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Chip Kelly Era Recap Part 2: Signs of Wear and Tear

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This is part two of Philly2Philly's recap of the Chip Kelly era. You can read the first part here.

 

After suffering a tough loss to the Saints in the 2013 NFC Wild Card game, the mood surrounding this Eagles franchise was still upbeat. The consensus was that Chip Kelly was well on his way to turning around the Philadelphia Eagles. Due in large part to a strong running game and strong performances from Foles, the offense had become one of the best in the NFL.

 

Sadly, the Eagles’ 2013 season would be Kelly’s crowning achievement in Philadelphia, and there was trouble on the horizon.

 

The first bold move took place in the spring of 2014, when the team unexpectedly released wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Although the Eagles claimed Jackson’s release was for football reasons, there were reports he clashed with Kelly. And as we would soon find out, any player who doesn’t see eye to eye with Kelly was soon on his way out of Philadelphia.

 

Despite the loss of Jackson, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin returned after missing the 2013 due to injury. The Eagles also picked up running back-kick returner Darren Sproles in a trade with the Saints. The absence of Jackson didn’t seem to bother the Eagles, who started the 2014 with a 6-2 record. However, the offensive line struggled, Foles was lost to an injury, and veteran Mark Sanchez had to stepChip Kelly/Bradford photo: ftw.usatoday.com in and to keep the team’s momentum going.

 

At first, Sanchez did an admirable job, but the Birds’ Thanksgiving domination of the Cowboys would be as good as it would get in the Chip Kelly era. A loss to the Seahawks the following week had several Seattle players coming away less than impressed with the way Kelly structured his offense. Things never seemed to be the same after that loss, which turned out to be the first of three consecutive defeats. The Birds, despite once again finishing at 10-6, were eliminated from playoff contention by DeSean Jackson and the Redskins on the season’s next to last weekend.

 

Here’s where the cracks in the armor started to show. Despite the defense improving, the offense, while still putting up strong numbers, took a step back and turnovers were costly. Once praised for helping changing the fortunes of their organization, some of the players (as they always do when they aren’t winning) would begin pointing fingers at Kelly in regards to game preparation and his conditioning methods. Cornerback Cary Williams claimed that Kelly was overworking players, resulting in late season fatigue that, according to Williams, apparently exhausted players. Williams also asserted that Kelly was basically outcoached during the season’s most crucial games. Although it was due to his less than spectacular play on the field, Williams was released the following March.

 

Further trouble ensued a week after the season ended, when Kelly became locked in a power struggle between Eagles GM Howie Roseman. When the team fired vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble (an ally of Kelly’s) on New Year’s Eve, it seemed that Kelly, who was always rumored to be headed back to college whenever a coaching position would open, might leave the Eagles sooner than anybody thought.

 

However, Lurie, in a rather surprising move given his relationship with Roseman, “promoted” Kelly to Executive Vice President of Football Operations. In the process, Lurie gave Kelly complete control of the team’s player personnel department. It was a rather unprecedented move, given Kelly’s general lack of coaching experience in the NFL.

 

It was a big gamble for Lurie, but chances are, he didn't want to run the risk of losing his head coach after just two seasons. Kelly won this round and Roseman was "demoted" (more on that later). The stakes were now raised, and there was no excuses if Kelly couldn't take this team to the next level. 

 

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In the meantime, more and more players departed. Williams, who previously spoke out against Kelly, was released in March.  LeSean McCoy, the best running back in Eagles history who reportedly bickered with Kelly throughout the 2014 season, was traded to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. When McCoy claimed that Kelly, “got rid of all the good players. Especially all the good black players,” it raised some questions, including whether a dictatorship was taking place and how well Kelly was actually communicating with his players. Veterans Trent Cole and Todd Herremans were released, and he let wide receiver Jeremy Maclin leave via free agency.

 

Days later, Kelly shipped Foles (14-4 as an Eagles starter) a 2015 fourth-round pick and a 2016 second-round pick, to the Rams for Sam Bradford, a former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. The Eagles also received a 2015 fifth round pick.

Bradford, who suffered ACL tears in 2013 and 2014, didn’t seem like the most mobile quarterback to handle Kelly’s offense. In fact, rumors surfaced that Kelly was trying to trade up in the upcoming NFL Draft for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. However, the addition of his former Oklahoma teammate-running back DeMarco Murray from the Cowboys seemed to soften the blow of the McCoy trade, and his presence in the backfield was supposed to make Bradford’s job easier. The Eagles’ also seemed to improve their secondary (arguably the worst in the NFL) by signing former Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell. Within a month, Kelly basically gutted his team, and the fact that he didn’t replace most of them with equal or better talent raised some serious eyebrows.

Going into training camp, even more players would leave the nest.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

 

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Chip Kelly/Bradford photo: ftw.usatoday.com