What's In Store For The 2015 Philadelphia Eagles?
As long as Chip Kelly has been head coach, the Philadelphia Eagles have consistently been one of the most interesting team to discuss at this time of year. Once Kelly took control over full player personnel, they became even more interesting to watch. Trades, cuts, signings, more trades, more cuts, more signings. But what's in store for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015? I had the opportunity to interview Bryn Swartz, a Philadelphia Eagles since 2008 writing for Bleacher Report. He was one of the very first writers for Bleacher Report, and he and his twin brother Cody have been the top two Eagles writers since 2012. Take a look at the question and answer session that we had:
Q: The Philadelphia Eagles gave full control of player decisions to Chip Kelly this offseason. He has made some interesting moves. Which move do you think has the highest risk/reward?
A: You have to pick the Sam Bradford trade. Kelly gave up a lot for a player who really hasn't shown much during his five seasons in the NFL, not to mention one recovering from consecutive ACL tears. But the upside for Bradford could make parting with Nick Foles and a second and fourth-round pick well worth it. After all, Bradford was a dominant college player who won the Heisman and later won the Offensive Rookie of the Year in St. Louis. Clearly, Kelly looked at the potential Bradford showed at Oklahoma and early in his NFL career. If Kelly can turn Bradford into the next Drew Brees, the Eagles will have their franchise quarterback of the future. And if Bradford suffers yet another injury or fails to accurately grasp the complex Chip Kelly offense, the Eagles will enter year four of the Kelly era without any indication of who will be their next franchise quarterback.
Q: If Chip Kelly fails to make the playoffs yet again, should he be concerned about his job security?
A: No. The Eagles just gave Chip Kelly full control in the organization. They're all-in on him. They see the potential he has as a head coach and they decided to maximize their potential reward. If Kelly led the Eagles to the fourth-most points in the NFL in 2013 and the third-most in the league in 2014, what can he do when he finally has his players? That's what Jeff Lurie is banking on, and he's not getting rid of Kelly after 2015, even if the Eagles go 3-13.
Q: Getting rid of Jeremy Maclin, failing to successfully acquire a veteran safety, and losing veteran defender Trent Cole have all been questionable moves made by the Eagles. Do you think they patched these needs through the draft?
A: The Eagles will be fine at wide receiver in 2015. Jordan Matthews is an obvious candidate to take a big step forward. Nelson Agholor is a safe pick and Josh Huff has untapped potential. Losing Trent Cole isn't a big blow either. He turns 33 in 2015 and has just a year or two remaining in his career. But not acquiring a safety will haunt the Eagles. It's the least-talked about failure this offseason. Who is going to play safety for the Eagles in 2015? Rookie Eric Rowe will start his career at cornerback. That leaves a very uninspiring combination of Earl Wolff, Ed Reynolds, Jaylen Watkins or Jerome Couplin as the other starting safety next to Malcolm Jenkins.
Q: Which rookie do you think will have the biggest impact in year one?
A: It has to be Nelson Agholor. Rookie cornerbacks don't make much of an impact and linebacker Jordan Hicks is buried on the depth chart. Agholor will likely be a starter from Week 1 and could easily finish the season with 70 catches and close to 1000 yards.
Q: With a loaded backfield that includes rushing leader DeMarco Murray, versatile but fragile Ryan Mathews, and the multi-talented veteran Darren Sproles, how do you see the splits being divided between the three?
A: DeMarco Murray carried the ball 392 times in 2014. Including the postseason, he touched the ball almost 500 times. The Eagles obviously have to reduce his carries drastically in 2015, especially since they gave him $21 million in guaranteed money. They need him healthy for several more seasons, even as he's entered the second half of his career. I'll go with 260 carries for Murray, 130 for Mathews and 60 for Sproles. That's 450 carries, about 28 per game, and that's a lot of a crop of running backs, but the Eagles clearly want to utilize their power running game in 2015.
Q: Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez seem to be locks to make the roster. Who takes the 3rd spot on the depth chart between Matt Barkley, Tim Tebow, and G.J. Kinne?
A: It has to be Tim Tebow. The feeling here is that the Eagles wouldn't have brought him in if they didn't have a plan for how to use him. I'm not sure he'll be featured on two-point conversions as much as everybody seems to think but I do think Kelly will use him on package plays. Matt Barkley has been dangled in trade talks for over a year now. I think he'll be cut and sign with a team like Buffalo or Arizona, and Kinne is a great practice squad player but he's not an NFL player.
Q: Do you think the team improved in the offseason or got worse?
A: The Eagles improved but not by much. They made a lot of drastic changes, switching quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers, but there are way too many question marks. I don't like the Sam Bradford trade. I love the LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso trade but I hate the DeMarco Murray signing. I would have been fine with adding Ryan Mathews and keeping Chris Polk. It was disappointing losing Jeremy Maclin but Nelson Agholor is a low-risk, high-reward selection. And the defense, with the addition of Alonso and Byron Maxwell, as well as Eric Rowe, is significantly improved. In 2013 and 2014, the Eagles won ten games. In 2015, I'll go with 11 wins.
Q: Some experts have the Eagles power ranked as high as seven. Where do you see them among the other NFL juggernauts?
A: They're obviously below the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. I'd put them below the Dallas Cowboys, the defending NFC East champions who added Greg Hardy, Byron Jones, Randy Gregory and La'el Collins this offseason. They're below teams like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, who both have a much more solid quarterback situation. I think I'd have them eighth, just ahead of your next tier of teams like Arizona, Detroit and Cincinnati. As I keep saying, everything for the Eagles hinges on the health of Sam Bradford. Chip Kelly took an enormous gamble with this trade. It has to work out now.
Q: Trade rumors have been plentiful for the Philadelphia Eagles. What do you think the future holds for defensive stars Fletcher Cox and Mychael Kendricks?
A: Fletcher Cox isn't going anywhere. He's the best defensive player on the team. He'll get locked up for the next half-decade soon. Mychal Kendricks, on the other hand, will either be traded before the start of 2015 or he'll leave in free agency after 2015. For whatever reason, Kelly just doesn't like or value Kendricks, and it's a shame because he's quickly become one of the best young inside linebackers in the National Football League.
Q: Which veteran player needs to step up the most in order to help this team succeed?
A: I'll skip Sam Bradford because I've made it clear that he's clearly the most important player on this team, and I'll go with Byron Maxwell as the number two veteran player who most needs to step up. He's the most irreplaceable player on the defense considering the rest of the depth the Eagles have at cornerback. Maxwell hasn't proven to be a number one cornerback but he's going to have to go up against Odell Beckham (2), Dez Bryant (2), DeSean Jackson (2), Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall and Larry Fitzgerald this season. The Eagles' secondary absolutely cannot be a repeat of 2014. Maxwell must get the job done.
Q: What is this teams' floor and ceiling in terms of what their record can be?
A: I have enough respect for Chip Kelly as a head coach that it's really hard to see the Eagles turning in a losing season. Even with how important Sam Bradford is to the success of the team in 2015, I think Mark Sanchez is one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league. The Eagles averaged more than 27 points per game with him on the field in 2014. The depth on the offensive line is concerning and the health of players like Matthews, Peters, Kelce and Maxwell is obviously crucial. If everything goes right for the Eagles, I could see this team winning 12 games and challenging for a bye in the NFC postseason. But if the Eagles suffer a number of injuries to key players, they could finish with just seven or eight wins.
Everybody loves to talk about the Philadelphia Eagles, whether they love them or they hate them. Swartz's answers may put the hearts of Eagles fans like myself at ease, as he shows clear confidence in the team's ability. Sam Bradford's health, Byron Maxwell's true corner abilities, and the empty safety slot are all questions that have yet to be answered. All we know for sure is that Chip Kelly is going to put on a show, one way or another.
Follow Bryn on twitter @EaglesCentral for some football knowledge.