When Chip Kelly jumped from the Oregon Ducks to the Philadelphia Eagles in January 2013, the Eagles' offensive core consisted of quarterback Michael Vick, running back LeSean McCoy and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
Here we are just over two years later, and in that time frame, the Eagles have scored more points and compiled more yards than everyone else in the NFC, falling second to only the Denver Broncos in the league-wide rankings in both categories.
And yet now they've officially parted ways with all four of those Pro Bowl offensive players.
It was somewhat understandable when they gave up on Vick after the 2013 season. He was inconsistent and mistake-prone, and he was outplayed by the younger Nick Foles.
But then Kelly and Co. caused jaws to drop with the shocking release of Jackson following a career year in 2013.
Last week, more jaws dropped when the Eagles agreed to trade McCoy, a two-time first-team All-Pro, to the Buffalo Bills. And this week, ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting that Maclin, who is also coming off a breakout season, will sign with the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency.
Regardless of whether the Eagles wanted Maclin back—and Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports that they did—they clearly didn't value him as much as others. They have a lot more salary-cap space than the Chiefs, but they decided not to offer the five-year veteran the type of money he'll be making in Kansas City.
Fine, that move on its own wouldn't raise eyebrows. A lot of teams would decide against paying $11 million per year to a receiver with just one 1,000-yard season under his belt.
But combine that with Kelly's decision to deal McCoy in exchange for a second-year former Oregon pal who has never been to a Pro Bowl and who spent the entire 2014 season on injured reserve. Then, add the strange and still sort of mysterious release of Jackson, who had off-field baggage but led the league in deep receptions in 2013, per Pro Football Focus.
Also consider that Vick is gone, as is longtime defensive leader Trent Cole (released last week), and you begin to wonder if Kelly has become too stubborn about his personnel, too obsessed with giving this team his preferred identity.
|Pro Bowlers the Eagles Have Parted with Under Chip Kelly|
|* At time of departure|
We've seen movies like this before. We've seen celebrity college coaches with uncheckable egos who came to the NFL with guns blazing, and many of them—namely Steve Spurrier, Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban—returned to the college ranks with tails between legs.
Due in part to failures like that, the odds were stacked against Kelly before he coached a game in Philadelphia. Unless they've inherited championship-caliber teams (think: Barry Switzer with the Dallas Cowboys in 1994 or Jim Caldwell with the Indianapolis Colts in 2009), new head coaches with no experience at the head-coach or coordinator level very rarely succeed.
Not only had Kelly never been an NFL head coach or coordinator before taking this job, but he had never even been on an NFL staff. In fact, he's one of only nine coaches from the last three decades who were hired as head coaches without the "NFL" acronym on their resumes. Among the other eight, only Switzer and Jimmy Johnson posted winning records during their first NFL head-coaching stints.
Kelly's Philadelphia story has yet to be fully written, so it wouldn't be fair to lump him in with those guys, especially since he has a 20-12 regular-season record with the Eagles. His offense does seem to accumulate yards and points at an incredible rate regardless of the personnel, which is only one reason why many consider him to be an offensive genius. But as Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman wrote last week, he's also been referred to as arrogant, a slave to a system, "someone who sees human beings as drones" and "a human hand grenade."
It's enough to cause you to wonder if that hubris is actually hurting the team, whether it be from quasi-purges like these or outsiders potentially steering clear of the City of Brotherly Love. Free-agent running back Frank Gore reportedly committed to signing with the Eagles over the weekend but now appears to be getting cold feet, per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.
His approach often rubs people the wrong way, but he's smarter than almost everyone in every room. In that respect, he reminds me of Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin. And it's important to remember that both Belichick and Coughlin failed in previous head-coaching gigs before experiencing immense success with the New England Patriots and New York Giants, respectively. The same applies to Pete Carroll, whose style differs greatly from those three but who also required early mulligans before earning his NFL reputation with the Seattle Seahawks.
If indeed Kelly needs to fail before he succeeds, that does nothing to settle the nerves of Eagles fans who have waited 55 years for a championship. If these decisions are mistakes, he may one day learn from them. But there's a good chance that lesson will take place in a new NFL city or on a new college campus.
Is he too preoccupied with rebuilding what he had in Oregon? When the McCoy trade is finalized and Kiko Alonso officially becomes an Eagle this week, Philadelphia will have eight former Ducks on its roster, including Josh Huff and Taylor Hart, both of whom were selected in last year's draft and failed to make an impact as rookies.
|Once a Duck, now an Eagle?|
|Player||Acquired||History with Kelly|
|LB Kiko Alonso||Traded for in 2014||Played for him 2009-2012|
|DE Brandon Bair||Signed in 2014||Played for him 2009-2010|
|RB Kenjon Barner||Traded for in 2014||Played for him 2009-2012|
|DE Taylor Hart||Drafted in 2014||Played for him 2010-2012|
|WR Josh Huff||Drafted in 2014||Played for him 2010-2012|
|DT Wade Keliikipi||UDFA in 2014||Played for him 2010-2012|
|WR Jeff Maehl||Traded for in 2014||Played for him 2009-2010|
|WR Will Murphy||UDFA in 2013||Played for him 2010-2012|
|Ourlads Scouting Services|
Now, the football world waits in anticipation to see if Kelly will mortgage this franchise's future in order to trade up for a chance to draft another former Duck, Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The thing is, first-round quarterbacks haven't exactly been coming through as of late. We know you're basically shooting craps at this point, and dealing precious future picks for the right to do that seems like something only the Washington Redskins would be foolish enough to do.
But Kelly knows Mariota, and Mariota knows Kelly's system. We know Kelly isn't afraid to make unpopular and risky moves, and that might be the case particularly when he's wearing green-and-yellow-colored glasses.
There's a lot of gray area here. Kelly might eventually regret giving up on Jackson and/or McCoy, but it's not as though Jackson did a lot to help the Redskins in 2014, and there's evidence McCoy's play is beginning to drop off. Moving on from Vick was undoubtedly the right call, and $11 million for Maclin, whom I believe is overrated, is insane. Cole's best days are behind him, and they have plenty of other weapons in the front seven.
Plus, there's a very good chance Foles isn't the answer under center, and it's almost impossible to win in this league without an elite quarterback. If indeed Kelly has lost faith in Foles and/or Mark Sanchez, part of me would have to appreciate a calculated gamble on Mariota.
It does appear as though Kelly is trying to fix a team that wasn't broken, over-tinkering while stubbornly pumping the roster full of his biases. But in 2014, the Eagles used nine different starters along an offensive line that was crushed by injuries. They didn't have Jackson, they rarely had Foles at his best, Riley Cooper disappeared and McCoy's rate-based numbers plummeted.
And yet Kelly's offense still ranked fifth in football while joining the Broncos and Indianapolis Colts as one of three units with 75 or more plays of 20-plus yards. Oh, and the Eagles once again won 10 games.
|Eagles, 2013 vs. 2014|
|Games Missed by O-line Starters||0||23|
|Offensive AGL||21.4 (8th)||32.2 (18th)|
|Points per Game||27.6 (4th)||29.6 (3rd)|
|Yards per Game||417.2 (2nd)||396.8 (5th)|
|20-yard Plays||99 (1st)||75 (3rd)|
|AGL: Adjusted games lost injury formula from Football Outsiders|
This very well might be a make-or-break offseason and campaign for Kelly, whose future will likely be defined by a series of decisions that, when put together, indicate he wasn't satisfied with the seemingly stellar pieces former coach Andy Reid left behind.
It'd only be fair to withhold judgement for now, but the reality is that if breaking up the Reid-era Eagles doesn't pay major dividends, Philly fans will again be left wondering what could have been as a new head coach comes to town in hopes of busting the franchise out of a championship drought that will be approaching its seventh decade.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.