NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles, coming off an NFC East title with Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy in their backfield, were ranked No. 7 in the NFL at this time last year. The rankings are based on how each team is set up for the next season. Teams are ranked based on five categories: coaching, front office, quarterback, draft acumen and the rest of their current roster.
This year, with Kelly taking over control of the front office, the Eagles dropped down to the middle of the pack. They are No. 15 overall, well behind rival Dallas in the NFC East (at No. 6). The Eagles are ahead of NFC East opponents New York (at No. 20) and Washington (No. 27).
Overall, the Eagles were ranked behind seven NFC teams: Green Bay, Seattle, Dallas, Minnesota, Carolina, Arizona and Detroit. Four of those teams beat the Eagles in 2014, while the Eagles defeated two of them.
The panel downgraded the Eagles' roster -- especially at quarterback -- after Kelly's busy offseason. The Eagles' overall roster was ranked fifth in 2014. It dropped to 14th this season. The shift from Foles to Sam Bradford dropped the Eagles from No. 12 to No. 22 in quarterback ranking. At this point last year, Foles was coming off his Pro Bowl 2014 season. Bradford, of course, is coming off a second season ended by a torn ACL.
Clearly, if Bradford is healthy and can perform at a high level, that would bring the Eagles way up in the panel's rankings -- as well as in the NFC standings.
But those beliefs have to be taken with several grains of salt.
First, coach Chip Kelly has a history of making his rookies earn their way up the depth chart. So while some coaches would have placed second-round draft choice Eric Rowe in the starting lineup right away, Kelly doesn't often choose to do things that way. So it may well be that Rowe will have the starting job when the season begins and Carroll is merely a place-holder.
Second, while it may be true Carroll has had a great offseason, he didn't have all that terrific a regular season. That should count for something. The Eagles had one of the worst defenses in the NFL against the pass in 2013, so there was an opportunity for Carroll to win a starting job in last year's training camp. He couldn't beat out Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher, so was shifted to an improvised role as a linebacker in the team's dime defensive package.
Bottom line: If Carroll wasn't able to crack the lineup during the 2014 season, it's fair to wonder how he represents an upgrade for the 2015 season.
So, allowing for the possibility that Carroll really has made substantial progress during this offseason, there will be a competition between him and Rowe for this job. A few other players -- nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin and rookies JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans -- will also be in the mix.
But the likely scenario is this: Carroll will be the starting cornerback opposite Byron Maxwell when the preseason games begin. By the third game, the coaches will decide to give Rowe a chance to start. That would mean a pretty good test against the Green Bay Packers' offense.
If Rowe isn't ready to start by the season opener in Atlanta, Carroll would likely continue to line up as the starter. One thing is clear about Kelly. He doesn't have a lot of patience. He isn't going to let his team suffer just to give a rookie cornerback playing time. And his position with his quarterbacks won't change here. The best player will play.
But Kelly traded up in the second round to get Rowe because he believes the Utah product will become the best player for the Eagles' starting cornerback job. So it's likely Rowe will wind up moving ahead of Carroll as soon as he's ready.
PHILADELPHIA -- For two seasons, coach Chip Kelly made relatively minor changes to the Philadelphia Eagles' roster he inherited from Andy Reid. Kelly focused on getting the most out of the players he had while getting a feel for the NFL game.
That all ended after the 2014 season. Given full control of personnel decisions, Kelly slashed and burned the Eagles' roster. When he was done, it appeared the 2015 Eagles will have 10 new starters -- five on offense, five on defense.
But how many of those new starters are better than the players they will be replacing? Going purely on on-field performance, without taking the salary cap into account (a luxury Kelly didn't have), here's a player-by-player comparison. We start today with the offense and will cover the defense Sunday:
DeMarco Murray in place of LeSean McCoy at running back: Kelly signed the NFL's leading rusher from 2014 to replace the NFL's leading rusher from 2013. Clearly, McCoy's performance was affected by the play of his offensive line over the past two years. But then, so was Murray's. Murray will cost less and he has a more direct running style, which Kelly prefers. But McCoy was the Eagles' all-time leading rusher. Verdict: Even.
Sam Bradford in place of Nick Foles at quarterback: Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft and spent five seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Injuries ruined two of those seasons. In his five years, Bradford never played quarterback as well as Foles did for the Eagles in 2013. But then, Foles wasn't able to play nearly that well in 2014. Verdict: It's close, but Bradford has more upside than Foles.
Nelson Agholor in place of Jeremy Maclin at wide receiver: Kelly tried to re-sign Maclin, so he wanted the former first-round pick back after his career-best 2014 season. Agholor, this year's first-round pick, has a chance to be a very similar player. In time, he could prove to be better. Based on experience, the nod would have to go toward Maclin this season. Verdict: Maclin.
Allen Barbre in place of Evan Mathis at left guard: The coaching staff believes Barbre is ready to be a starter. That's fine, but Mathis was one of the two or three best guards in the NFL. It's understandable if Kelly decided that Mathis' dissatisfaction with his contract made him expendable. But it didn't make him less of a player. Verdict: Mathis was better.
Matt Tobin (or Andrew Gardner) in place of Todd Herremans at right guard: Tobin was benched after two games at right guard last season. Herremans was a solid, steady player for a long time. There's a chance Tobin or Gardner could prove to be better, but they haven't done that yet. Verdict: Herremans.
PHILADELPHIA -- With offseason workouts and minicamps in the rearview mirror and training camps just a few weeks away, we assess the Philadelphia Eagles' offseason moves and assign a letter grade in the video above.
Best move: Ultimately, the trade that sent Nick Foles to St. Louis in exchange for Sam Bradford is going to be the most significant move of Chip Kelly’s manic offseason. If Bradford stays healthy and gives the Eagles a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback (two fairly large ifs), then Kelly will have done the most difficult part of building a team. He’ll have his quarterback. If Bradford gets hurt again or otherwise falls short, Kelly will be right back at Square 1. We just don’t have any real idea how it will go. For now, then, Kelly’s best move was signing running back DeMarco Murray in free agency. Not only did Kelly succeed in calming fears that he went too far by trading way LeSean McCoy, he managed to deprive the Dallas Cowboys of one of their best players. It might have been an accident -- Kelly was going after Frank Gore because he thought Murray would be too expensive -- but it worked out well for Kelly.
Riskiest move: By releasing both of his veteran starting guards, Kelly took an enormous risk. By not signing or drafting any offensive linemen, Kelly compounded that risk. He will have to fill those two holes with the backup linemen who are on hand. Those linemen got a chance to play last season when Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans were injured. That helps. On the other hand, the line wasn’t exactly dominant with Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner playing guard. These moves would be risky at any time. But when Kelly is counting on his line to protect oft-injured quarterback Bradford and to block for Murray, who strolled through gaping holes in Dallas last season, the stakes are that much higher. The margin for error is that much smaller.
Most puzzling move: It wasn’t surprising that Kelly released Cary Williams and let fellow cornerback Bradley Fletcher and safety Nate Allen walk away in free agency. The Eagles' secondary was a major problem the past two seasons, and it broke down repeatedly during the Eagles’ season-ruining three-game losing streak in December. And it wasn’t surprising when Kelly then dangled $63 million in front of Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell. Kelly also signed nickel cornerback Walter Thurmond to compete for the other starting spot. But when minicamp rolled around, Thurmond was lining up at safety, a position the Eagles have struggled to fill since Brian Dawkins' departure in 2009. Second-round draft pick Eric Rowe is playing cornerback, so the Eagles didn’t sign or draft a true safety to replace Allen. They might wind up regretting that.
Training camp outlook: Kelly definitely succeeded in making the Eagles a very different team in 2015. But are they a better team with a new quarterback, new running backs, a new secondary and changes at linebacker and on the offensive line? Can all those new parts be blended into a cohesive team during training camp? Will Bradford be healthy and become a good fit in Kelly’s offense? There are a lot more questions about this team than there have been in years past. That’s because Kelly decided the 2014 version of the Eagles had reached its ceiling: 10 wins and no real chance to reach the Super Bowl. So the questions about this team are preferable to the answers Kelly had about last year’s team.
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly insists that he will hold an open competition for the Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback job.
“The best players are always going to play,” Kelly said last week. “I think that's always been the way it has to be, and that's the way it will be. … It's not fair to the rest of the guys on the team if the best players aren't playing. It's not fair to this city, it's not fair to the staff and it's not fair to anybody, if the best players aren’t playing and the best players are always going to play.”
That sounds pretty definitive. So Kelly has to hope that Sam Bradford has a great training camp and clearly wins the competition with Mark Sanchez. That's clearly, because Kelly's own words will haunt him if Sanchez looks better but Bradford is proclaimed the starter.
If Bradford isn't the winner, Kelly’s decision to trade Nick Foles plus second- and fourth-round draft picks for Bradford is going to look like a disaster.
Remember, Kelly is the one who has explained the disposal of several Pro Bowlers by pointing to their contracts. DeSean Jackson and Trent Cole and LeSean McCoy were all going to make too much money for Kelly to keep them on the Eagles’ roster. They had to go.
Well, Bradford is going to make more than any of those guys. In the final year of the original contract Bradford signed with the St. Louis Rams, he will earn $12.95 million. Chances are, the Rams did that deal with Bradford with the assumption that one of two things would happen. He’d be a great quarterback, and they would negotiate a new contract with him that would make the final year of his rookie deal moot. Or, if Bradford flopped as a player, the Rams would release him before they ever had to pay him that last year’s salary.
Injuries robbed Bradford of two seasons, leaving the Rams unable to determine whether he was a great player or a flop. Rather than release him, they were able to trade him to the Eagles.
That would be a good deal for the Eagles if Bradford established himself as their starting quarterback. In that case, it is the Eagles who will be looking to sign Bradford to a new contract. Because of the timing of the trade, they have just this one season to get a handle on Bradford. It is, in other words, almost necessary that Bradford is the starting quarterback.
That would make $13 million a reasonable salary. That would make Foles and two draft picks a reasonable price to pay in trade.
But if Sanchez, who went 4-4 in eight starts for the Eagles last year, wins the competition? And that is possible. Bradford hasn’t even taken part in full-squad practices during the offseason. Sanchez has a one-year head start in Kelly’s offense. The coach raved about Sanchez’s performance in offseason workouts, citing his progress in his second season running Kelly’s offense.
If Sanchez is starting in September, would the Eagles be better off with Foles earning about $1.5 million as his backup or with Bradford making $12.95 million? Foles would not only be about one-eighth the price, he would have two seasons’ worth of experience in Kelly’s system. And let’s face it: Foles’ 2013 performance was better than anything Bradford has managed in the NFL.
Kelly came to believe that the Eagles didn’t have the quarterback necessary to contend for a Super Bowl. He came to believe that while Sanchez was on his roster. That’s what inspired him to go after Bradford.
If Bradford is the starter and he’s not quite an elite quarterback, that would be bad for Kelly. But it would have been a chance worth taking, a shot at the brass ring.
If Sanchez wins the starting job and Bradford never gets to take that shot? That would be a disaster.
PHILADELPHIA -- When the cameras caught Chip Kelly talking about how “culture beats scheme” in football last season, a perception was set in concrete. That little private moment has been used to explain everything about Kelly’s offseason makeover of the Eagles’ roster.
In some cases, it is probably true that certain players were not great culture fits: DeSean Jackson is the most compelling example. Cornerback Cary Williams made no secret of his displeasure with Kelly’s approach.
But in reality, Kelly made many decisions based largely on the salary cap and the percentage of it being consumed by players’ contracts. LeSean McCoy’s $11.95 million cap number for 2015 was too high, in Kelly’s view. Guard Evan Mathis’ $5.5 million number was acceptable, but Mathis was arguing for a raise.
“It was a money decision,” Kelly said. “We just weren't on the same page on the money.”
Williams’ nearly $8 million salary cap number had as much to do with his release as his comments about Kelly’s practice pace. But the fact is, Kelly has tried to build a particular culture around the Eagles. That means acquiring players who fit the height and weight parameters Kelly prefers at each position.
“I think everybody has specific needs and wants that they have at their positions,” Kelly said at the NFL owners meetings in March. “What Seattle is looking for is different than what San Francisco is looking for. I think the teams that do it the best are getting players that fit their system.”
But at what cost? If Kelly adheres to that approach, he risks missing out on exceptional players who don’t measure up in some way. On his own roster, running back Darren Sproles and linebackers Brandon Graham and Mychal Kendricks are examples of good players with the wrong measurables.
“That’s the $64,000 question,” Kelly said, “but you can say, ‘You know what? Our parameters are too tight so let’s expand them.’ If you accept it, accept it. So if you accept that you’re going to take a 5-foot-7 corner and the ball gets thrown over his head, you can’t say, ‘Boy, he should have made that play.’ He ain’t going to make that play. The receiver is 6-4. So there’s a give and take.
“It’s a tough deal. If you take overachievers that aren’t the right size at every position eventually you’re going to have a 5-10 nose guard with a 5-9 inside linebacker with a 5-8 safety and they’re going to run the ball right down your throat and you have no one to kick in the pants but yourself because you decided to make those selections.”
Meanwhile, some great players may not fit the psychological profile Kelly prefers. But is it sometimes worth it to tolerate a poor culture fit who happens to be an outstanding player?
The most extreme example of that was Terrell Owens. Before acquiring him in 2004, Andy Reid preferred interchangeable wide receivers who could line up in different positions in his offense. That led to five seasons of Todd Pinkston, James Thrash, Freddie Mitchell and Charles Johnson as Donovan McNabb’s targets.
In 2004, Reid took a risk with Owens. The Eagles went to the Super Bowl after Owens delivered a brilliant season. By 2005, though, Owens was acting out, smearing McNabb and doing situps in his driveway. Reid eventually released him midway through that season.
Kelly released Mathis after the Pro Bowler skipped the Eagles’ voluntary workouts. In Dallas, the Cowboys are enduring the absence of star wide receiver Dez Bryant, who is unhappy with the franchise tag and wants a new contract.
Would Kelly treat Brees and Bryant the way he treated Mathis? At what point is the player’s talent more important than his fitting into the culture? At what point does a player’s ability make up for his lack of height?
These are some of the questions raised by Kelly’s approach to team building. It will be revelatory if the Eagles are better in 2015 than they were last season, before Kelly weeded out most of the outliers on his roster.
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly's radical remaking of the Philadelphia Eagles' roster raised a lot of questions. Some of them were answered along the way, some are still left open as the team scatters for six weeks before training camp begins.
Here's a look at three questions that were raised, or at least unanswered, by the events of the past few months.
Question: Who will be the Eagles' starting quarterback in Atlanta on Sept. 14?
Partial answer: Sam Bradford. That was the obvious and nearly certain answer to that question back on March 11. Actually, back then, the bigger question was when the Eagles would open the season. That was a month before the NFL schedule was even announced.
It was also the day Kelly traded Nick Foles and a couple of draft picks to the St. Louis Rams for Bradford. Based on the terms of the trade, and on Bradford's $13 million salary for 2015, it seemed clear Bradford was obtained to be the Eagles' No. 1 quarterback. The signing of Mark Sanchez to a new contract seemed to be a relatively minor occurrence.
But three months later, Sanchez has had a very solid offseason program as the Eagles' first-team quarterback. He is much more comfortable in Kelly's offense and his right arm feels stronger after another year of recovery from shoulder surgery.
Kelly has declared an open competition and says the best player will play. Contracts don't matter. Trade terms don't matter.
Bradford has not been cleared to take part fully in practices yet. That is expected when training camp opens in August. Sanchez will have a year's head start in learning Kelly's offense and will be coming off a half-season as the Eagles' starter. Bradford will be on his fourth NFL system and coming off a season missed due to knee surgery.
It will be interesting.
Question: Did Kelly fix the defensive secondary?
Partial answer: Kelly got rid of 75 percent of the starting secondary and he spent more than $60 million and three draft picks to replace those players. So a lot was changed.
But was it fixed? When you see Cary Williams signed with Seattle, Bradley Fletcher go to New England and Nate Allen land in Oakland, it's fair to wonder whether the problem was the Eagles' players or their defensive system.
Kelly hedged his bets, hiring Cory Undlin as the Eagles' new defensive backs coach. Undlin had three Pro Bowlers in his Denver secondary last season. He emphasizes sound technique and works hard with the players on their fundamentals.
That should help, as should the signing of Byron Maxwell to play one cornerback spot. But it's a bit worrisome to see Nolan Carroll lining up at the other corner while converted cornerback Walter Thurmond has moved to safety.
Carroll couldn't beat out Fletcher or Williams last season. Now he's the answer? Thurmond was injury-prone as a corner in Seattle and with the Giants. Now he's going to play the more physical safety position?
There is every chance for the secondary to be better, but there is also some risk being taken. We can be sure only that opponents will try very hard to find the weak link in the new secondary.
Partial answer: They'd better be at least as good, or Kelly's busy offseason is going to look like a mistake. There's also Bradford vs. Foles, Matt Tobin vs. Todd Herremans and Kiko Alonso vs. (most likely) Mychal Kendricks.
If the majority of the new players can be as good as their predecessors, and a few key players can be significantly better, then Kelly's overhaul has a chance to look brilliant.
The worst outcome may be that all Kelly's upheaval leaves the Eagles as a 10-6 team the either just misses or just makes the playoffs. And it's not easy to win 10 games in the NFL. For Kelly, though, it's just not good enough.
PHILADELPHIA – Chip Kelly’s radical remaking of the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster raised a lot of questions. Some of them were answered along the way; some are still left open as the team scatters for six weeks before training camp begins.
Here’s a look at three questions that were (more or less) answered during the past few months.
The question: What caused Kelly to make so many changes after winning 20 games in his first two NFL seasons?
The answer: At first, you had to wonder if Kelly was just restless. After all, his previous experience was at the college level. There, players are only around for three or four seasons. Coaches are in a near-constant state of roster building.
In the NFL, of course, there is a draft and free agency every offseason. Change is inevitable. But successful teams build a core and let it play together for five or six seasons. Stars like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning can be the constant for a franchise for more than a decade.
But it wasn’t just that Kelly believed the Eagles’ roster was a little stale after two years. It was more about Kelly believing that 10 wins was just about the ceiling for that group. That’s good, if the goal is to be a good team. If the goal is to be a great team, a true Super Bowl contender, then Kelly believed it would take some major changes. So he made them.
The answer: Kelly really believed that Sanchez made a lot of progress in his first season in Kelly’s offense. Yes, there were too many interceptions and fumbles, but Kelly believes they can be eliminated with more experience in the system and better play from the players around Sanchez.
But the bigger factor was the fact that Bradford’s left knee was not going to be ready for full participation until training camp. And even then, there is always the chance for another injury, or a re-injury.
If Kelly was going to part with Foles, he wanted someone who could run the offense until Bradford was completely ready. That meant on the practice field during offseason workouts, and it means during games in the preseason or even the regular season.
Kelly has gone so far as to call it an open competition between Bradford and Sanchez for the No. 1 quarterback job. That’s another way of saying the same thing, while making sure Sanchez is fully invested in what Kelly is building here.
The question: What was the primary reason Kelly parted with so many accomplished veteran players?
The answer: In some cases – DeSean Jackson comes to mind – there probably was a culture issue in the mix. By that, we mean there were some players who simply didn’t buy into what Kelly was trying to do and the way he was going about it. Cornerback Cary Williams is another player for whom that was probably part of the equation.
But the single biggest issue was money. Kelly looked at the contracts of the players he inherited and decided they didn’t fit the way he wanted to allocate his salary-cap dollars. A $12 million running back? LeSean McCoy was gone and DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews were in. Guards making $5 to $6 million?
That’s a lot, especially for older players who missed half the season because of injuries. And to top it off, Evan Mathis was being disruptive because he wanted to get paid more.
Kelly said he wanted to achieve better balance between the offensive and defensive sides of his locker room. That meant moving on from players like Jackson and McCoy and investing in players like Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso.
That redistribution of salary-cap dollars isn’t complete, but Kelly made strides this offseason.
PHILADELPHIA -- Evan Mathis had a frustrating final season with the Philadelphia Eagles. He missed half the season with a sprained left knee, then returned in time to help the team go 4-4 in the second half.
While it was surprising when coach Chip Kelly decided to release Mathis last week, that seemed to be mostly about money. Mathis was unhappy with his contract and Kelly felt that his $5.5 million salary was more than adequate for a left guard who missed eight games in 2014.
As Mathis looks for a new NFL job, Sports Illustrated writer Doug Farrar did a fascinating look at the Pro Bowler's 2014 season. Farrar opens by pointing out Mathis is regularly rated among the best guards in the league by Pro Football Focus, the website devoted to grading players based on game tape.
Because of Mathis' high reputation, Farrar deliberately looked for five plays on which Mathis struggled (or seemed to). Through Twitter, Mathis and Farrar agreed to look at those five plays with added insight from Mathis. The results are really instructional if you're trying to understand the intricacies and unseen elements of interior line play.
The first play Farrar picked was a sack given up by Mathis in the season opener against Jacksonville. The tape shows Jacksonville's Ryan Davis blowing past Mathis and sacking Nick Foles. The tape doesn't show what Mathis was dealing with.
"The play before," Mathis wrote, "I pulled outside and tried to cut [block] the linebacker but ended up just clipping his knee with my head. I ended up with a killer stinger and noticed my entire left arm was numb when I got in my stance."
The stinger rendered Mathis' left arm pretty much useless. He tried to use it to "punch" Davis, but had no power.
"I should have grabbed him with my right arm and dug my feet into the ground," Mathis wrote.
The team doctor worked on Mathis' neck and shoulder, trying to get the feeling back in his arm, after the series. In that same game, though, Mathis "tore my [medial collateral ligament] off the femur. It was such a fun day."
That certainly provides a little insight into what looks like a defensive lineman simply manhandling an offensive lineman.
Another play -- a 6-yard loss on which LeSean McCoy was tackled by the guy Mathis was responsible for blocking -- helps explain why McCoy was traded to Buffalo. It came in the second Dallas game, the one the Eagles lost at home. Mathis appears to miss his block on Jeremy Mincey, who drops McCoy for the loss.
"The ball actually is supposed to hit inside of my block," Mathis wrote. "Shady felt the pressure from the opposite defensive tackle, and tried to bounce it outside."
That play looks like a combination of Mathis missing his block and McCoy "dancing around" in the backfield. If McCoy had hit the hole behind Mathis, he might not have gone far, but at worst, it would have been a run for no gain. By running toward Mincey, who now doesn't have to get past Mathis, McCoy turned it into a 6-yard loss.
In the piece, Mathis told Farrar he plans to be better in 2015. Bearing in mind that these were chosen as his worst plays, and that there were extenuating circumstances each time, Mathis is still an elite NFL guard.
"My body of work was limited last year due to the injury," Mathis wrote. "I'm very much ready to come back strong for an entire season and have my best year yet. I'll listen to the age talk when I lose a step."
NFL Nation reporter Phil Sheridan assesses which rookies on the Philadelphia Eagles could earn starting berths this season.
Why Nelson Agholor could start: The Eagles selected the USC wide receiver with the 20th pick in the 2015 draft because Agholor is more polished and more versatile than many of the other players in a strong class for receivers. That decision was prompted by the departure of leading receiver Jeremy Maclin in free agency, a year after the Eagles released their 2013 leading receiver, DeSean Jackson. Lose two Pro Bowl wide receivers and there will be some expectation that a first-round draft pick will be able to step in and play right away. Fortunately for the Eagles, Agholor looked the part during their OTAs and minicamp. He plays fast, catches everything thrown his way and is a precise route runner. Last year, Chip Kelly used rookie Jordan Matthews in the slot while Maclin and Riley Cooper played on the outside. Agholor could start in the slot as well, but the guess here is that he’ll be starting on the outside before Halloween.
Why Eric Rowe could start: The second-round pick from Utah played safety before moving to cornerback as a senior. As far as Kelly is concerned, Rowe is a corner. Both of the Eagles’ starting cornerbacks from 2014 – Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams – are gone. Byron Maxwell was signed away from Seattle to play one corner. Nolan Carroll has been running with the first team on the other side. But Kelly likes to ease rookies in and let them watch a veteran until they’re ready to move up the depth chart and replace him. Carroll wasn’t able to unseat either Fletcher or Williams last year, while the Eagles’ secondary was falling apart on a weekly basis. It stands to reason that Rowe will be able to win the job on the field. It won’t be surprising if Rowe is on the first team when training camp opens on Aug. 2. Rowe is 6-foot-1, the same height as Maxwell. The Eagles want to have tall, rangy cornerbacks on both sides of the field.
PHILADELPHIA -- To the casual observer, Tim Tebow appeared to struggle early in the Eagles’ OTA practices. Tebow seemed to be playing better later in OTAs and during the mandatory minicamp this week.
The most important observer, the not-casual Chip Kelly, agreed with that assessment. Kelly also felt there was a logical explanation for Tebow’s apparent early struggles.
“I think he has progressed,” Kelly said Wednesday. “I think the one thing that's difficult, especially on a first-year quarterback -- you kind of saw it a little bit with Mark [Sanchez] last year -- is we throw our guys in the deep end and they get everything and then they've got to go. They may drop back ready to throw, but they have a rookie receiver that ran the wrong route. They're expecting a guy to be here, and when he's at the top of his drop, the guy is actually on the other side of the field because he didn't know what he was doing.
“You've got to deal with a little bit more variables when you're working not with a bunch of guys that have actually been there, so it takes a little bit of time to get them on the same page.”
By “first year,” Kelly meant quarterbacks in their first year in his offense. So that includes Sam Bradford, as well. Sanchez came to the Eagles last year after five years with the New York Jets. It takes time for quarterbacks to get comfortable with the offense. After a while, they are able to react right away to open receivers.
Sanchez said earlier in the offseason workouts that he felt much more comfortable in the offense this season than last year. Tebow is going through the same process.
“I have seen an improvement from Tim since the day we got him in terms of his knowledge of what we're doing, understanding where everybody is,” Kelly said. “There's a whole process, and for him what we have done is different than what he's done anywhere else. So in terms of learning our terminology and how we do things, I think each week you've seen an incremental bump in him, so [we’re] excited to see where that takes him, and it'll be a good competition as we get into August.”
Kelly said he has seen the results of the work Tebow did with throwing coach Tom House over the past year or so.
“I think mechanically he's improved, but I think he did a lot on his own,” Kelly said. “Usually when we're out here, the first phase of phase two [of OTAs], we do a little bit of mechanic work, but then once we really get into it, we're talking about coverages, spacing, where the ball is supposed to go and all those other things. We're not spending a whole lot of time, and especially with the quarterback, talking about where your arm slot is and any of those things.”
PHILADELPHIA – The Eagles had a couple of players make the Pro Bowl after last season after arguably outplaying their contracts.
“They didn’t really approach me,” Barwin said Wednesday. “They just told me. There was no negotiation. They told me, `This is what we’re doing.’ I said, `Thank you.’ “
Barwin originally signed a six-year, $36 million contract two years earlier. The deal included some incentives that allowed Barwin to earn more money based on performance. Essentially, the Eagles offered to pay him those incentives throughout the rest of the deal.
“We felt he deserved it,” Chip Kelly said at the owners meetings in March. “I think his performance in the last few years since I’ve been here exceeded what his contract was. … I think we all believed what Connor did for us exceeded what his contract was.”
Barwin led the NFC with 14.5 sacks in 2014. He went to the Pro Bowl.
So did Mathis, whose 2012 contract was for five years, $25.5 million. He sought a renegotiation after making the Pro Bowl in 2013. He didn’t get it. He made the same request at the end of the 2014 season. With Mathis coming off a season in which he missed seven games with a sprained knee, the Eagles refused.
“They obviously wanted a new contract and we weren't going to give them a new contract,” Kelly said, referring to Mathis and his agent. “They asked for the release, so we released him.”
The differences go deeper than Mathis simply asking while Barwin was approached by the team. For one thing, Barwin is 28, a full five years young than Mathis. For another, pass rushing linebackers tend to get paid better than offensive guards.
And there is also the fact Barwin spends his entire offseason in Philadelphia, working out at the NovaCare Complex. Mathis works hard, too, but he does at his offseason home in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“I like being where I play,” Barwin said. “I like being here. I think we have the best strength coaches in the league. So I don’t see why anybody wouldn’t be here, picking their brain, learning from them all year round. That’s what I do. There’s a number of guys here all year round. We had probably 10 or 15 guys here all winter.”
If there was a message intended for other players in the different outcomes, no one mentioned that to Barwin.
“I never really talked to any of the guys about that,” Barwin said. “I didn’t talk to Chip about that.”
PHILADELPHIA -- To some degree, Jason Peters can be forgiven for believing things are better than they are. The Philadelphia Eagles' left tackle is 33 years old and in the back end of what coach Chip Kelly already is touting as a Hall of Fame career. Peters has been to seven Pro Bowls, but he has still never won a playoff game.
Last season, of course, the Eagles didn’t win a playoff game because they weren’t in a playoff game. Their three-game losing streak in December ruined what had been a 9-3 record.
"I felt like if we had made the playoffs we could have contended for the ring," Peters said last week, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We let the Cowboys beat us, man, and they almost went and won the Super Bowl. That play with Dez Bryant, they win that game and it's up in the air what they do next."
The Eagles finished 10-6, the same record they had in 2013. In that first season under Kelly, 10-6 was good enough to win the NFC East and host a playoff game. They lost to the New Orleans Saints.
So there’s no real evidence to support the idea that the Eagles were a serious threat to make a deep run in the NFC playoffs earlier this year. They lost to most of the NFC playoff field during the regular season: Arizona, Dallas, Green Bay and Seattle won games against the Eagles by a combined score of 139-81.
It’s nice to believe the team would have done wondrous things if it had made the playoffs, but it doesn’t mean any more than saying I’d be Mike Trout if I hadn’t dropped out of Little League when I was 11.
The bigger concern is that Peters also shrugged off the impending release of left guard Evan Mathis. Kelly released Mathis last week. Back in March, right guard Todd Herremans was also shown the door.
That means 40 percent of the offensive line that helped LeSean McCoy lead the NFL in rushing in 2013 is gone. So is McCoy, for that matter.
Last season, DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing. Peters sneered at the belief that Murray did so behind the league’s best offensive line in 2014.
"They're the Cowboys," Peters said. "Everything they do is pumped up. It's America's Team. Everything they do is overemphasized. When Shady (McCoy) was the leading rusher, they weren't saying we were the best offensive line. Don't get me wrong, they're a good, solid offensive line. But guy for guy, they can't touch us."
The Cowboys added La'el Collins, who was rated as a first-round talent, to their already strong offensive line. The Eagles subtracted Herremans and Mathis. Even if they were better than Dallas’ line last season (and that’s a little more magical thinking), the Eagles are down two-fifths of their starting five. If Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin are able to fill those guard spots capably, that would still leave the Eagles without any of the depth they had.
It is possible things fall right and Barbre and Tobin play well and stay healthy. It is possible Peters, center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson all have very good seasons. It’s not like anyone is saying the Eagles' line can’t be good or that Murray won’t be successful.
But proclaiming the Eagles’ line better than the Cowboys’ line? It means about as much as saying the Eagles would have soared if they’d just reached the playoffs last season.
PHILADELPHIA – Evan Mathis' release will be the biggest test yet of Chip Kelly’s apparent belief that his team’s culture is paramount.
When Kelly shockingly released wide receiver DeSean Jackson last year, he had Jeremy Maclin returning from a knee injury to take Jackson’s place. When Kelly topped that move by trading running back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo, he had DeMarco Murray’s signature on a contract within a few days. Trading Nick Foles brought Sam Bradford to the Eagles.
But Mathis was released Thursday late in an offseason in which the Eagles made no major additions to their offensive line group. The Eagles reportedly showed some interest in Broncos free agent guard Orlando Franklin, but he signed with the San Diego Chargers. The Eagles did not take a single offensive lineman in the NFL draft for the second consecutive season.
Last week, ESPN’s Adam Caplan reported the Eagles had a visit scheduled with guard Chris Chester. Chester, who was released by Washington, signed with the Atlanta Falcons.
Indeed, Kelly released his other starting guard, Todd Herremans, back in March. So the Eagles subtracted two players who started 178 games for them and added only a couple of undrafted rookie free agents.
Kelly has mentioned Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner as possible replacements. And perhaps each of them has demonstrated to Kelly that they will be better culture fits than Mathis, who has been disgruntled about his contract for the past two offseasons. But none of them has proved much on the field against actual NFL opponents.
That makes this a big test for Kelly. It comes at a particularly challenging time. The Eagles’ offensive line will be protecting Bradford, who is coming off two tears to his left ACL, and opening holes for Murray, who led the league in rushing behind Dallas’ elite offensive line last season.
In 2013, with Mathis and Herremans starting all 16 games at the guard spots, McCoy led the NFL in rushing and Foles had a remarkable season. In 2014, with injuries costing Mathis seven games and Herremans eight games, McCoy’s rushing total fell by about 300 yards.
While Kelly might have seen those missed games as signs that Mathis, 33, was an injury risk, it must be noted that the 30-year-old Barbre missed 15 games with an ankle injury. Barbre was tagged to replace right tackle Lane Johnson during his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s PED policy. His tenure lasted less than one game.
Tobin started five games at left guard and two at right guard. He was benched after the Eagles’ loss to Green Bay and did not start again last season. Gardner started the last six games of the season at right guard. Earlier, Gardner replaced Barbre at right tackle. He started two games before Kelly benched him and inserted Herremans at right tackle.
Dennis Kelly, another player who could compete for a starting job, started three games at guard last season – twice on the left side and once on the right. He was inactive for the next 12 games.
The Eagles signed undrafted free agents Brett Boyko, Malcolm Bunche, Cole Manhart and Mike Coccia (who moved from center to guard during OTAs). Since signing them, the Eagles tried to sign Chester. So there is a chance that Mathis’ replacement is not on the roster yet.
PHILADELPHIA -- In the wake of former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Cary Williams' assertion that Chip Kelly got outcoached in crucial games last season, it seemed appropriate to see whether there is any substance to Williams’ claims.
There are two areas of contention here. First, Williams’ belief that Kelly’s high-tempo practices wore the Eagles out for games seems consistent with the team’s December fade. The Eagles lost three consecutive games, dropping from 9-3 and first place in the NFC East to 9-5 and out of the playoffs. Could that have been a result of working too hard in practice all season?
Maybe, but doubtful. Kelly adjusts his practices constantly, accounting for player feedback, time of year and other factors. In 2013, the Eagles went 7-1 in the second half of the season, rising from 3-5 to 10-6 and the division title. Their biggest game of the 2013 season, the finale against the Dallas Cowboys, was a resounding victory.
In 2014, the Eagles’ slide seemed to have more to do with the schedule than with fatigue. The Eagles won their Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas, then had to play Seattle, Dallas again and Washington over the next three weeks.
They lost to Seattle, which was similar to previous losses to Arizona, Green Bay and San Francisco. The suspicion is the Eagles lost to contending teams because they just weren’t as good as those teams. Maybe Kelly could have come up with some new offensive strategy to surprise those opponents, but overall, the Eagles lost to better teams.
Seattle was better. With a healthy Tony Romo, Dallas was better. That pattern broke when the Eagles played at Washington in their next-to-last game. That was a game the Eagles should have won.
If there was a coaching element during this stretch, it was in Williams’ own area. Kelly gives defensive coordinator Bill Davis a lot of control of his unit. Davis believed cornerback Bradley Fletcher’s confidence was shaken but that Fletcher could play his way out of it. He couldn’t, allowing Romo to throw three touchdown passes to Dez Bryant in that loss to the Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field.
Fletcher was back on the field against Washington the next week. He got burned for a couple big plays by DeSean Jackson. Quarterback Mark Sanchez, starting his seventh game of the season, also threw a killer interception that ended the Eagles’ last chance to take control of the game.
The lineup decisions in the secondary were questionable, but the real problem was in personnel. If Nolan Carroll is good enough to compete for a starting cornerback job this season, it’s hard to understand why he wasn’t good enough to play instead of Fletcher down the stretch last season. And the coaches may prefer Brandon Boykin as a nickel corner, but refusing to use him while the season burns to the ground seems a little misguided.
Again, Kelly could have stepped in and made those calls. If he delegated to Davis, that’s fine, but it doesn’t absolve him of all responsibility. Being the head coach means being accountable.
Kelly has cleared the roster of Fletcher, Williams and Nate Allen. He has replaced defensive backs coach John Lovett with Cory Undlin. Clearly, Kelly saw there were problems in that area.
To say the Eagles lost those three games because Kelly was outcoached seems like a reach. Kelly would probably like a do-over in those games. Any coach would. But his options were limited by his personnel, which explains why he has changed his personnel so dramatically this offseason.