Chip Kelly was promoted as being something of a mad scientist before he took the Philadelphia Eagles head coaching position two years ago.
The reality of the situation is that “mad scientist” doesn’t come close to describing the way that Kelly runs the organization. That phrase makes it sound almost quaint by description. Kelly is more like the engineer who designs and builds skyscrapers, and then tears them down when they are 80-to-90 percent complete.
Kelly had a decent-to-good quarterback in Nick Foles, but he traded him to the Rams for Sam Bradford. While Bradford has a lot of excellent characteristics as a quarterback, he can’t stay healthy and remain on the field. He has played seven games in the last two seasons, yet Kelly showed he was willing to bet on him. He is counting on Bradford learning his system quickly, stay healthy throughout the offseason and training camp, and then have an All-Pro season.
Kelly had one of the best running backs in Eagles history in LeSean McCoy. Perhaps McCoy ranks behind Steve Van Buren and Wilbert Montgomery, but those would be the only two that could give him a run for his money. McCoy was sent packing to Buffalo, and the Eagles received linebacker Kiko Alonso in return. Alonso is a talented and athletic player, but he too has been damaged by injuries.
The Birds appeared to make up for the loss of McCoy with the signing of DeMarco Murray away from the Cowboys. This is a brilliant move, but will Murray be as productive in Philadelphia as he was in Dallas? The offensive line in Philadelphia is not as powerful or as consistent as the one Murray had with the Cowboys, but we are not going to sell Murray short. He had a brilliant year in leading the NFL in rushing (1,845 rushing yards, 13 TDs), and he has a huge chip on his shoulder because the Cowboys were so willing to let him go elsewhere.
In the last two years, the Eagles have also said goodbye to wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jackson may have had a few issues with up-and-down play, but he is clearly one of the top playmakers in the league and his explosive speed makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Maclin (85-1,318-10 in 2014) is not that kind of burner, but his consistency at route running and his ability to make tough catches makes him a valuable player and the Eagles will have find a way to overcome his departure.
This is all part of the Kelly plan. It seems the former head coach of the Oregon Ducks not only wants to win in the NFL, he also wants two or three sentences written on his impending Hall of Fame plaque every season.
Kelly wants genuflection and reverence from his players, coaching peers, and the media as he leads the Eagles to the top of the NFC East and the glories that come in the NFL postseason.
But here’s the rub for Kelly. He has not accomplished much in his first two seasons on the job. While the Eagles went 10-6 and won the NFC East in 2013, they were eliminated by the New Orleans Saints in the Wild-Card round of the playoffs. Their fast-paced offense opened eyes around the NFL, but when they got to the money round of the NFL season, they were not quite good enough.
The Eagles put together that same 10-6 record in 2014, but they were second in the NFC East to the Cowboys, and that was not good enough to make the playoffs.
For all of Kelly’s machinations in the 2014 offseason, the Eagles were not as formidable as they had been the season before. They lost three of their last four games, and that inability to play successfully in the month of December kept the Eagles from playing postseason football.
Many coaches who don’t have Kelly’s flair for the dramatic or genius reputation understand that the key to championship seasons is peaking at the end of the season. Teams that struggle in December usually end up with nothing but regrets.
Kelly has much to do the rest of the offseason as he gets Bradford and Murray acclimated to the Philadelphia Way, and he also must prepare for the draft.
He needs to hit several home runs in this area, because the Eagles have weaknesses on the offensive line, holes at the linebacker position, and they no longer have a No. 1 receiver.
Additionally, while they have ex-Seahawk Byron Maxwell at one cornerback spot and a fine safety in Malcolm Jenkins, the other spots in the secondary need to be filled with quality players.
Kelly has a big job in front of him if his grand design is going to be fruitful in Philadelphia. It is his show to run, and he is not shy about making moves.
The only question is whether those moves will pay off and bring the Eagles glory. It’s looking more likely that the skyscraper he is constructing will become an eyesore.