Chip Kelly isn’t coming to Philadelphia solely for his offensive innovation and prowess. Rather, the new Eagles head coach is coming to the team to rebuild the entire franchise in all three phases of the game.
Not enough attention has been given to what Kelly’s plans for the future of the team’s defense entail. We’ve heard rumors of a 3-4, and we’ve heard rumors of a hybrid. Others have speculated that Kelly will not switch to the 3-4 for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most prevalent of these is that Kelly does not have the personnel right now on the team to successfully convert the defense.
However, over the last few seasons, the NFL has completely transformed itself into an offensive league. With only a few exceptions, the successful NFL franchises have adapted to this offensive switch by implementing the 3-4.
For example, the Houston Texans were stuck in a rut of mediocrity for years. They had maintained a semblance of competitiveness on the shoulders of Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, but they were among the NFL’s worst defensively. That is, of course, until Wade Phillips became the team’s defensive coordinator and implemented the 3-4.
Since then, the Texans defense has been among the best in the NFL, and the team has been a contender.
What Phillips did was get rid of the players he felt were expendable in that system. The Texans let Mario Williams walk and traded DeMeco Ryans.
What Chip Kelly should do is bring in a 3-4 and tie up the defensive loose ends.
A big misconception about the Texans trading Ryans to Philadelphia was that he could not work in a 3-4 scheme, but that’s not the case. Ryans had become expandable in that system because of the team’s strength at the linebacker position.
Off the bat, the Eagles have a decent 3-4 MLB option in Ryans. Although he is older, slower and not the best in man coverage, the pressure on Ryans could be alleviated by the presence of three other linebackers.
As far as the other three linebackers go, the Eagles would have to address that position in the upcoming draft. The name Jarvis Jones comes to mind, but there are other options.
The Eagles already have Mychal Kendricks, who we know is outstanding in coverage. But Kendricks has 3-4 experience from his time in college. While he was there, Kendricks was an outstanding blitzer. That, coupled with what we’ve seen from him so far, merits having confidence that he could thrive in a 3-4 system in the NFL.
The final linebacker position could be filled by Brandon Graham, who played both OLB and DE at Michigan. There are question marks regarding whether or not he’d be able to make that kind of a switch at this point, but if the Eagles really want to be the kind of progressive, forward-thinking franchise they’re advertising themselves to be, it’s worth a gamble. After all, it’s not exactly as though what they’re doing right now has been working.
As far as the defensive line goes, the Eagles have Trent Cole, who could play one end, and Fletcher Cox, who could play the other. If one of the two (Cole, if anyone) doesn’t work, Cullen Jenkins won a Super Bowl as a 3-4 defensive end with the Packers.
Jenkins has been another victim of Andy Reid’s mad scientist experiments in which he takes a player and puts him in a position he isn’t used to. Perhaps in a 3-4, Jenkins could see somewhat of a return to form.
There’s really nothing to suggest that Fletcher Cox or Trent Cole would struggle with the adjustment. Of course, there would be “growing pains,” but Cole may have just had a down year in 2012, while Cox was one of the team’s best pass-rushers as a rookie.
A great move on behalf of the new regime would be drafting Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei. Lotulelei could conceivably play any position along a 3-4 front. He is projected in the top five of the draft, and the Eagles have the fourth pick overall. If Andy Reid was still the Eagles coach, or if Gus Bradley had been hired, the Birds likely wouldn't have picked Lotulelei. Now, though, things are much more interesting with Chip Kelly at the helm.
The Eagles’ cornerbacks have been monumental disappointments. There’s no doubt that the team will have to draft a cornerback somewhere in the draft—but that’s not going to fix everything immediately.
In the case of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, he either isn’t that good or he gave up somewhere along the line. If the Eagles re-sign him, they’d be committing to either a quitter or a bad cornerback.
DRC is not a bad player. In fact, he’s a freak athlete who was probably caught up in the whirlwind of confusion and collapse all around him. Re-signing him wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but it would certainly be brought about with some reservations.
On the other side is Nnamdi Asomugha, who has been awful since he came to Philadelphia.
If the Eagles were to let him walk, they’d take a $4M cap hit. The only other option would be to restructure his deal, because paying him the money he's owed would be outrageous. Moreover, who’s to say he’ll improve in a new system?
Would Nnamdi be better with a new coach? Nothing he’s done over the last two years suggests that he has the ability to do better in any kind of system. But you never know.
Either way, the Eagles are going to have to let one of these two go and draft another CB who can hopefully develop in a 3-4.
Perhaps the only group of players sorrier than the Eagles’ CBs has been the Eagles’ safeties.
The team is going to need to acquire two new safeties in any way in the upcoming offseason.
A great move would be signing the Buffalo Bills’ Jairus Byrd. But the strong safety position cannot be left unaddressed.
Just because the Eagles had a bad experience signing free agents in recent years doesn't mean that they should no longer sign any free agents. What Andy Reid did was sign free agents and put them under coaches who didn't know how to use them.
Both Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman have been awful for a long time. They miss tackles, find themselves out of position and leave their teammates to compensate for their shortcomings. And their teammates haven’t been able to rise to the occasion.
Even if the team doesn’t switch to a 3-4, the Birds cannot afford more of Coleman and/or Allen.
Now, they’ll have to keep at least one of the two as a backup, but they’d need to focus their attention most on the safeties of any position if they were to switch to the 3-4.
In summation, the Eagles aren’t entirely without players who could play in a 3-4, and there are reasonable moves they could make to acquire the players they would need to smoothly and successfully make the transition.
The NFL’s best defensive units run a 3-4. The Eagles have certainly put themselves at the forefront of the NFL’s most progressive franchises with the hiring of Chip Kelly. Another step in the right direction would be a 3-4 conversion.
This is reminiscent of team’s pass-first philosophy that was implemented under Andy Reid. Now the NFL is a pass-first league, and the Birds were pioneers of that movement.
Jeffrey Lurie knew what he was doing when he hired Kelly, and the two have doubtlessly conversed about what they are going to do defensively. Lurie has shown himself to be a progressive owner in the past, so it’s likely he recognizes the 3-4’s role in the new NFL.
Don’t be fooled by any reports that indicate Kelly and Lurie don’t know which direction they plan to move in defensively. There’s absolutely no way that’s the case.
Given all of these factors, the 3-4 coming to Philadelphia coupled with the implementation of the Chip Kelly offense would make the Birds the freshest, newest, most interesting franchise in the league.
And if you’re going to take a chance on the Chip Kelly offense, why wouldn't you take a chance on a 3-4 defense?