by Robert Petrosyan
The Promising Leadup
As we’ve all heard, Chip Kelly was unceremoniously fired earlier this week by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Chip Kelly experiment was an exciting one that featured promise, pro bowlers and double digit win seasons. However, the potential was all but snuffed away this season after a tumultuous offseason and new additions that failed to sustain previous rates of production. Chip Kelly inherited an offense that ranked 29th in the NFL, and turned it into a top five offense for 2013 and 2014. Despite relative mediocrity at the quarterback position, the fast paced Eagles offense blazed through opposing defenses with the explosive LeSean McCoy and the big play threats of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. It seemed like the unorthodox style of Chip Kelly was here to stay.
However, after a 9-3 start to the 2014 season, the Eagles imploded in December and failed to make the playoffs. Despite having nine pro bowlers, the Eagles couldn’t overcome the loss of quarterback Nick Foles and had an especially crippling loss to the 3-11 Redskins cap off a disappointing year. To Chip Kelly, it must have seemed that he has reached a ceiling with the roster he inherited from Andy Reid, and he asked for more control over personnel to remake the team in his image. With that power, however, came great responsibility to both the front office and the fans, and while it wasn’t Super Bowl or bust, the expectations were pretty close to such.
The Rebuild That Shouldn’t Have Happened
The moves that Chip Kelly made last spring encompassed almost every position on the field. Indeed, they were of nearly Niners-esque proportions. He traded Nick Foles (along with a 2nd rounder) for Sam Bradford. He traded LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso and replaced him with rushing champion DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. A year after cutting #1 receiver DeSean Jackson due to alleged gang ties, Chip Kelly allowed Jeremy Maclin to walk in free agency and used a first round pick to draft Nelson Agholor. Longtime trench warriors Evan Mathis and Trent Cole were released, and the secondary was shored up with Byron Maxwell, who came on a 6 year $60 million contract. However, far from living up to sky high expectations, the Eagles instead fell to 6-9 with one game to go, and failed to win the exceptionally weak NFC East. For that reason, Chip Kelly was fired, Eagles fans rejoiced, and football analysts wondered what went wrong and what comes next.
Why It Had To End
Given how far the Eagles have fallen this year, I believe that firing Chip Kelly was the right move. Many will defend Chip Kelly due the way he innovated the offense and the success the Eagles saw in the prior two years. Simply put, however, the 2015 team is a completely different team from the one Andy Reid left behind in 2013. New players were brought in and Chip Kelly received more power, but instead, the Eagles regressed significantly. Usually, head coaches won’t get fired after one bad year, especially if there is still some improvement or if there is just really bad injury luck. However, the Eagles got worse in almost every way this year, and there wasn’t exceptionally bad injury luck this year (injury prone QB Sam Bradford stayed healthy for most of the year). The players brought in were supposed to be perfect fits for the systems, and ones that could catapult the Eagles offense to new heights. However, the top five Eagles offense fell to sixteenth this year. Why?
If we take a look at the personnel this year, we could make a solid argument that Chip Kelly already had the personnel to make his offense great, and we saw clear evidence on the field. LeSean McCoy is an elusive speed back who goes east-west and is adept from the shotgun formation behind the Eagles offensive line. The replacement DeMarco Murray was already overburdened by his extremely high usage from the prior year with the Cowboys. Also, as a pro-style back who ran behind one of the best offensive lines in the league, Murray was an extremely poor fit the Eagles offense. He was comically bad to start off the year, and despite a midseason bounceback, Murray ended the year on the bench, and was an all but guaranteed cut before Chip Kelly was fired.
Additionally, we saw that Nelson Agholor was not capable of replacing the field stretching abilities of Jeremy Maclin, and Jordan Matthews was also a disappointment. While Nick Foles hardly had Marcus Mariota’s skill set, he found a lot of success there with 40 TDs, 12 INTs and a 15-5 record. And on defense, things are not looking up either. Kiko Alonso tore his ACL for a second straight year and Byron Maxwell, who defended #2 receivers in Seattle, has proven himself as a bust. Surely, Chip Kelly had to have known that he already had the offensive skill position players needed to maintain a top five offense. Another reason for these moves might be one of control. As a college coach who exerted great control over the Oregon Ducks and its young players, Chip Kelly might have wanted to bring on a new roster of his players to fully make his team own. It’s common for new GMs to bring in their own coach or quarterback at the expense of those they inherit for the sake of team control. Chip Kelly took that to a new scale however, and and shook the foundation of what was already an established playoff team.
There obviously had to have been some sour front office politics that led to Kelly’s dismissal with only a game to go during the season, However, given the power the power the gave to Chip Kelly and the horrible results, what they did was more than justified. It’s important to have coaching consistency to build a solid foundation, but Chip Kelly already had a core of platmakers before he remade the team. Now, there is genuine doubt as to whether some of the key additions of this year will return. DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell are potential cap casualties and Sam Bradford is a free agent who has played mediocre at best. Next year might actually be worse if the rest of the NFC East shapes up. Given the already dismal state of the locker room and the amount of dissent from some players (namely DeMarco Murray), it is clear that the Chip-speriment is no longer working, and that the Eagles should cut their losses.
What’s Next For Chip?
Though Chip Kelly may have crashed and burned this year, his coaching career is not over by any means. He is still the man who built the Oregon Ducks into a powerhouse in the PAC-12, and holds a respectable 26-21 overall record in the NFL. At his best, Chip Kelly can reinvigorate a franchise and bring offensive firepower. Chip Kelly the GM may have gotten him fired, but Chip Kelly the coach is in the top 8 of the NFL and is capable of revolutionizing the league with his fast pace offense. Returning to college seems like the sensible option for Chip, but the top potential vacancies, like USC and LSU, are still filled. Also, reports have suggested that Chip Kelly intends on staying in the NFL and is even willing to do so without a role in personnel.
The three vacancies that Chip Kelly has been most connected with have been Miami, Cleveland and Tennessee. In Miami, he would inherit an offense that is similar to the one that Philadelphia had when Chip Kelly took the job, but he would also inherit an already divided locker room and would bring in a scheme that already failed when it was introduced earlier this year by offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, a former QB coach for Chip. Cleveland could be a good option, especially if they keep Johnny Manziel. Manziel is the type of mobile QB that would be perfect for Kelly’s scheme. There is some offensive talent at the skill positions, and a good offensive line that can make the scheme work. But of course, Tennessee is the big elephant in the room. For the sake of football, we need to make the Chip Kelly-Marcus Mariota reunion happen, and see what Chip Kelly’s scheme is truly capable of. Ownership will need to be patient, however. Aside from Mariota, the Titans don’t have much young explosive talent. However, with Chip in charge, raw rookies like David Cobb and Dorial Green-Beckham could flourish. If Chip Kelly learns from his mistakes, his arrival could really bring hope to a franchise in need of some relevance excitement. Wherever he goes, we can agree that the NFL is a much more interesting league with Chip Kelly in it.
What Now For the Eagles?
One of the advantages of firing Chip Kelly now instead of next week is that the Eagles are a week ahead in evaluating new coaching candidates and bringing someone in to fix the current mess. Unfortunately for them, they will find their situation less than ideal for high end coaches. The next head coach will not be given a role in player personnel, which could alienate an established head coach like Sean Payton and Mike Smith. Additionally, there is uncertainty on whether Sam Bradford will be back and whether he is capable of being the franchise quarterback. The cap situation isn’t too enviable either, with all the dead money from players Chip Kelly cut and players like DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell who have not lived up to their high contracts.
Because of these disadvantages, the Eagles have limited options at head coach. They could make interim coach Pat Shurmur head coach, since he’s the current offensive coordinator and had head coaching experience when he coached the Browns. If they want to go a different direction on offense, Adam Gase, the former Broncos and Bears offensive coordinator could make sense. However, I think the Eagles go defense here, and they might look at a familiar face in Sean McDermott. McDermott was a longtime defensive assistant for the Eagles, and is currently the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator. He could be the one to bring back a sense of normalcy to the defense, and improve a middling defense. The new head coach will have to make a big decision on whether they want to continue running the current offense or switch to a pro style one. That decision should determine whether DeMarco Murray is retained. They also have decisions to make in the draft. Someone like Jared Goff might go too early for the Eagles to draft, so instead, the Eagles should shore up the offensive line and improve the pass rush. I not would expect a winning season out of the Eagles next year, especially given that the NFC East should improve next season. However, as long as there is progress from year 1 to year 2 of the new regime, the new coach should be given time to fix the franchise, because recovery from this lost season will take time.