-- Chip Kelly's reputation as an unconventional and unapologetic coach is not without merit. The pacing of his offense, his approach to practice and the Philadelphia Eagles' bold personnel moves during his tenure have predictably made waves around the NFL.
"I just think he doesn't give a s--- what other people think, and he has his beliefs, he is outside the box and he is true to himself," one general manager from another team told me for a 2014 Insider piece evaluating all 32 NFL head coaches.
After releasing top receiver DeSean Jackson in 2014, the Eagles this offseason have traded starting quarterback Nick Foles, traded starting running back LeSean McCoy, invested heavily in running back DeMarco Murray, released starting guard Evan Mathis and traded nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin. Teams typically don't make so many major transactions in rapid succession when coming off successive 10-6 seasons, but let's resist the natural temptation to cast these moves as outside the box simply because Kelly was the driving force behind them.
While roster churn is part of life in the NFL for every team, Kelly isn't conventional. He's more fearless than most, and his theory on past injuries not being an indicator of future ones flouts established thought ( Travis Long's situation notwithstanding). But if you can set aside your own NFL worldview and piece together where Kelly might be coming from, he isn't necessarily as unorthodox as his moves make him out to be. In reality, when you analyze the more notable moves individually, you see a pattern of, well, logical decisions. Let's take a look.
1. The QB trade was far from groundbreaking
The Eagles traded Foles, a 2015 fourth-round pick and a 2016 second-rounder to St. Louis for Sam Bradford and a 2015 fifth-round choice. Why throw in the second-rounder next year? Because talented quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall carry value even when there are strikes against them. When Kansas City acquired Alex Smith from San Francisco in 2013, the Chiefs gave up a second-round pick that year (34th overall) and a conditional second-rounder in 2014. In 2011, Oakland sent a 2012 first-rounder and a conditional 2013 second-rounder to Cincinnati for Carson Palmer. Both quarterbacks were No. 1 picks.
The Rams spent five seasons waiting for Bradford to break out because they knew his talent gave him a very high ceiling, particularly after a Rookie of the Year start to his career. Problem was, the Rams had no viable alternatives when Bradford got hurt. Their quarterback floor was in the basement. The Eagles had a high quarterback floor with Foles and Mark Sanchez on the roster, but they thought the ceiling was too low. Acquiring Bradford raised the ceiling. Re-signing Sanchez kept the floor where it was last season. If Foles becomes a star and Bradford fizzles, the Eagles will look bad. But that risk was a reasonable price to pay for a shot at upgrading a critical position, especially since the Eagles had sufficient time to evaluate Foles.
2. Kelly and the other coaches hired in 2013 aren't so different
Only three of the Eagles' 15 highest-paid players from 2012 (measured by average per year) remain with the team. We could use that as evidence Kelly has been all about flushing away the most notable players he inherited, but that figure isn't out of line when compared to the figures for other teams with head coaches hired in 2013. Arizona, Kansas City, Jacksonville and San Diego all have five of their 15 highest-paid players from 2012 still on their rosters. (That total counts Justin Blackmon, who has not played for the Jaguars since 2013 due to off-field problems.)
Of the Eagles' top 15 in 2012, Jason Peters, DeMeco Ryans and Brent Celek remain in Philadelphia. Two others, Nnamdi Asomugha and Demetress Bell, are out of the league. Michael Vick, Todd Herremans, Jason Avant, Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson are role players who may or may not have remained on the roster under any other coach. They played between 266 and 545 snaps last season. That leaves Jackson, McCoy, Mathis and Maclin as higher-priced players Kelly inherited and then traded, released or failed to re-sign over two-plus years on the job.
Jackson, McCoy and Maclin all had their career-best single-season yardage totals under Kelly, not under the leadership group that drafted them. Foles, another player left over from the previous staff, had his best season by far under Kelly. These were reasons to think the coach might build around this relatively young (but expensive) core. He did not, and although the cumulative effect of their exits reverberates, the reasoning behind the moves made this offseason appears straightforward (see below).
3. The McCoy trade was a salary swap made with foresight
New coaches inherit salary structures left behind by predecessors who often had different priorities. Kelly inherited McCoy's contract, which carried a nearly $12 million salary-cap charge in 2015, including $10.25 million in base salary ($1 million of that guaranteed). Those would be burdensome numbers for just about any running back, and especially for an Eagles running back. Kelly's history at Oregon tells us he wants a stable of backs to attack opposing defenses in waves.
Trading McCoy and his onerous contract for a young, inexpensive linebacker ( Kiko Alonso) cleared the way for the Eagles to sign Murray and Ryan Mathews. Now, the team's top three backs (Murray, Mathews and Darren Sproles) are counting a combined $11.1 million against the 2015 cap, less than what McCoy would have counted by himself. Murray's deal counts $8 million against the 2016 cap, less than the $8.85 million McCoy's deal would have counted.
You could say the Eagles swapped out McCoy for Murray, Mathews and Alonso. Conventional wisdom says that's a pretty good deal.
4. Teams sometimes part with older, expensive guards
Mathis finished last season as the No. 2 guard behind Baltimore's Marshal Yanda in grading by Pro Football Focus. Releasing him did come off as house cleaning after Mathis complained that the Eagles reneged on a contract offer once Kelly took over personnel responsibilities. But Mathis turns 34 in November, and he was scheduled to earn $6.5 million in salary. Logan Mankins was 32 with six Pro Bowls on his résumé when New England traded him to Tampa Bay in 2014 (he had been PFF's 18th-ranked guard, including fourth in run-blocking, the previous season). Two-time Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs was about to turn 31 this offseason when New Orleans traded him to Kansas City.
Was parting with Mathis a bit of a surprise? Sure. Was it shocking by NFL standards? Apparently not, as Mathis remains unsigned nearly two months after his release.
5. Boykin was the shortest, lightest corner on the roster
Boykin seemed surprised the Eagles traded him to Pittsburgh for a fifth-round pick that can upgrade to a fourth-rounder based on playing time. It's almost always personal for players, and understandably so. But this move should have carried little shock value based on Kelly's stated and demonstrated desire to get bigger and more physical in the secondary. Boykin was looking to transition from slot corner to the outside as he entered the final year of his rookie deal, but at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, he doesn't have the size Philadelphia wants at the position.
Before trading Boykin, the Eagles signed 6-foot-1, 207-pound cornerback Byron Maxwell from Seattle at $10.5 million per season. Kelly has raved about Maxwell's size and physical style. The team then used a second-round choice for 6-1, 205-pound safety Eric Rowe, who made nine starts at corner for Utah and is playing the position now for the Eagles.
If a cornerback inherited from the previous coaching staff does not fit the new staff's mold for the position, and if that corner was likely to leave in free agency after the upcoming season anyway, the team typically would attempt to get value for the player via trade. That is what the Eagles did in the Boykin situation.
6. Losing Maclin carried a fluke factor
Parting with Jeremy Maclin had nothing to do with Kelly cleaning house or turning over the roster. The Eagles made a good-faith offer, but Kansas City went all-in at $11 million per season. As fate would have it, Maclin became a free agent just as the coach responsible for drafting him, Andy Reid, was coming off a 2014 season in which his Chiefs completed zero touchdown passes to a wide receiver. What were the odds of those planets aligning when every other team since the 1964 New York Giants had gotten at least one scoring reception from a wideout?
Once the Eagles lost Maclin, they did what many teams would have done. They drafted a receiver in the first round. Not very outside the box of them, when you think about it.
The same could be said for many of Kelly's moves.