Chip Kelly was many things. Most notably, he was a stickler for “high-character” players, and men, in his organization. His insistence on players adhering to team-first philosophies bordered on the psychotic. It did, however, keep players in line, for the most part. And when it didn’t, Kelly wasn’t afraid to expunge the locker room of what he saw as a potential cancer. He was tone-deaf in plenty of other arenas, but Kelly’s commitment to character was one of his few redeeming qualities by the time his reign imploded.
When Kelly was dismissed in late December 2015, it was clear the Eagles wanted to move on quickly. Doug Pederson was hired. Howie Roseman was reinstated. The era of habits reflecting the mission was gone, and the era of emotional intelligence was upon us.
Then, Pederson and Roseman had to build a team reflecting the team’s new set of values.
The Carson Wentz trade left the Eagles, for one year, short on draft picks and resources to fill the team’s roster out with sufficient talent. If the team’s 2016 showed anything, it’s that the organization can ill afford to keep whiffing at wide receiver and running back.
But it also highlighted the pitfalls of seeking shortcuts.
In Pederson’s first year in charge, and Roseman’s first year back in charge, risks were taken on players with checkered pasts, a sharp departure from Kelly’s tenure, as well as the previous regime, with Andy Reid and Joe Banner involved in the decision making.
Then unsavory things happened, and fast.
There were three arrests, two involving guns, one involving a player released. There was the addition of three young players, two via the draft, with legal histories, including two accused of previously physically abusing women.
In fairness, Jalen Mills and Wendell Smallwood acquitted themselves very well in their respective rookie seasons. The two both behaved like team players and, as far as we know, model citizens.
But the arrests of Nigel Bradham (twice) and Josh Huff derailed the team’s season more than once. On the days following those arrests, the Eagles’ locker room was filled with an obvious tension. Bradham owned his mistakes better than Huff, but both distracted the team, at least for a day, from their weekly preparation.
Elsewhere, Roseman’s trade for Dorial Green-Beckham proved to be fruitless. As had been the case in Tennessee, the wideout struggled with consistency, showing up for a handful of plays before disappearing for entire afternoons, or losing battles to cornerbacks six inches shorter than his rare, colossal frame.
And now we arrive at the doorstep of the 2017 league year. NFL free agency begins in a few weeks. The team’s decisions in free agency will inform how they approach the draft. The players added to the Eagles’ roster in the two-month window between early March and early May will form a young nucleus around the franchise’s centerpiece, Carson Wentz.
Which makes this offseason the right time for the Eagles to stop looking at the wrong players.
The Bengals have repeatedly taken chances on players looking for second chances, in the hopes of their upside being realized. They surrounded their own red-headed franchise quarterback with players like Adam Jones, whose legal tribulations need no re-hashing. On January 3 this year, Jones was charged with felony harassment for allegedly spitting on a nurse.
Oh, and the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game in over a quarter-century.
Not every player with a problematic past is doomed to repeat their mistakes, but people often make these mistakes for reasons. Patterns always reveal themselves. The best way to avoid being on the wrong end of a relapse is to avoid these kinds of players entirely.
There are plenty of things to dislike about the interminable, nearly-year-long NFL Draft process. That we start mocking drafts in September says many things about our psyche as a society of sports fans.
One positive, though, is the incredible amount of time it gives fans and organizations alike to identify potential troublemakers. The vetting process for draft prospects is exhaustive and intense, and often plays out in the public arena, as is the case for Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon. His talents are well-documented; our draft expert Ben Natan has Mixon ranked as the seventh-best running back in the upcoming draft.
But Mixon’s shortcomings as a person are equally well-known, and decidedly outweigh his possible upside as a football player.
Not only did Mixon punch a woman in 2014 so hard that he broke bones in her face, but he was suspended again this past season for a confrontation with a parking attendant in which he allegedly threw pieces of a parking ticket in the attendant’s face.
This is a prime example of the kind of player the Eagles would do well to avoid. The team is starved for a playmaking running back, and while using a Top 15 first-round draft pick on a running back is largely viewed by the draft community as a waste of resources, using a Top 15 second-round draft pick certainly is not.
However, using that kind of a resource on a player who not only doesn’t reflect the people you hope to staff your organization with, but also has the chance of reverting to equally destructive behavior in the future?
That would be poor resource allocation, especially when the team has a full slate of draft picks, including two in the fourth round. There is no resource squeeze this spring, so there are no dire straits begging for risks.
It would be wise for Roseman, Pederson, and Jeffrey Lurie to learn from this past season, and to look back at what worked for the Reid-Banner years, and, to a lesser extent, the Chip Kelly era. These kinds of distractions are easily avoidable. All it takes is a little restraint and a compass pointed in the right direction.