I'll admit that when the Philadelphia Eagles decided to hand final say over personnel matters to Chip Kelly, I was more than a little dubious. I had few reservations about his ability to coach the game between the lines, but I remained suspect about his ability to navigate the shark-infested personnel waters that constitute roster building at the NFL level.
One thing that tends to befuddle college coaches who are given too much control over the roster—be it Steve Spurrier, Mike Riley, Butch Davis or even Nick Saban—is the importance of finding cohesion on the offensive side of the ball from one year to the next. Yes, you obviously want your football team to improve every year. But the best teams over the course of the last two decades have stayed in championship contention by keeping their offense potent from year to year while searching for the right fit on the defensive side of the ball.
Don't believe me? Look at teams like the Saints, Packers, 49ers, Giants and Patriots. All teams that have either played in or won Super Bowls in the last five years, all which have done a great job of identifying and keeping together a core offensive unit that plays together at a high level. (Hell, the Saints offense seemed to just be waiting around for a decent defense to show up in 2012. It finally did...in 2013.)
Or, look a bit further back at the Peyton Manning-led Colts or the Donovan McNabb-led Eagles for more evidence of teams that won lots of games by keeping an offensive core together for multiple years.
Obviously, "keeping the band together" on offense doesn't guarantee anything, but it tends to be the best way to regularly keep your team in contention in the NFL.
And the early hints from Kelly and the Eagles would seem to suggest that he feels the same way.
Fresh on the heels of the team announcing that left tackle Jason Peters had been signed through 2018, Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the team is close to re-sighing wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin (to four- and one-year deals respectively). Throw in the re-signing of center Jason Kelce, and it's clear sustaining what they have on offense is important to Chip and Co.
This is great news for Eagles fans as they look forward to free agency and the draft. Kelly seems to be keeping the pieces in place on offense that helped make his first year as an NFL head coach a successful one.
Having a full year with Nick Foles under center will help things along, but in the modern NFL, where teams have less and less time together due to the restrictions that have been put in place by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, keeping a proven, productive core together (not to mention whatever Maclin is able to add after a year on Injured Reserve) is a great step toward building a championship caliber roster in Philadelphia.
Obviously, there's a lot more to be done in Philadelphia this offseason, from finding some pieces on the defensive side of the ball to filling the projected hole at backup quarterback if Michael Vick departs in free agency as suspected. (Unless Chip plans to roll with Matt Barkley, which is a whole other story...)
But the first signs are promising from Kelly and the Eagles as they build their roster for the 2014 NFL season.