Philadelphia Eagles Free Agent Frenzy
On March 10, 2015, the Philadelphia Eagles, led by Chip Kelly, officially broke the internet (sorry Kim Kardashian). As soon as free agency opened, the Eagles shook up the entire league. Here's a quick recap of their moves made this free agency:
Trent Cole, LB
Cary Williams, CB
Todd Herremans, OL
Brad Jones, LB
Brandon Graham, LB
Walter Thurmond III, CB
Mark Sanchez, QB
DeMarco Murray, RB
Ryan Mathews, RB
Sam Bradford, QB
Kiko Alonso, LB
LeSean McCoy, RB
Gone in Free Agency:
Jeremy Maclin, WR
Nate Allen, SS
The lists above contain some big names, but what do they all mean? The first major move was a trade that sent Nick Foles and 2016 fourth and second-round picks to the St. Louis Rams, while acquiring Sam Bradford and a fifth-round pick.
This move caused a ton of commotion, especially in the Twittersphere. Analysts, players, and fans were quick to attack Chip Kelly and the Eagles. But what does this move really mean? First of all, it means that Nick Foles is not the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles for "the next 1000 years." It also means that Chip Kelly has a new offensive toy in Sam Bradford. Bradford, the #1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors that same year. His offensive coordinator? Pat Shurmur, the current offensive coordinator of the Eagles. Chip Kelly praised Bradford's accuracy and potential. Plagued by injuries, including two torn ACL's, Bradford never got a chance to prove his worth. He also played for a Rams offense that lacked offensive firepower, and that is putting it lightly. Bradford's numbers haven't always been pretty, but he has shown flashes of a quality quarterback. In 2013, before a season-ending ACL tear, Bradford completed 60.7% of his passes for 1,687 yards, with 14 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. He missed the entirety of the 2014 season with another ACL tear - ending his run with the Rams. On the contrary, Foles played some good games and some bad ones in his short stint last season, but he will never be the quarterback that fans saw in 2013 when he was breaking records.
So what does this mean for Philadelphia? For many fans, it means Chip Kelly is part of some sort of conspiracy to ruin the franchise. For the minority, though, it means that Kelly has a plan. I am part of this minority. As an Eagles fan, I am not expecting a perfect season this year, but I am expecting the team to compete. The Philadelphia Eagles have no Superbowl titles. That means that whatever the franchise was doing, clearly isn't working. So why not give Chip Kelly a shot to work his system? Kelly has entirely reshaped the team, sending away big-name players like LeSean McCoy, and failing to re-sign the teams leading receiver, Jeremy Maclin.
It seems from the outside that all Kelly did was replace the best players with a combination of injury-prone and unproven players. But let's take a closer look at what went down.
The Eagles send LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for Kiko Alonso, who is still on his inexpensive rookie contract. The team replaces the 2013 NFL rushing champ with the 2014 NFL rushing champ in DeMarco Murray, who signed a deal set for 5years/$42mil. Essentially, the Eagles trade McCoy for Alonso and DeMarco Murray (in terms of monetary compensation). The trade doesn't seem as bad anymore, does it? Questions surround Murray's health and his ability to carry the load after rushing 392 times in 2014. Here's the beauty in Murray signing: he won't even come close to that amount of carries with the Eagles. Philadelphia has added Ryan Mathews, former San Diego Charger, to the backfield as well. The versatile Mathews struggled with injuries in the past, like Murray. Kelly is clearly confident in his sports science program here, and as an Eagles fan, I'm just fine with the Head Coach having confidence in his system. Returning to the backfield, last season the Eagles had a RBBC, with McCoy seeing the most work but Sproles and Polk getting their fair share as well. This season, if all four backs stay on the roster, the rotation will guarantee fresh legs for Kelly's up-beat system. Murray and Mathews, both looked at as starters - and Murray debated as the best in the league - will share backfield touches. I anticipate Murray seeing the majority, but Mathews, Sproles, and Polk create a force to be reckoned with in their own rights and will certainly get their chances. It can be argued, if they stay healthy, that the Eagles currently have the best backfield on paper.
So QB and RB have been covered, but who is catching passes from Sam Bradford? Josh Huff? Jordan Matthews? Rile-- I'll stop here before I give fans a heart attack. Chip Kelly made it clear that he does not intend on "mortgaging the future" for Mariota. Does this guarantee that Mariota won't be an Eagle come April 30th? Of course not. But with all the moves made lately, I believe Kelly when he says that he will not mortgage their future. This means that, in a draft loaded with young wide receiver talent, the Eagles can pick up a young star to pair along with Jordan Matthews, who had himself a nice season last year. It also means that the staff--or at least Kelly-- is either a) Confident in his players, b) Confident in his system or c) All of the above. Back to confidence; I don't mind it. Failing to sign Maclin hurt, but he was demanding too much money for a receiver who just had his first 1,000-yard season. So while there may be a hole at the WR spot, it is one that can be filled.
So the offense has been revised and covered, but what about the defense that ranked amongst the worst in the league? Chip Kelly has given defensive coordinator Bill Davis a ton to work with. The Eagles front-7 was already a dominant force in the league, and it was only strengthed through free agency. Brandon Graham was resigned after a stellar season. Kiko Alonso--who many consider to be a player with the potential to be elite--was added to the linebacker core, and Brad Jones was signed for depth. So the linebacker unit now consists of big name players like Connor Barwin, Kiko Alonso, Mychal Kendricks, Demeco Ryans, and Brandon Graham, with depth from Brad Jones and Emmanuel Acho (I'll exclude Marcus Smith from this list for obvious reasons). The defensive line is anchored by 2014 star Fletcher Cox, who for 5 weeks last season was the highest rated 3-4 defensive end by Pro Football Focus, over J.J. Watt. Alongside Cox are players like Cedric Thorton, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen, and Bennie Logan, all young players on the rise. But nobody was really concerned about their front-7. The secondary, ranked 31st against the pass, is what had fans on edge. Moves were made quickly, cutting the short-tempered liability that is Cary Williams and waiting on the imminent release of Bradley Fletcher. The Eagles locked up top free agent (sans Revis) corner Byron Maxwell, and added Walter Thurmond III. These former Seahawks spoke highly about Philadelphia during their respective press conferences, saying the system is similar to the one in Seattle. Seattle ranked on the opposite side of the defensive spectrum as the Eagles, finishing first against the pass last season. Malcolm Jenkins is still under contract, which leaves the strong safety position open as Nate Allen left in free agency. I am positive the position will be addressed through the draft. The Eagles have been hopeful that Earl Wolfe would emerge as a leader and playmaker at the position. After suffering an injury mid-season, Wolfe decided to sit out for the remainder of the year. He is unproven, but he'll provide competition for whoever the Eagles do bring in.
NFL Free Agency has been a frenzy so far, and a lot of this is due to Philadelphia shaking up the league in an unorthodox, aggressive style. At this point all we can do is sit back and wait, enjoying both the ride and the endless TeamStream notifications that keep us alert. Who knows where the Eagles will be this season, or how well they will stack up against some of the elite teams. All we know is that moves have been made, many of them unpopular. I stick by my decision to have faith in the organization and Chip Kelly. This has been one crazy week, but I'm sure there is more to come. In Chip We Trust.