I've heard Chip Kelly questioned a lot in the last couple of weeks as if what he has done with the Eagles' roster is something beyond comprehension. It's fine to question, because that's the nature of being a sports fan or a sports analyst, but are you telling me that what the Eagles have done as they've turned the roster upside down is so incredibly unfathomable?
I think a lot of Eagles fans understand the "who" and the "what" from these moves - there are 11 Eagles gone from the end-of-2014 roster (active roster combined with Injured Reserve) - but how about the "why"? Do you understand why Kelly has done what he's done?
It's not particularly radical when you think about it. Kelly is always searching for a better way, so even as the roster changed quite a bit from the time he took over in 2013 to the end of last season, there were still plenty of areas to make over. Kelly won 10 games in both 2013 and 2014 and, when it comes right down to it, figured that to go from "good" to "great" - and, remember, that's the goal here - he had to make some radical changes and he had to do it now.
So the first wave was lopping off some big salaries from the roster, and Kelly released tight end James Casey, offensive guard Todd Herremans, cornerback Cary Williams and linebacker Trent Cole. Was any of those players an "ascending" performer?
Kelly also dealt running back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso, freeing up salary cap space, bringing to Philadelphia a linebacker who is tall, rangy, young, aggressive and seemingly a perfect fit for what the Eagles do at the position. McCoy is a great back and still in the prime of his career, but the Eagles felt they could replace his production in free agency and they needed Alonso and they needed cap space, so the deal was done.
The Eagles also kept two players prior to the start of free agency: outside linebacker Brandon Graham, who played well behind Cole in 2014 and is intent on proving his reliability as a full-time starter, and quarterback Mark Sanchez, who went 4-4 in relief of Nick Foles last season. More on that position in a moment.
That's the setup. The Eagles entered free agency ready to go, and go they did. They signed running backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews to team with Darren Sproles, and the Eagles now think they have as good as running back trio as a team could possibly have.
They added Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond III at cornerback, strengthening a position that was a glaring sore spot in 2014 when the Eagles allowed the most 20-yard-and-more passing plays in the entire NFL.
The big move, of course, was the trade that brought quarterback Sam Bradford to Philadelphia and sent Nick Foles to St. Louis. You've read about it and talked about it for more than a week, but it really came down to this: The Eagles wanted Bradford for his blue-chip skills - good arm, accurate thrower, quick decision decisions, mechanics, the whole package. They feel confident that he will get healthy - he is in Philadelphia now rehabbing with the Eagles to get his twice-torn ACL healthy for the long haul - and that he will thrive in an up-tempo, spread offense that is similar in a lot of ways to the one he played in at Oklahoma, where he won the Heisman Trophy.
The Eagles are banking on Bradford after considering the draft class of 2015 - they don't think there is any way they will be in position to acquire Florida State's Jameis Winston or Oregon's Marcus Mariota and the dropoff after those two is significant - and the weak draft class of 2016 - is there any quarterback out there? - as well as any potentially available quarterbacks currently in the NFL.
They set their sights on Bradford and went out and got a player they think can be a franchise-type quarterback here. Is it risky? Sure. But it comes with a lot of upside, and head coach Chip Kelly has never been afraid to make bold decisions.
Nine days into free agency the Eagles feel they've upgraded at inside linebacker and cornerback on defense and at running back (more depth, two backs more in the one-cut style the team wants) and quarterback (more upside ability with Bradford).
There are certainly risks involved in the moves, as have been discussed at great length since March 10. And there is plenty of work to do, as the positions of wide receiver (with Jeremy Maclin leaving in free agency) and safety (with Nate Allen leaving in free agency) have holes. The Eagles know that. They've got a plan, mostly to do a bang-up job in the draft and emerge feeling really good about the entire roster.
What else is on the agenda? Offensive line is going to be addressed and the defense, perhaps at cornerback, can always use more help. But Kelly did what he felt he needed to do. His "why" was this, in a nutshell: He had taken the 2013 and 2014 rosters as far as they could go, and it was time now for a makeover, one that will continue into and beyond the April 30-May 2 NFL draft.