last two years, Allen, Fletcher and Cary Williams were pretty much assured of their starting spots. This year, there are more candidates and will be more competition.

“We've got more players on the defensive side of the ball,” Kelly said. “But then the next thing is, and it's like anything, we've got to get out on the field and we've got to get working and try to see what those guys bring and get rolling from that standpoint.”

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly had no trouble identifying the problem he inherited as the man in charge of the Eagles’ personnel decisions. There’s a reason Kelly devoted half his first draft to one area.

Of the Eagles’ six draft picks, three were defensive backs. Second-round pick Eric Rowe played safety and cornerback at Utah. Sixth-rounder Randall Evans played both spots at Kansas State. Kansas cornerback JaCorey Shepherd was downgraded by some teams because he was injured and unable to take part in the pre-draft process.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesStrengthening his team's secondary proved to be a priority in the NFL draft for the Eagles' Chip Kelly.

“We had a priority of doing a better job in terms of depth at inside linebacker and getting guys to play in the secondary,” Kelly said. “So that's what we're looking at right now. If you look at the history, and I've studied the history here, they haven't drafted a lot of DBs in the last 10 years. We need to develop those guys and try not to rely on free agency to go out and get those guys. We had to because of the situation we were in, but we hope to continue to get defensive backs through the draft and develop them.”

Kelly is correct. The Eagles drafted safeties in the second round in 2010 (Nate Allen) and 2012 (Jaiquawn Jarrett), but those were the only two defensive backs drafted early in the past decade. Their attempts in free agency -- from Nnamdi Asomugha to Cary Williams -- have not produced much success, either.

But here’s the catch: Since Kelly had been here, the Eagles have drafted just one offensive lineman in three years. That was Lane Johnson, their first-round pick in the 2013 draft. Kelly said the Eagles had planned to draft an offensive lineman or two, but things just didn’t unfold that way.

“I love offensive linemen,” Kelly said. “But again, you've got to take what's available. You know, as we moved out of the fourth round, not having a pick until you get to six, so there weren't many offensive linemen left at that point in time. The board was pretty depleted by the time we got back on the clock.”

Of course, the Eagles didn’t have picks in the fourth or fifth round because they traded them away. They gained a third-round pick in next year’s draft -- which will be beneficial then -- but wound up with just six picks in this year’s draft.

There wasn’t anything especially bad about any of the individual moves or draft choices. Taken as a whole, though, their draft class left them without any young offensive linemen to develop. Same as last year.

The point is, it’s easy to look back on previous years and see the mistakes made by the previous Eagles regime. It’s harder to avoid similar mistakes on your own watch. The good news is that Kelly seems to know exactly where his offensive line is and what needs to be done.

“I think you look at our line in terms of being able to go play this season, I think we're excited about the group we have to go play this season,” Kelly said. “We do have to address it as we move forward in the future, and then maybe there's one or two or three or four guys that we sign here that are undrafted guys that will have an opportunity like Matt Tobin that's come in here and made our team as an undrafted guy, and that's kind of the direction we're going to go, at least this year.”

 

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