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Is 2015 a Make-or-Break Year for Chip Kelly?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJanuary 20, 2015

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on against the New York Giants during a game at MetLife Stadium on December 28, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is wearing several hats this week at the Senior Bowl, mainly because he's yet to find a general manager to help him with scouting and personnel decisions. But even when the Eagles hire a GM to replace the "promoted" Howie Roseman, the pressure will almost entirely be on Kelly entering his third NFL season. 

Kelly is now fully in charge of personnel, which means his presence is growing despite the fact some shine has come off of a coach who many thought would revolutionize the NFL game when he jumped from Oregon to the City of Brotherly Love two years ago. 

Pick a cliche. The bigger they are, the harder they fall? Or maybe Uncle Ben's "With great power comes great responsibility"? Regardless, despite posting a solid 20-12 regular-season record during his first two years in the NFL, Kelly has yet to win a playoff game and is coming off a season that represented somewhat of a regression for his ballyhooed offense. 

Eagles offense, 2013 vs. 2014
Category20132014
Points/game26.824.8
Yards/game417.2396.8
Yards/play6.35.6
20-yard plays9975
40-yard plays2315
Pro Football Reference

Does that mean he's in trouble?

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Here's what history says:

  • The first head coach owner Jeffrey Lurie played a role in hiring was Ray Rhodes, who managed to last four seasons in the mid-1990s despite going 29-34-1 in that span. Just like Kelly, Rhodes went 20-12 in his first two seasons, but he made the playoffs both of those years and won a Wild Card Game in 1995. 
  • The only other head coach Lurie has employed was Andy Reid, who lasted 14 years. But after a 5-11 inaugural campaign with very low expectations, Reid won three playoff games in his next two seasons. In Reid's third year, the Eagles fell just short of the Super Bowl. 

So there's no telling what a failed 2015 season would mean for Kelly, because there's no precedent for that under Lurie. 

But when you consider that this is a franchise seeking its first championship in 55 years, you have to wonder if the seat in Kelly's office is already getting warm. Patience is wearing quite thin in Philly, and there are no fall guys left. Reid and Joe Banner are gone. 

Regardless of what happens in 2015, Kelly's fate will likely be closely tied to his quarterback. And the problem right now is that nobody knows who that'll be.

He gambled on Michael Vick in year one, and that failed. Vick's replacement, Nick Foles, delivered in a major way that season but was mediocre when healthy in year two. Now he can either gamble on Foles, who may or may not be the long-term answer, or try his hand in a draft that lacks realistically reachable blue-chip quarterbacks. 

Somewhat ironically, Kelly's best chance of ensuring he has a job one year from now could come from a major draft gamble. If he were to convince the front office to trade multiple future early picks in order to move up and select Heisman winner and fellow former Duck Marcus Mariota in April's draft, he would surely get a minimum of two years' worth of leash in order to groom Mariota. 

But if Kelly isn't able to put a quarterback on track to become a franchise leader by the end of this season, and if the Eagles once again fall short of expectations, it'll be fair to wonder whether he's just another celebrity college coach who isn't cut out for the NFL, like Steve Spurrier, Bobby Petrino or Nick Saban.

I'd imagine Kelly would get a fourth year barring a complete catastrophe in 2015, but I can't see him getting an extension on that original five-year contract without some playoff victories.

He's gone all-in on a few occasions, mainly by releasing Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson in his prime and hitching his offensive wagon to Foles, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. Three of those guys were disappointments in 2014, and now there are major decisions to be made regarding McCoy and Maclin this offseason. 

Both of those guys are Pro Bowlers as well. If Kelly decides to part with either of them and the Eagles once again fail to deliver in 2015, it'll be on him. And surely, at that point, he'll be low on rope. 

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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