The late winter and spring of 2015 was a bloodless coup for the Eagles. People at all levels of the organization lost their job. First Tom Gamble was shown the door, then Howie Roseman was stripped of his GM duties, then the player exodus began. Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy and Brandon Boykin were traded, Todd Herremans, Trent Cole and Evan Mathis were released, and Jeremy Maclin left in free agency.
Whenever big changes are made, they immediately go under a microscope. With the Eagles at 3-4 and an offense that can't get out of its own way, that microscope has had the heat of the sun blaring through it. The Eagles can't unring the bell of the off-season, but even if they could, there's not much out there.
The starting gun of the roster purge was the trade of LeSean McCoy to the Bills for Kiko Alonso. Gone was 2013's leading rusher and the franchise's all-time rushing leader, marking the second consecutive spring where Chip Kelly jettisoned a fan favorite relatively out of the blue.
Regret factor: None. McCoy has been a huge disappointment in Buffalo. He's been banged up all season, and when he has played he's been mostly ineffective. He is averaging 3.9 yards per carry, and has yet to rush for 100 yards, in part because his game high of carries is 18. He has one rushing touchdown and has missed two games. The only seasons that he has started 16 games were his two under Chip Kelly. And that's just on the field. Let's not forget the headache he caused in the offseason.
After turning down what he felt was a low-ball long term contract in 2014 to bet on himself to have a huge year in 2015, it seemed a forgone conclusion that Jeremy Maclin would return to the Eagles on a long term deal. Just days before free agency he was doing charity events with the team, and there was little to indicate throughout the year that he was unhappy in Philly.
But then a frenetic free agency hit, and chaos ensued. The Eagles made a barrage of moves, which reportedly gave Maclin pause. And during that pause, Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs offered Maclin a massive contract: among WRs, a contract that is 9th in guaranteed money and in average annual value. Only a fool would turn down that offer, even if it was to run routes deeper than Alex Smith throws footballs.
Regret factor: Little. The Eagles WRs have been bad this year, and Maclin would undoubtedly help. But he wouldn't help enough turn around the Eagles offense, and he wouldn't help enough to justify the contract he has. Sam Bradford's struggles are too great for even the best WRs to fix, and Maclin isn't one of the best WRs in the league, though he is paid like one.
Pretty much any time a team changes its quarterback, it's a big deal. When the Eagles and Rams swapped QBs and draft picks, the chaos of the free agency period went to 11. Out was Nick Foles, who had a season to dream on in 2013 and a season to forget in 2014, and in was Sam Bradford, who never lived up to his expectations in St. Louis. It was a shocking trade, and until Roger Goodell announced that the Titans had drafted Marcus Mariota, it didn't seem real.
Regret factor: None. In the lead up to the offseason, a common defense of Foles was that if the Eagles defense was better and he had a consistent run game, he would excel. But there isn't a QB in the league that plays worse with a strong run game and defense. In St. Louis, he got both. Todd Gurley is legit, and the Rams defense is once again one of the best in the league. And even with that, Foles has stunk. After putting up 297 yards and a TD against the Seahawks in Week 1, he hasn't thrown for 200 yards in any game, and has a 6-5 TD-INT ratio. His completion percentage is a career low 58.8, he is 25th in yards per attempt. Acquired by the Rams to chuck the ball downfield, he has the second lowest air yards per attempt among starters. In Week 7 Todd Gurley rushed for as many yards as Foles threw for. He's been a disappointment, and having signed Foles to an extension in the preseason, the Rams are stuck with him for next year. Nick Foles wasn't the answer in Philly and he's not the answer in St. Louis.
Todd Herremans' Eagles career was everything you could ask a player to do. In his ten year career with the Eagles he played four different positions, both tackle and guard spots, and he could probably have played a passable center if things got desperate. And he was as tough as a rock. Last season he played essentially one handed, battling through an arm injury until being placed on injured reserve with a leg injury.
Regret factor: None. Despite Herremans' heroics, it was time for the Eagles to move on. Herremans struggled before his injury, and at 33 and coming off of two injuries, there was no reason to expect him to turn it around. All good things must come to an end. Herremans was quickly signed by ex-Eagle hoarder Ryan Grigson, but after just two games he was benched due to ineffectiveness.
Herremans' fellow 2005 draft pick Trent Cole also carved out a long and distinguished career in midnight green. Cole finished his Eagles career 2nd all time in sacks, which is as good as it gets when the leader is Reggie White. But also like Herremans, the end of the road in Philly was clear. Cole was still a useful player in 2014, but he wasn't close to worth the $11.6M he was scheduled to count against the Eagles cap. Also like Herremans, Cole is 33, so there was no reason to believe he would bounce back either.
Regret factor: None. Cole has been completely ineffective in Indianapolis, where Ryan Grigson is apparently still using 2012 scouting reports from his time with the Eagles. Grigson gave Cole $7M guaranteed and he hasn't been worth half of it. He's been a non-factor all season and one of a growing list of talking points about Ryan Grigson's decreasing job security.
The release of Evan Mathis was both foreseeable and disappointing. A standout player during his tenure with the Eagles, he had been at odds with both the Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly front offices. In 2014 he asked for a revised contract and the team told him to feel free to find a trade suitor, and in 2015 he repeated those contract requests.
Regret factor: High. The Eagles offense has struggled in every phase, and one of causes has been the instability and talent drop off at guard. Mathis did struggle to start the season, but then any player who was out of work for months and then signed in late August would be expected to struggle. He progressed as the season went on, but on Sunday night he split time with rookie Max Garcia. Had the Eagles kept him, the offense wouldn't suddenly be good, but it would be better. It's fair to think that with better offensive line play at least one of the Eagles losses to the Falcons and Redskins would be a win. And it's fair to criticize Chip Kelly for not only releasing him but, like DeSean Jackson, doing so after the dust settled on free agency, limiting his options. And Kelly's lack of adding anyone to replace Mathis is also fair game, multiple starting guards changed teams this offseason.
In another move that was long in the making, the Eagles traded Brandon Boykin to the Steelers on the eve of training camp. Boykin was not going to and had no reason to sign an extension with the Eagles, who reduced his playing time in 2014 after a terrific 2013 season. This was a predictable ending, Boykin wasn't going to re-sign with the Eagles, getting something for him was better than letting him walk.
Regret factor: None. The Eagles secondary has for the most part been very good. When it's been bad, it's been bad because of the struggles that Byron Maxwell and the Eagles coaching staff have made adjusting to each other. Brandon Boykin would have cured none of those ills early in the season, and since scaling back the defense Maxwell and the secondary have been excellent. The Steelers barely play Boykin, but that isn't necessarily an indication of Boykin's abilities. There appears to be a serious disconnect between the Steelers front office and coaching staff. Last year they signed Cortez Allen to a contract extension, six weeks later the coaches benched him. They also signed LaGarrette Blount and Lance Moore to bolster their depth and then the coaches used them only situationally. Boykin is likely the latest innocent victim in the Steelers' own internal power struggle.
Flotsam and jetsam
And then there's the rest of the players the Eagles released or let walk in free agency. Bradley Fletcher was signed by the Patriots, and has already been released, as has James Casey with the Broncos. Cary Williams has been awful in Seattle, Nate Allen has been injured in Oakland, Chris Polk, Casey Matthews are bit players, Brad Smith is not in the league.
The first domino to fall in the 2014 offseason was the firing of VP of Player Personnel Tom Gamble. Gamble was hired at the end of the 2012 season from the 49ers, where he was Director of Player Personnel. While it's hard to say from outside the building how much influence one person has, Gamble was at the very least a driving force in the signing of the ineffective Isaac Sopoaga. Despite that, Gamble and Chip Kelly, who knew each other from Gamble's days scouting in New England, grew to become good friends. An already rocky relationship between Roseman and his supposed right-hand man Gamble became unsustainable, and Roseman fired Gamble.
That's when hell broke lose. Kelly, upset that his friend and trusted advisor was fired because of a power play, made one of his own to Jeffrey Lurie, and won. Roseman was "promoted" to out of football operations, and Kelly was given total control. An offseason's worth of jokes about "football guys" were made, but make no doubt about it, Chip Kelly's dedication to culture extends to off the field as well.
Regret factor: None to mild. Howie Roseman was neither a great nor a bad GM, but his offenses were not fireable ones. He was one of the best in the business at the salary cap and contracts, and the moves made by Chip Kelly the GM have the Eagles in relatively poor cap shape for 2016. Roseman may still be nominally in charge of the salary cap, but he and the GM are not on speaking terms.
Replacing Bill Lazor, Bill Musgrave brought an extensive resume as a QB coach to the Eagles. Judging the contributions and effectiveness of a position coach can be tricky, but the bad play of Nick Foles in St. Louis show that his poor play in 2014 wasn't due to Musgrave, and Mark Sanchez had praise for Musgrave in 2014, which was one of Sanchez's most productive seasons.
Regret factor: Not applicable. Musgrave took a promotion to be offensive coordinator in Oakland, his leaving was not preventable. In what is a good example of how a decent chunk of coaching is being in the right time at the right place, Musgrave has overseen tremendous improvement from Derek Carr after running lackluster offenses in Jacksonville and Minnesota.
The Eagles nearly completely overturned their secondary, and the change didn't stop on the field. John Lovett was moved to a scouting position before taking a job with the University of California.
Regret level: None. Retaining mostly the same players from 2013 into 2014, the incumbent players in the Eagles secondary regressed under his watch. Chip Kelly was right to replace him.
Looking solely at subtractions, it's difficult to find fault with the Eagles. Only two players have played at a level worth regretting, and it wouldn't be enough to turn the woes of the offense around. Branch Rickey, the legendary general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers, had the infamous motto of "it's better to get rid of a player a year too early rather than a year to late." This was a mantra that, for the most part, the Andy Reid era lived by, and it served them well. There are criticisms to be made about Chip Kelly as a GM (and we'll talk about that in another post looking at the new players), but at the very least, Chip Kelly has gotten rid of his players at the right time.