Philadelphia Eagles Closer To Super Bowl Contention


Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; A member of the New England Patriots hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

This has been one of the craziest offseason weeks in Philadelphia Eagles history and with each blow comes a wave of opinions on head coach Chip Kelly.

I, for one, am perfectly content with everything Kelly has done to this point and believe it places the Eagles closer to a Super Bowl than they’ve been in the last two seasons. More on that later.

Way, way back on the evening of March 3, the Eagles stunned us all by trading LeSean McCoy, likely the greatest running back in Eagles history, to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

While sad to see McCoy go, the move makes sense to me. Shady was due about $12 million from the Eagles in 2015 and there were many questions about whether he was willing to restructure his deal. Considering reports McCoy has signed a new deal with the Bills that will pay him $16 million this year, I’d say those questions were valid.

In exchange, the Eagles got a highly-touted young linebacker in Alonso. Many see this kid as a future Pro Bowl-level player who also fills an obvious need (and does so cheaply).

So what’s the problem people have with Alonso? With his addition the Philadelphia Eagles will have nine Oregon Ducks on their roster to go along with their head coach, former Oregon Duck leader Chip Kelly. Many have found fault with this, believing Kelly is simply bent on adding as many Ducks to his roster as possible and is missing out on great opportunities in order to do so.

That’s absurd and ignores facts, instead taking a number out of context to support a flawed argument.

Let’s take a look at the Eagles with ties to Oregon.

– Brandon Bair is a defensive end in his second year with the Eagles. He signed as a free agent in 2013 and spent a year on the team’s practice squad. He joined the 53-man roster in 2014 and was a key contributor on what was widely considered the best special teams unit in the NFL. The guy blocked two kicks.

– Kenjon Barner is a running back who the Eagles picked up from Carolina in the 2014 preseason in exchange for a conditional seventh-round draft pick. He was cut from the team and later signed to the practice squad.

– Taylor Hart is a defensive end who the Eagles picked in the fifth round. He did enough in the preseason to earn himself a roster spot, but spent the season inactive.

– Josh Huff is a wide receiver who the Eagles drafted in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He was fourth on the depth chart and didn’t see the field a ton, but most reasonable people agree he has a lot of potential to be a stud contributor.

– Wade Keliikipi is a defensive tackle who signed as an undrafted free agent and was on the Eagles practice squad.

– Jeff Maehl is a wide receiver who came to the Eagles via trade during the 2013 preseason. He was active in eight games during the season. Another fringe/special teams guy.

– Casey Matthews is a linebacker who was on the roster well before Chip Kelly became head coach. He’s a depth guy and has stuck around thanks to his special teams play.

– Will Murphy is a wide receiver who signed with the Eagles in 2013 and has been a practice squad guy ever since.

So, there you have it. When Alonso arrives he’ll be the only former Oregon Duck in the starting lineup. Three of the other eight guys are practice squad players, two are key special teams guys, one is a possible offensive standout. To pick some nits you can go after Jeff Maehl and Taylor Hart, but if you honestly believe those two guys having fringe roster spots are the difference between 10-6 and a Super Bowl, you’re wrong.

Along with McCoy, also shown the door were cornerback Cary Williams (thank God), guard Todd Herremans (I predicted this would happen on Jan. 13), tight end James Casey (too much money for too little a role) and linebacker Trent Cole (4-3 end in a 3-4 linebacker hole).

And now, we apparently add Jeremy Maclin to the list. I haven’t read a solid report yet on terms of the deal, aside from casual mentions the Chiefs were giving Maclin around $11 million a year and the Eagles weren’t comfortable going above $10 million. It will be interesting to see how much of that contract is guaranteed.

If you want to be ticked at Kelly for this, go ahead but again, you’re wrong. Assembling a roster is a tricky business, and “business” should be capitalized. Teams assign monetary values to players and aren’t going to break the bank to go beyond what they feel a guy is worth.

The same practice is why the Philadelphia Eagles will reportedly sign Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell. Based on what we’d read previously, Maxwell wanted to stay in Seattle and the Seahawks wanted to keep him, but both of those “wants” were based on dollar figures. Seattle wanted Maxwell for a certain price and the Eagles’ offer (six years at $63 million, with $25 million guaranteed) exceeded a point with which they were comfortable. Maxwell takes the money and comes to Philadelphia. Seattle begins searching for a replacement.

By all accounts, Maclin wanted to stay in Philadelphia and the Eagles wanted to keep him. My prediction is we’ll eventually find out the guaranteed money Andy Reid and the Chiefs offered was far more than what he was going to get in Philly, so Maclin went to get paid. You can’t blame him for doing so, nor can you blame the Eagles for not going outside of their comfort zone to sign the guy, especially after looking at the numbers.

Here’s a look at Maclin’s career statistics: 2009, 56 catches for 773 yards; 2010, 70 catches for 964 yards; 2011, 63 catches for 859 yards; 2012, 69 catches for 857 yards.

Then there was 2014, his first (and, it seems, only) season under Chip Kelly: 85 catches for 1,318 yards.

If you believe a true representation of Maclin’s production was 2014, then you (like the Chiefs) believe he’s worth north of $11 million.

If instead you believe Maclin is actually the player he was from 2009-2012 and it was Chip Kelly’s system – not some surge in skill – that added so much production, then you (like the Eagles) would establish a value much lower.

That’s really what this is all about – Kelly investing in his system over high-priced skill.

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While it no longer appears the Eagles will land Frank Gore, you can bet whoever they’ll sign will do so for similar numbers. Combine that with Darren Sproles and Chris Polk and you have a three-headed attack that will combine to cost about $2 million less than McCoy. And if the three combine to equal McCoy’s statistics – which really isn’t too difficult to believe – why would this be a bad move?

The key to this now comes at wide receiver. Some say the Eagles can’t possibly replace Maclin in free agency and they’re right, because there isn’t a Maclin-level player out there. But the Eagles don’t need to replace Maclin’s talent, they need to replace his production. Can that 1,300 yards be made up by Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff? What if you throw in a free agent like Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Bowe or Cecil Shorts?

In 2015, Cooper, Matthews and Huff will combine for a cap hit less than $7 million. Sign Johnson or Wayne to a deal for $5 million and those four guys will account for exactly what it would have cost the Eagles to keep Maclin.

Just between McCoy and Maclin the Eagles saved $22 million to reinvest elsewhere. This is a team that still has holes in its offensive line and secondary, and badly needs an edge rusher. Combined with what was saved by dumping the contracts of Cole and Williams, they have the funds to get that done. Keeping McCoy and Maclin around makes that much, much more difficult.

And this is why I believe the Eagles are in better shape today to pursue the Lombardi Trophy than they were last year or the year before under Kelly. The roster, as constructed, was simply not good enough to win a championship and the contracts, as Howie Roseman had handed out, created problems in trying to fill those holes.

Now, news like that of Darrelle Revis becoming a free agent is meaningful to the Eagles. They have the cash to make a push for this guy, and could you imagine a secondary with Revis and Maxwell? I’m drooling over here.

All this and we haven’t even touched on the topic of Marcus Mariota. With news that Mark Sanchez has signed a deal to return to Philadelphia and all of these other moves, I’m 95-percent certain the Eagles will trade all of their picks over the next two seasons to get it done. It truly is a new day in Philadelphia.

Could this all blow up in Kelly’s face? Sure. But Chip was going to get the next two or three years (at least) to prove his worth anyway. By that time, McCoy and Maclin would have been approaching the age when teams would be looking to dump them.

This is tough because we liked these guys, because these guys were respected and believed to be some of the best in the NFL. But to this point they hadn’t gotten it done. Heck, the one season the Eagles had McCoy, Jackson and Maclin all healthy and contributing together was 2011. That team was 4-8 before winning four meaningless games to go 8-8 and spoil their draft status.

In two seasons under Chip Kelly the Eagles had gone 20-12. It’s pretty darn good, but it’s not a championship and that’s what Kelly is after. He needs to build a team he believes in and sink or swim with it.

In July of 2004, the Boston Red Sox shocked the world by trading beloved shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. The Sox picked up Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. People thought they were crazy.

Less than three months later the Sox won a World Series for the first time since 1918.

The Eagles have never won a Super Bowl. Their last NFL championship was in 1960. Status quo was getting us nowhere anyway, so what the heck?

Let’s try it Chip’s way.