The hurricane in Philadelphia is finally over. After almost three roller-coaster seasons, the Philadelphia Eagles are done with Chip Kelly as team CEO and Chairman Jeff Lurie released the head coach as well as a statement to ticket-holders in lieu of an official press release. A press conference is slated for later today.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) December 30, 2015
So what went wrong? If you read other sports analysts and beat reporters, everything.
Locker room cohesion was one of the fundamentals that Chip Kelly himself touted as a necessary asset. This need for unity was one of the reasons that players like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Brandin Boykin were released or traded away as Chip Kelly gained unlimited power over roster decisions. But when one of the players that Chip himself signed, DeMarco Murray, personally chats with Lurie about the head coach, it is glaring evidence that the problem with locker room cohesion could have been Chip all along.
Kelly’s roster power brought up another issue: can he coach a team without it? If the allegations that Kelly refused to give up his roster management duties as a step back to team unity, apparently not. And once you disagree with your boss, well, it’s game over for both sides.
If you ask the fans, the biggest reason that Chip Kelly is gone is because his roster experiment failed. Sam Bradford became a step backward from Nick Foles, not forward. If the move was meant to help Chip dangle a carrot in front of the Tennessee Titans for the draft pick that would have brought Marcus Mariota to Philadelphia, that failed as well. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews didn’t replace LeSean McCoy as hoped. The wide receiving corps of Jordan Matthews, Riley Cooper, Josh Huff, and Nelson Agholor couldn’t replace the hole that Jeremy Maclin left.
But the biggest, all-ecompassing reason that Chip Kelly was probably released by the Eagles was this: he ran the team like a fantasy football team.
Sure, it’s not like he was able to draft Odell Beckham Jr., but what Chip Kelly could do with his control over the Eagles’ roster seemed as cold and indifferent as any fantasy football team, without any regard for player salaries save for what the league cap would allow. It just so happens that, instead of a few bucks, Chip Kelly was playing with a few hundred million bucks.
The problem did starts with DeSean Jackson. After signing a 5-year deal, $47 million deal with the Eagles in 2012, Jackson was released after the 2013 season with a $10.5 million total salary on the horizon. That, along with not re-signing Jeremy Maclin after the 2014 season, were cash-saving moves that all but stated, “If the play is right and the fundamentals are sound, it doesn’t matter who is catching the ball.” This is a quantity over quality approach, much like a fantasy football roster when it comes to wide receivers, and doesn’t work too well when the players aren’t catching the ball.
Then there is the running back issue. While LeSean McCoy’s contract was about to hit the Eagles hard in cap space, there had to be room for negotiation. McCoy did it when he landed in Buffalo, for almost $3 million less of a hit than the combined signings of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews to go along with taking on Kiko Alonso’s contract. The big hits came from cornerback Byron Maxwell and quarterback Sam Bradford, whose hefty price tags replaced the pittances of Brandon Boykin and Nick Foles.
Sure, players move around, and salaries need to get mixed up from time to time, but Chip Kelly did too much, too soon. No player should be above the team’s coach, but a coach needs to keep a strong, veteran presence in the locker room with a player that has been in the locker room, not a veteran that just got off the bus. Offensive linemen can help, but a playmaker like Jeremy Maclin would have been much more helpful in keeping the locker room organized through the process of change. The stirring of the pot without that veteran presence probably did more harm to locker room cohesion than good. Players are not assembly-made talents that can be plugged into a strange system with strange teammates. They need to develop trust and field knowledge of each others inclinations to help their talent progress, or at least latch onto someone who’s been there. That person can’t be the coach.
Maybe the Chip Kelly experiment can work with a team that has less to lose and more to gain. Maybe Kelly will finally be able to reignite his bromance with Marcus Mariota by landing the vacant head coaching position with the Tennessee Titans. But for Eagles fans, the only thing worth wondering about it, “What do we do now?”