Across the NFL, coaches and team executives are calling Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly a fool, a genius, arrogant, "futuristic," a slave to a system, "someone who sees human beings as drones," football's best mind and in the words of one agent, "a human hand grenade."
Here's another description of Kelly: Jimmy Johnson-esque.
We're about to find out which fits best.
On Tuesday, Kelly and the Eagles traded LeSean McCoy—one of the best players in football, who in 2013 obliterated the team's rushing record with 1,607 yards, a record that had stood for more than three decades—to Buffalo for Kiko Alonso. This, less than a year after he released DeSean Jackson after his best season.
If this move works, Kelly's pseudo-genius label will stick.
If it doesn't, if it blows up in his face, he will be remembered as the fake genius, the guy who destroyed a roster without so much as winning a playoff game. Bye-bye, Chipster.
The Walker-McCoy comparison isn't perfect but it's close because McCoy, like Walker, is a star. Trading stars of that caliber is dangerous. Or highly rewarding. You just don't know.
I can confirm several other media reports in that, according to multiple league sources, McCoy is furious about the trade. More pertinent to Kelly, early Thursday morning, an Eagles player direct-messaged on Twitter that the Eagles' entire locker room was shellshocked. "Who's next to go?" he asked me.
I believe generating fear is also part of what Kelly is trying to do. He doesn't just want everyone to buy into his program; he wants them to believe that if they don't, they will be gone. Kelly's message: Buy in or get the hell out.
The last time a coach did something like this was 26 years ago. One of the gutsiest moves ever made. Like Kelly, Jimmy Johnson made a trade that would define his career.
When Johnson dealt Herschel Walker in his prime, there was similar reaction across the sport, particularly in the Dallas media.
"The Vikings got Herschel Walker," columnist Randy Galloway wrote in The Dallas Morning News, via ESPN.com's Steve Wulf. "The Cowboys got nothing more than a huge handful of Minnesota smoke. And who knows if there'll ever be another fire."
The competing newspaper felt the same way. Columnist Frank Luksa of the Dallas Times Herald wrote the Cowboys got "a bag of beans and a cow to be named later," via Wulf.
Johnson staked everything on that move, and it paid off. Walker was a semi-bust with the Vikings, and Johnson used the picks he received in the trade to build a dynasty.
|Traded in Their Prime|
|Herschel Walker pre-trade||49||69.1||0.53|
|Herschel Walker post-trade*||90||51.2||0.38|
|LeSean McCoy pre-trade||90||75.5||0.49|
|LeSean McCoy post-trade||?||?||?|
|*In six seasons in which he was a primary starter; Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com|
This is where Kelly is now. He is on the precipice of being either a dolt or a historic figure like Johnson. This is Kelly's Herschel Walker moment.
If it fails, Kelly will be gone within a few years. Absolutely gone. I don't care how much power he's been able to consolidate within the organization. Won't matter. If the Eagles trade away talents like Jackson and McCoy and fail to make the playoffs again, he will be gone. Maybe not in a year, but not long after that.
Jackson is a player that Kelly can (somewhat) rationalize letting go. He can be portrayed as a troublemaker or selfish. But not McCoy. McCoy was one of the most popular people in that locker room and in that entire city. He's seen as a good dude across the sport.
Yes, this is the most dangerous thing a head coach has done in terms of personnel moves since Johnson traded Walker, but I also think this move could work. In fact, I think it will.
Kelly is an uber-believer in his system, and while his confidence in that system borders on hubris, the notion of dumping an older back is something teams have believed for some time. It's not always popular, but it's smart football.
In this, Kelly, who presents himself as cutting edge, is rather traditional. The trading of McCoy is very Nino Brown.
McCoy turns 27 in July. When a runner hits his late 20s, inside the heads of most head coaches comes the sound that happens on the Enterprise bridge when it goes to battle stations.
There have been exceptions to this rule—like Marshawn Lynch, whose Skittles keep him powered like he's 22—but still, the NFL sees older backs like they are widgets. Once one gets moderately used, he is discarded. The running-back position is one of the greatest examples of how in professional football it's just body in, body out.
History, analytics and common sense say Kelly made the right choice. That doesn't mean the decision won't turn radioactive.
This is where things get interesting for Kelly. While I think Kelly was probably right to trade McCoy, he now has to replace all this outstanding talent he's ejecting.
Johnson turned his Walker picks into gold. He should be in the Hall of Fame as a draft evaluator for what he did with those picks.
In order for Kelly to not get his ass fired, he has to do something similar.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.