Aside from all of the free-agent news breaking over the last couple of days, the offseason’s biggest move might have been Chip Kelly making the jump from the college ranks to become the new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Based on high expectations, the Eagles underachieved the last couple of seasons—signaling an impending change within the organization. Kelly’s addition, however, will suggest an entirely new way of doing business.
The new coach brings with him to the NFL a certain style that the league has only seen in spurts. Kelly leads like his hair is on fire and will expect that kind of intensity from each and every one of his players; if they aren’t on board, they simply will not be around.
Taking over a roster he largely had no hand in assembling will also be a major challenge. It will take time for Kelly to assemble the right group of 53 players for his system. The learning curve will certainly be steep, but that process began the second he signed his contract.
While one would assume that tinkering with the Eagles offense would be the team's primary focus this offseason, Philadelphia has gone about revamping its defense first.
By releasing Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson, the Eagles not only save money towards the salary cap, they send a message to the rest of the roster that Kelly means business as he builds his team to reflect his coaching philosophy.
Before Thursday, Philadelphia added four players on the defensive side of the ball who will fill specific roles with the team (Patrick Chung, Jason Phillips, Isaac Sopoaga and Bradley Fletcher). Bringing in these types of players will help unite a locker room that was previously just a collection of individuals once dubbed "The Dream Team" by Vince Young.
The Eagles decided to let cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie walk in free agency. Upon signing a deal with the Denver Broncos (via Pro Football Talk), he was very candid about his experience with the Eagles:
When you have a lot of talented guys like that a lot of things are expected of you...Don’t get caught up in the hype of names of people on the roster.
It seemed like we had everything...The coaches, the players—sometimes in football it just doesn’t go your way.
It is obvious that Kelly's goal is to build the best possible coaching staff and roster that he can—as it is with any head coach—but the approach of everyone in and around the organization will be what separates the previous regime from his.
Part of mitigating his transition to the NFL was Kelly bringing with him to the Eagles some of his assistant coaches at Oregon (defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, assistant defensive line coach Erik Chinander, assistant defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, assistant offensive line coach Greg Austin and assistant special teams coach Matt Harper).
Delegating the responsibilities of implementing his schemes and setting expectations among a group of coaches with whom he's familiar will allow Kelly to focus his attention on where he sees best fit.
Right now, that focus is on piecing together an NFL roster.
Seven of the eight players the Eagles have added thus far this offseason reside on defense. (Tight end James Casey is the only offensive player.) This isn't meant to dismiss the offense since Philadelphia already has a lot in place on that side of the ball.
LeSean McCoy is one of the league's top running backs, and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin could thrive in the new, up-tempo offense.
The leading item on Kelly's docket, however, is figuring out the Eagles situation at quarterback.
Michael Vick's restructured contract, along with the addition of Dennis Dixon (who is familiar with Kelly from his days at Oregon), provide the Eagles with plenty of options under center. Second-year quarterback Nick Foles is firmly in the picture as well.
Expect Kelly to exhaust all available tools when ultimately deciding who can best lead this team. With neither Vick nor Foles brought in by the new head coach, it might also be a possibility that the Eagles look at the draft for a quarterback.
In addition to the role players the Eagles have already brought in through free agency, the team upped the ante on Thursday, signing linebacker Connor Barwin, cornerback Cary Williams and safety Kenny Phillips—all of whom should assume starting roles in 2013 in key defensive positions (via Yahoo Sports).
While there is no way to determine just what all this means for the Eagles and for Kelly's future as an NFL head coach, it seems that every move in Philadelphia right now has a purpose.
Ridding the stench of the last couple seasons was step one for Kelly. Filtering in his exact vision of how he sees the Eagles will be the focal point over the next few months.
So far, Kelly seems to be making all the right moves.
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