By Annie Ross
Has there ever been in the whole glorious history of the National Football League a case of a team completely weeding out every single vestige of what happened last year?
Judging by what Howie Boy Roseman is doing, he seems to be erasing every memory of failed Supreme Leader Chip Kelly.
It’s almost as if Kelly was never here!
Roseman took one look at Kelly’s roster, and started tearing it down to the studs. DeMarco Murray got sold off to Tennessee. Miami took a chance on corner Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso.
Now Roseman has turned his focus to shoring up the foundation: Vinny Curry, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, the Rocky statue—everybody got big deals this offseason (well, except Fletcher Cox, but the Eagles are working on that).
New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is rebuilding his unit in the image of his 2014 Buffalo Bills—in a few cases, quite literally. Linebacker Nigel Bradham played well under Schwartz in Buffalo but was a victim of terrible circumstances in Rex Ryan’s defense last season; ditto Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks at corner. Now they’re all reunited with Schwartz in Philly. In addition, safety Rodney McLeod was brought over from St. Louis to provide range, and while his original contract terms seemed onerous, he’s got only $17 million in guarantees.
They can throw out Kelly and his main moves, but it’s hard to undo every bit of last year’s offensive erosion in one offseason.
Quarterback Sam Bradford is still around, mainly because nobody in free agency was better; his contract suggests he’s just a stopgap. Chase Daniel was brought on with a contract that suggests he is thought of more highly than most backups. That’s not to fault the Eagles for spending money at the position—better they pay up for the two guys they half-trust than wind up where the Broncos are now. There are still questions to be answered at quarterback in the long term.
Kelly’s Eagles preferred to treat guard candidates like interns, shrugging when they bombed and putting in someone else to see if he could get Bradford his danish on time. Letting Evan Mathis go last offseason proved to be the correct call as far as injury concerns and age went, but Kelly never tried to replace him or Todd Herremans. Philadelphia finally solidified the position by signing Brandon Brooks away from the Texans.
The Eagles can’t take back the flags that were planted when Kelly bet on Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews. All they can do is try to dance around them. After letting Jeremy Maclin walk in 2015, the team was unable to field even a remotely competent receiving corps last season. Agholor, Kelly’s first-round pick, was too raw to stick on the field, and Matthews proved unable to handle a No. 1 receiving load efficiently. Releasing Riley Cooper last month generated cap space without much downside, but the wide receiver hole has yet to be patched.
A similar situation is emerging at cornerback, where Maxwell’s departure leaves the Eagles with Buffalo castoffs and not much else. Second-year player Eric Rowe will get a chance to be groomed as corner this year, but he didn’t show much the first time around.
Now, the Eagles’ moves have not necessarily been poor. On the contrary, they’ve been met with a lot of acclaim. Getting anything for Murray after the year he had, and with the contract he carries, is a near-miracle. Dumping Maxwell and moving up a few spots in the first round for the trouble was ideal.
But these moves feel almost as out of place in the current NFL landscape as Kelly’s original acquisitions did. The Chargers aren’t rushing to get rid of Melvin Gordon after one poor season. The Giants didn’t trade Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie because he wasn’t a shutdown corner in his first go-round with the team.
There’s something sticky about Kelly’s Eagles tenure. It’s a classic tale of a man who went against the grain and failed, who dreamed big and wound up buried in his own expensive rubble. It’s ironic that the aftermath of Kelly’s replacement was a series of more bold moves in the opposite direction, but it fits.
Tearing out Kelly’s Eagles does nothing to solve years of neglect at a few positions. I’m sure it felt great to let the failures go, and that can be a psychological win. But the real business of rebuilding the Eagles goes back to winning the draft, making good free agent bets, and building a good UDFA program.
In other words: the same shit that matters for every NFL team.