Beyond the Bison: Cold stones

Julian Dorey, Senior Writer

When Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie hired Chip Kelly away from the collegiate powerhouse, the Oregon Ducks, two years ago, the winds of change were clear for all to see on the horizon.

After 14 years of old-school NFL, West Coast offense Andy Reid football (two years too many if you ask me), the ultra-competitive Lurie decided to shuffle the deck in almost every sense of the meaning. Reid was arguably the most decorated coach in Eagles history (Championship-winning Eagles coaches, Greasy Neale and Buck Shaw, might wish to argue that point—but they’re dead) and firing him was no small matter.

But Reid had never won it.

It. That elusive Super Bowl that Lurie has spent a fortune to win.

So Reid had to go—and so did his failing ideology. Kelly, to put it simply, was and is practically the antithesis of Reid.

Where Reid values a pass heavy West Coast offense, Kelly considers his spread, speed-oriented, “collegiate” offense to be the way of the future; where Reid stood pat as an unapologetic “players” coach—taking the bullets for them to no end from day one, Kelly has shown no hesitation to hold his players accountable (just ask DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Cary Williams to name a few); where Reid staunchly stood by the 4-3 defense long after his irreplaceable defensive coordinator Jim Johnson passed away in 2009, Kelly decided to bring in a 3-4 scheme to fit Reid’s former players around from day one.

You get the point. Reid and Kelly are different. As different as it gets. Just as Lurie wanted it.

Lurie wanted change. He wanted a new vision.  He wanted a new milieu at the NovaCare complex where the smells of South Philadelphia permeate both the air and the very culture that the city prides itself on: toughness, grit, and guts. As Reid’s act wore on, these traits fell by the wayside. Kelly came in and revived the fan-base—fitting the culture back to the city’s needs along the way.

But Kelly only had control over what happened on the field. For two years, he took Reid’s pathetic 4-12 2012 roster and guided them to impressive 10-6 records (including a division title in 2013).

In Kelly’s eyes, however, the lack of improvement from year one to year two, and his growing philosophical disagreements with General Manager Howie Roseman, was cause for alarm.

On Dec. 28, 2014, when the Eagles’ 2014 campaign came to an end, he knew the only way he could take the team to the next level was to become the general manager himself. So, as far as we can gather, Kelly walked into Lurie’s office and told him to remove from player personnel power his decade-long protégé, Roseman. In essence, Kelly pushed all of his chips in the middle and said, “Everything or nothing, Jeff. Your bet.”

So Lurie committed. He committed to what he had hired Kelly to do in the first place: change things completely. Kelly had proven he could coach in the NFL—and now he wanted to realistically compete for a Super Bowl. How could Lurie argue with that?

Chip’s first off-season in charge has been the most entertaining roller coaster in recent NFL History (he really wasn’t kidding when he said this had to be “his team”).

Gone are Reid mainstays including: McCoy, Nick Foles, Jeremy Maclin (who returned to Reid’s welcoming arms in Kansas City with a whopping $11 million/yr. deal), Todd Herremans, Trent Cole, Nate Allen (who must have literally held Raiders’ GM Reggie McKenzie hostage to get his 4 yr-$23 million deal—he isn’t worth $1 million over that span.

In are a laundry list of big names: Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond, Brad Jones, and Ryan Matthews.

The moves to acquire Bradford (a former first-overall selection coming off two straight ACL surgeries) and Murray were particularly stunning. Bradford is a huge gamble that could make or break Kelly in the long run—and Murray was poached away from the hated Cowboys after leading the NFL in rushing this past season. Moreover, the Murray and Matthews investments all but proved that Kelly simply did not like McCoy’s east-west running style in his offense—and preferred the one-cut specialists (Murray and Matthews).

The team still has holes (Wide Receiver, Safety, and Offensive Guard)—and free agency is just about finished—but Kelly’s plan feels like it still remains in its infancy. Another crazy trade certainly isn’t out of the question, and the entire NFL will have their eyes on the Eagles during next month’s draft.

Why?

Well, Kelly’s trigger-happy first off-season is the primary culprit. Rather, the fact that Heisman-winning Oregon quarterback, Marcus Mariota, is expected to be selected early—far before the Eagles’ 20th overall selection. Mariota played one season for Kelly at Oregon and the two remain close. To this point, Kelly has shot down all possibilities of trading up for Mariota (“We will never mortgage our future to go all the way up to get somebody like that,” he said). Kelly has also highly touted Bradford and claimed on multiple occasions that he didn’t bring the former first overall pick to Philadelphia for use in another trade.

But many in the media and around the league aren’t buying it. Until another team drafts Mariota and holds onto him—he’s fair game in the Kelly hunting expedition. We’ll see.

Lurie finally went all the way with his franchise shift heading into this off-season. It will be a long time before we’ll know if it was the right call—but anyone has to admire the guts it took on his part to place all his faith in Kelly.

With Kelly’s reign still in its first 100 days, we’ll just have to settle for the pure entertainment of it while we can.

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