Since the beginning of his Eagles career, head coach Chip Kelly has been accused of having a strong affinity for players whom he coached at the collegiate level. The evidence is hard to ignore – since arriving in Philadelphia he has either signed or drafted close to 15 former Oregon Ducks.
After Tuesday night’s blockbuster trade for former Bills (and Ducks) linebacker Kiko Alonso, Kelly currently employs nine players who were in Eugene at the same time as Kelly. So does he have, as the Twitterverse likes to call it, a #DuckBias?
In a word, yes.
In a few more words, yes, but it’s more complicated than that.
So before we all laugh off those shirts with the Duck-Eagle hybrid logo on them, let's unpack what an Oregon Bias looks like, why it might make sense, and what could go wrong.
Breaking: Oregon Is Not A D-III Program
The Oregon Bias made itself visible early in Kelly's first season, when he brought in players like quarterback Dennis Dixon. Part of the rationale behind this had to do with needing players who had been through the Chip Kelly Experience. He needed guys to help teammates get used to the tempo of practice, smoothies and other new age trappings. But those days are essentially over. Now it's all about talent acquisition, and Oregon--thanks in large part to the program put in place by Chip Kelly--is producing talented players.
Last August, when asked about the large number of former Ducks still on the team-- the number was nine back then, too--Chip echoed this sentiment. From the Inquirer:
"I like having good football players," Kelly said. "So we think the guys we have here are good football players. There’s another 20 or 30 other Oregon guys that are in this league that are on other teams. They’re good football players. Got a lot of Cincinnati guys  – they’re good football players. That’s how we look at it."
At the height his reign as Eagles football czar, Andy Reid showed an affinity for two types of players: guys from BYU, and overachievers from small schools. Most of the BYU players were your quintessential "try-hard" guys who occupied space on the fringes of the roster. But the small school guys were often times draft picks, and occasionally high draft picks. For every diamond-in-the-rough Todd Herremans Reid’s scouts uncovered, there were plenty more head-scratchers like McNeese State’s own Bryan Smith, a third-round pick in 2008.
With all due respect to those other schools, Oregon is not McNeese State. Oregon is not BYU. Oregon is a top-flight college football program. Bringing in players, even in backup roles, who performed well against top-tier talent the same thing as bringing in players who had four sacks against Wossamotta U.
Inside Info Is Important
And just as it was important that Kelly had players in place who could help ease the transition for the rest of the team, it may have been helpful for Kelly to have players upon whom he could count. Transitioning to a new job in the NFL is hard enough, but Kelly was in his first ever NFL job. Bringing in guys with whom he had a history made practical sense, and now we're seeing the evolution of that thought process.
After all, Kelly's off-field methods were as unorthodox to the NFL as his on-field product. Kelly brought a no-huddle spread offense to Philadelphia that incorporated the full college experience, right down to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air play cards. This wasn't a standard-issue West Coast Offense being installed, it was an experiment essentially brand new to the NFL.
Part of Kelly's initial appeal to fans was that, as a college coach, he had thoroughly scouted most of the players who would be draft eligible. That includes both Oregon players and non-Oregon players alike. Unlike NFL scouts and personnel, who maybe get to spend a few minutes with a player, Chip recruited the top-flight players. And that's not even counting the players he was able to successfully bring back to Eugene with him. Those players he got to know personally by working with them every day.
Which brings us back to Alonso.
As BGN's own Mark Saltveit noted in his excellent post from Wednesday morning, Alonso had issues with drinking during college that threatened to end his career. He was thankfully able to get himself back on track, and has had a successful NFL career so far. But if Kelly had been the coach of, say, Stanford at the time, would he be as willing to take a chance on a guy with a past like Kiko's? Kelly was around him through the good times and the bad (and arguably was an influence in helping Alonso right his ship), and Kelly clearly believes in him. That's insight that's hard to get from outside sources.
The NFL Stands for "Not For Long," Even When It Comes To Ducks
Of those nine, it's fair to assume that most won't make the Eagles' final 53-man roster. Barner, Keliikipi and Murphy were on the team's practice squad last season, and while Hart was on the final roster, he didn't dress for a single game last season. With the exception of Hart, it's fair to assume that most won't see time on the squad next season.
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Ironically, the number of former Ducks on the team in 2015 could dwindle because of other former Ducks. The acquisition of Alonso likely means the end of the Casey Matthews era, and the 30-year-old Bair could lose his job in favor of Hart, whom the Eagles drafted in the fifth round last May. If we assume that the Eagles won't draft any additional Ducks this year (an assumption I strongly advise against making), there could be only three former Oregon players on the Eagles come Week 1 of the regular season.
All of this isn't to say that the Eagles having a special affinity for their head coach's former players is without consequence. For the last month, the entire city of Philadelphia has been gripped by a case of #WhateverItT8kes Fever as the Eagles sort-of-reportedly go after quarterback Marcus Mariota, Kelly's star pupil. While it's hard to fault the Eagles for wanting the Heisman winner, their pursuit of Mariota could end up costing them a good number of picks and players, with no guarantee that Mariota will eventually be worth it.
This concern applies further down the draft board as well. Last year Kelly said that he would have taken Taylor Hart in the third round of last year's draft, had then-general manager Howie Roseman not convinced Kelly to wait. Instead, the Eagles selected Josh Huff, another former Duck. And while Huff has shown nice flashes, history will ultimately decide if Huff will be a better choice than, say, Terrance West, who was selected by the Browns eight picks after Huff.
Ultimately, the #DuckBias is something Eagles fans may have to learn to live with; brushing it off as a quirk of the Chip Kelly Era. So far no harm has come from it, and if the Eagles do acquire Mariota and he does end up being worth it, history could remember this entire conversation as a positive. But until then, we may have to settle on something less satisfying - the bias is real, it's kind of obvious, and probably not too bad after all.