Chip Kelly's barrage of roster moves were the talk of the off-season, and with the Eagles struggling at 3-4, those moves are being further scrutinized. Previously we looked at how the departed Eagles have fared, today we will look at how the additions have done. (Spoiler: it isn't pretty.)
When the Bills leaked the LeSean McCoy/Kiko Alonso trade a few weeks prior to the start of free agency, the Eagles offseason got off to an early and frenetic start. Then free agency did hit, the team attempted to woo Frank Gore from the 49ers and failed. Plan B was 2014 rushing leader DeMarco Murray. Murray was coming off of a tremendously high workload, in the regular season he had 397 attempts, 7th most in NFL history, and then added 44 more attempts in the playoffs, in addition to his 27 receptions in the regular and post-season. DeMarco Murray had a ton of touches, and running backs who do so see a serious drop off in both effectiveness and health. Add Murray's previous injury history and the signing was extremely risky. After having one of the healthiest teams over the past two seasons, particularly in regards to soft tissue injuries, Chip Kelly was banking on his medical methods to buck the trend of high use running backs.
Regret level: High. Just halfway through the season and Murray has already shown all the effects of overuse. He's already missed time, having suffered a hamstring injury in camp, and then missing a game with another hamstring injury. When he's played, he's been ineffective. Murray opened the season with just 9 yards on 11 carries in the first two games, though on half his carries he had no chance to gain yardage because the offensive line was allowing him to be met in the backfield by a defender immediately after a handoff. Since returning from injury he's averaged a respectable 4.4 yards per carry. But a respectable runner is not what Chip Kelly paid for, and not truly indicative of how he's played. Murray has shown glimpses of strong running, but so far the 2nd highest paid running back in guaranteed money should be 2nd on the depth chart. He's looked slow and despite acquiring him to have a more north-south running game, he's been called on to run a lot of sweeps and outsize zone runs. Halfway through his first season and the Murray signing is already looking like a bust.
On the same day the Eagles signed DeMarco Murray to one of the richest contracts for running backs, they also gave Ryan Mathews a three year, $11 million contract, which is starter money. Like Murray, he has an injury history, but unlike Murray he hasn't had a huge workload. Mathews has always been a solid back, if he could just get healthy he could be a good starter. Like with Murray, Chip Kelly was relying on his methods to make Mathews a healthy player.
Regret level: None. Mathews has been the Eagles best running back. Behind a shaky offensive line, he's run the ball well both inside and outside. He's been disappointing in the passing game with some egregious drops, but as a runner he's been better than Murray. But the coaching staff is slow to accept this. After gaining 108 yards on 24 carries in relief of an injured Murray in a win against the Jets, Mathews got just 5 carries the following week in a close loss to the Redskins. Mathews looked good in a win against the Saints, but his nine carries took a backseat to Murray's 20. There's no simple in-season fix to the Eagles offense, but the coaching staff swallowing it's pride and giving Ryan Mathews the majority of snaps is a step in the right direction. Mathews has been the only bright spot on offense this season, he needs to see the ball more.
When Jeremy Maclin signed with the Chiefs, the veteran WR on the team was.... Riley Cooper. To add a veteran to the mix of Cooper, Jordan Matthews, and Josh Huff, the Eagles signed Miles Austin to a one year deal worth $2.2 million, with a million guranteed at signing. This was a strange signing since Austin hasn't been good since 2010, putting together inconsistent and mediocre seasons ever since.
Regret level: Mild. Austin hasn't done anything, he has just 11 receptions, despite playing 48% of snaps. In that regard, he's a waste of roster and salary cap space. But he's also not blocking anyone that deserves playing time from playing more, as all the Eagles WRs have been lousy all year. So in that regard, he hasn't hurt the team either. He's just a guy who's old, mediocre and overpaid. The Eagles could have signed a better WR, but with the struggles of Sam Bradford, it wouldn't make much of a difference.
In need of a solution to fix a terrible secondary, Chip Kelly went for broke. The Eagles tried to sign safety Devin McCourty from the Patriots, but McCourty took a lower offer to stay with the Super Bowl champions. They then signed the top cornerback Byron Maxwell from the Seahawks, giving Maxwell one of the richest contracts for a CB. This was the easiest recruiting Kelly's ever had to do, as Maxwell has said multiple times that he was always going to sign with the team that offered the most. At least he's honest.
Regret level: Low. After a poor start that saw the coaches reevaluate how they would use him and get back to basics, Maxwell has played much better. But the Eagles didn't sign Maxwell so they could play a more simple defense, they signed him to stop top WRs from beating them on big plays, and Maxwell struggled in this regard early in the season. Despite that, the Eagles defense has been pretty much lights out, and after a poor start in the first two games, has done well against the deep passes that plagued the 2014 secondary. Maxwell has improved the defense and is a good player, but he hasn't quite been worth his paycheck.
Signed with the anticipation of replacing Brandon Boykin, who the team tried to trade at the draft, as the slot corner, Walter Thurmond moved to safety after the Eagles were unable to sign or draft a replacement for Nate Allen. The idea was to give the Eagles a second safety who is strong in coverage alongside Malcolm Jenkins and continue their trend of staying in base more often against 3 WRs.
Regret level: Less than zero. There was some legitimate doubt about how Thurmond would fare moving to safety, just as there is for any player undergoing a position change. He's completely put those doubts to rest. After years of searching for just one good safety, the Eagles suddenly have two of them. Dollar for dollar, he's the Eagles best offseason addition in a long time.
The addition of Kiko Alonso in March looked to be the possible end of Mychal Kendricks in May, but that was not to be. Instead, the Eagles will have the pair of 25 year old linebackers for at least another year (Alonso's contract ends after 2016). If only they can get on the field together. Kendricks has missed three games with a hamstring injury and Alonso, who missed all of 2014 after tearing his left ACL, has missed all seven regular season games with an injury to that same knee. He might return after the bye, or he might never play a snap this season.
Regret level: Complicated. Undoing the Alonso-McCoy trade wouldn't give the Eagles any help, but the trade hasn't helped either. Jordan Hicks has been a revelation in his (and Kendrick's) absence, but there was no possible way to envision the team not needing Alonso's services because of the play of a rookie. Perhaps the Eagles could have gotten more out of the Bills than just Alonso, but both teams acquired risk in that trade. The Bills took on a running back with a high workload for two straight seasons, and entering an age where running backs tend to suddenly stop being good. The Eagles took on the risk of acquiring a player coming off a major knee injury. However the Eagles did get the younger, cheaper player.
Brad Jones and Seyi Ajirotutu
Jones was actually the first real signing of the Chip Kelly, GM, era, as the team picked him up a week and a half before free agency after he was released by the Packers. Ajirotutu was signed to replace Brad Smith in the special teamer who is listed as a wide reciever role. These were purely special teams signings, reflected by Jones playing no snaps on defense despite injuries to linebackers this season and Ajirotutu playing just three snaps.
Regret level: None. Jones and Ajirotutu were expected to be bottom of the roster players and are paid like them.
Finally we come to the 800 lb. gorilla in the room. After Chip Kelly stunned the NFL by trading LeSean McCoy, he stunned it again by trading Nick Foles and draft picks for Sam Bradford. It was a curious move in an off-season full of curious moves. Bradford was coming off his second major knee injury, and in 49 starts in St. Louis was mediocre. Bradford rarely threw deep, and when he did he was nothing short of terrible at it. The Rams offenses were consistently lousy, but there were legitimate arguments to be made that the quality of talent around him and the coaching above him was extremely poor. There were also legitimate arguments that Bradford was what he was, his backups did not play much worse than he did, his problems with deep passes were consistent, and he never really progressed at anything, a player should be able to at least have some natural progression even with lousy coaching. With better talent and coaching around him, there was hope that he could realize the potential that people still talked about five years after he was drafted #1 overall and the overrated rookie season he had.
That was, if he ever played for the Eagles. Make no mistake about it, Sam Bradford was Chip Kelly's backup plan if he failed to trade up in the draft for Marcus Mariota. But Kelly was of course not able to get Mariota, and so he had to go with the Plan B of his choosing, Sam Bradford.
Regret factor: Through the roof. Sam Bradford has been a disaster. He has been even worse than when he was in St. Louis. Like when he was on the Rams, he simply doesn't throw deep. His league worst 2.79 air yards per attempt isn't just last, it's so far from next to last that the difference between Bradford and the next guy, Nick Foles, would move Foles from 32nd out of 33 to 24th. In intermediate and short passes, he's been horrible. His decision making has been poor, his arm has been weak, he rarely puts together good back to back drives, and the offense has slowed down under him. Virtually every praise of Bradford when the Eagles acquired him, from his accuracy, to his intelligence, to his lack of turnovers, to his comfort with a high paced offense.... none of them have been realized. He is one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL.
Making matters worse is the cost off the field and the potential long term repercussions of it.
In acquiring a player who was coming off his second major knee injury in as many years, and making $13 million in exchange for a younger and cheaper player, Chip Kelly gave up a 2nd round pick and swapped a 4th rounder for a 5th. This was a poor trade then, the team taking on the older, more expensive and injured player should be the one picking up the extra assets. Fast forward to November and the trade hasn't gotten better with age.
Furthermore, Bradford is a free agent after this season. He isn't deserving of a contract extension, but Chip Kelly may give him one for two reasons. One, the quarterbacks who will be available in the off-season will almost certainly not be starting caliber players. Ryan Fitzpatrick will likely re-sign with the Jets, making the best free agent QB Chase Daniels or Robert Griffin III when he is released. Trade options will likely top out at Colin Kaepernick.
Entering the draft without a starter is not much of an option. Barring a nine-game losing streak the Eagles won't be in a position to definitely take a top QB. Without a 2nd round pick they won't have as attractive a trade package to offer to move up in the first without giving up a future 1st, and they won't be able to take a QB in the second round. If they want to draft a QB they will either have to give up a future 1st, or hope that a highly rated one falls to them. The likelihood of either happening is small. Entering the season with Mark Sanchez as the starter and a project QB behind him is an option the Eagles are clearly not willing to take since that was available to them this year and they chose to acquire Bradford.
Two, because of the likely scenarios, Chip Kelly may fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy: he could feel the need to give Sam Bradford an extension to justify giving up the draft pick and giving Bradford an entire season of lousy play. The 2nd round pick and wasted cap space is a sunk cost, both are gone regardless of whether Bradford plays like Mike McMahon or like Donovan McNabb, whether he plays for the Eagles for ten years or whether he decides to retire.
Undoing the Bradford-Foles trade would somewhat improve the team in 2015, as bad as Nick Foles has been in St. Louis, he's been better than Bradford in Philly, though not by much. But he too is not the answer, and the Eagles would still be in the same position they are this season: needing to find a quarterback for 2016. But at least they'd have some additional assets to work with.
We covered this in detail last week, but it's worth pointing out again that the Eagles are not getting much production from their draft picks. It's not entirely their fault, Nelson Agholor has been injured and when healthy Bradford has struggled to get him the ball along with everyone else, and JaCorey Shepherd looked to be a solid role player this season before blowing his knee out. And top picks Agholor and Eric Rowe play positions that traditionally do not see good performances from rookies, the second year is where WRs and DBs traditionally make their impact. Jordan Hicks has been a revelation though. The 2015 Eagles draft has been largely disappointing, but half a season is far too early to make any real determination.
When Chip Kelly was given the keys to the Eagles, he needed a right-hand man to tend to the day to day front office duties. The team paraded a list of names to the media that they were either interviewing, considering, or considering interviewing. Most either never bothered and took promotions, simply declined or weren't allowed to interview by their teams. Chris Polian was given a second interview for some reason, and others either did or did not interview with the Eagles according to various reports. In the end, Kelly promoted Ed Marynowitz to Director of Player Personnel, effectively replacing the departed Tom Gamble. The hire felt inevitable but was praised by those who were familiar with him.
Regret factor: Complicated. No one outside of Chip Kelly's cosca really knows who does what exactly, but it was clear that Marynowitz at least had significant input into the draft. That the Eagles 2015 draft has been largely underwhelming so far could be cause for concern down the road, though none of the Eagles picks felt like reaches at the time and their draft day trades were standard operating procedure in terms of draft pick value.
How much input Marynowitz had with each of the above roster moves we'll never know, and it's unfair to completely tag him with all the Eagles moves. However as the top personnel man to Kelly, the two are heavily linked. And the two have done a poor job in reshaping the Eagles. The Eagles opened the season as the 5th oldest roster in the league, and because of the contracts handed out in the offseason, have little room to improve externally.
And much improvement is needed, both with the on-field product and the process to assemble it. The front office was barely proactive in finding replacements for Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis, they attempted to sign Orlando Franklin, but he signed with the Chargers. And that's all they did. They neither drafted anyone, traded for anyone in an offseason that saw Manny Ramirez and Ben Grubbs be traded, or signed anyone.
Giving DeMarco Murray a big payday after a 2014 workload that all but guaranteed that he would decline was a poor move, as was giving up a 2nd round pick for the injured and mediocre Sam Bradford. The Eagles spend more cap space on offense than any team in the league, and the offense is terrible because the players aren't performing.
Needing a third QB coach in as many years, Chip Kelly turned to a trusted friend to hold down some stability at the position, bringing in Boston College offensive coordinator Ryan Day, who played QB for Kelly in New Hampshire. Though Kelly ran a different offense at New Hampshire than he does in Philadelphia, the familiarity between the two could only serve as a bonus.
Regret factor: Unknown. Day's familiarity of Kelly hasn't helped Sam Bradford, or if it has then imagine how ugly things would be with someone else on the staff. Because Bradford's struggles are similar to his time in St. Louis, it's unfair to blame Day for them this season.
In desperate need of help in the secondary, the Eagles changed out almost the entire back of the defense, and didn't stop there. Cory Undlin was hired from the Broncos, where he oversaw the progression of Chris Harris into one of the best cornerbacks in the league, and the group of Harris, Aqib Talib, Bradley Roby, TJ Ward and Rahim Moore into a very good secondary. But that's a talented group of players, how would he do with the Eagles secondary?
Regret factor: None. Byron Maxwell's early season struggles aside, the Eagles secondary has been terrific. Malcolm Jenkins is having a career year, Walter Thurmond looks really good at safety, and Nolan Carroll has quieted all doubters with very good play this season. You can chalk up one player's improvement to right time, right place, but the improvement across the board by an entire unit is usually a sign of good coaching. Undlin has done a very good job with his unit.
Add It Up
The Eagles had a lot of additions in the off-season, and halfway through the season they haven't added up to anything. The offense has struggled to have any consistency in all facets of the game, and has single-handedly caused the Eagles to go backward in 2015. The one newcomer to the offense that has played well has not been given adequate playing time, and the players that left wouldn't have been the answer either. The team has almost the exact same and more questions today then it did when last season ended, and there's no quick fix in sight. Poor and injury plagued seasons by the rest of the division is keeping the team in the picture for a playoff spot, but this isn't a "playoff team."
Coaches who are also the head of personnel rarely do well. Nearly a year into his tenure of complete control of the Eagles, Chip Kelly has not bucked the trend. Teams that make major roster moves through free agency generally struggle, and in this regard the Eagles and Chip Kelly are also no exception. Chip Kelly the GM has failed Chip Kelly the coach.