After receiving full control of all personnel decisions, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly didn’t waste a single second. Right from the start of free agency, the team has made a flurry of moves that has completely reshaped the roster heading into the 2015 season.
First was the bombshell trade that almost nobody was expecting. Kelly decided it was time to ship quarterback Nick Foles out of Philadelphia, along with a 2015 fourth round pick and a 2016 second round pick in return for often injured quarterback Sam Bradford and a 2015 fifth round pick. Now everyone thought to themselves immediately that it was an absolutely awful trade, including myself. But the more that you think about it, the move actually wasn’t that bad.
Although many were clamoring for Kelly to go after his former quarterback at Oregon, Marcus Mariota, in the 2015 NFL Draft. A move up to where the former Duck will likely be selected in the draft is just too steep of a cost. So the next best option was for Kelly to try and swing a trade for a quarterback who he thinks has the potential to be “the guy” in Philadelphia. Would it have been better if he targeted a quarterback that isn’t coming off back to back ACL tears? Of course. Yet Kelly must believe in his sports science philosophies enough that the team will be able to keep Bradford healthy and on the field.
If they can somehow manage to do so, trading what practically amounts to just a 2016 second round pick for a franchise quarterback would be a steal. That is a very big “if” though. When healthy, Bradford has shown great arm strength, accuracy and quick decision making. Those are all traits that Kelly values highly in his system’s quarterback. That being said, when you step back and really think about the potential of a healthy Bradford in Kelly’s system, it’s easy to see why Kelly made the move.
Up next were some moves on the defensive side of the ball. Everyone knows just how bad the Eagles secondary has been since Kelly has come to town and they tried to patch the holes for two seasons with cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, but that just didn’t work out. So now it was time to spend some cash and fix the holes for good…hopefully. Philadelphia went out and signed one of the best cornerbacks on the market, Byron Maxwell. He’s a former member of the Seattle Seahawks “Legion of Boom” and brings the size, physicality and ball skills that the Eagles can really use on the outside. Especially in a division with wide receivers such as Dez Bryant, DeSean Jackson and Odell Beckham Jr., who they will see a combined six times a season.
Then the team officially announced a pair of re-signings by bringing back quarterback Mark Sanchez and outside linebacker Brandon Graham. Sanchez makes a ton of sense, even more so with Bradford being in town as well. He proved to be an adequate back-up last year, although he could have played much better. But he showed he can step in, manage a game well enough to keep the team in games. Sanchez will likely “compete” with Bradford for the starting job in training camp but the job is likely Bradford’s unless he manages to injure himself once again.
Retaining Brandon Graham was a huge move for the Eagles and will likely go under the radar to most. Every single time Graham is on the field, he makes an impact. Whether it is against the run or the pass, he just makes plays. Although he was a rotational player this past season, stuck behind veteran outside linebacker Trent Cole, Graham managed to finish the season as Pro Football Focus‘ third best overall 3-4 outside linebacker, behind only Justin Houston of the Chiefs and Pernell McPhee, who recently signed with the Bears. That was in just 540 total snaps, just imagine what he can do with a full starter’s worth of snaps. Which he’ll likely get in 2015, the sky is the limit.
The team then continued to address the secondary when they signed former Seahawks and Giants cornerback, Walter Thurmond. Another former member of the “Legion of Boom”, Thurmond played a big part in the Seahawks becoming Super Bowl champions in 2013 as he was the team’s starting slot cornerback. Now he’ll join his former teammate in Seattle, Byron Maxwell, right here in Philadelphia to hopefully form their own dominant secondary. Although he’s been limited to just the slot on his two former teams, Thurmond will apparently get a shot to start outside, according to head coach Chip Kelly. Which makes sense because he has good size at 5-11, 189 lbs. with 32 3/4″ arms and also played outside cornerback at Oregon when Kelly coached there.
Last but certainly not least, the Eagles turned their eyes toward the running back position and filling the void left by the departure of LeSean McCoy. At first, earlier in free agency, it looked like Frank Gore would be the Eagles starting running back in 2015. But then Gore got “cold feet” about the idea of playing in Philadelphia…which may have been the best thing for the birds after all. They ended up signing former Cowboys running back and 2014 AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year, DeMarco Murray to a mega deal.
That wasn’t all, the team also signed former Chargers running back Ryan Mathews as well. Now after McCoy was traded, rumors started circling saying that Kelly was searching for more of a “north-south, one cut runner”. If that’s the case, he couldn’t have asked for much more than a duo of Murray and Mathews. Both are big backs with thick builds that will put a bruising on opposing defenses. Kelly won’t have to worry about these guys dancing in and out of holes, they’ll see the hole and attack it, that’s it.
Just because the team led by Kelly has made all of these moves, it doesn’t mean their work is done by any means. They still have some holes to fill including who is going to start at right guard, one safety spot and one wide receiver spot. That’s three starting spots that are up for grabs and the team is also reportedly trying to trade Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis as well. This could very well be Kelly getting rid of another one of “Andy Reid‘s guys” but it would still leave a void up front.
Here’s a look at the projected starters for the Eagles in 2015, based on the current roster:
As you can see, there is still plenty of work to be done. Wide receiver Riley Cooper had a very disappointing season in 2014 after a remarkable year in 2013. He has to bounce back strongly this upcoming season or he may be on his way out of town next year. The other starting outside wide receiver, Josh Huff, flashed a bit here and there when he was on the field in 2014 but also had his fair share of embarrassing plays as well. He has a ton of upside and the team is reportedly high on him too, but he has to actually go out and prove it on the field.
Then there is the starting right guard spot which is up for grabs right now but I went with Andrew Gardner who started there in 2014 for 8 games. Although Gardner did a decent job, he can’t be relied on as a starter for a full season and the spot should be upgraded. Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin could battle for that position but both battled injuries last year and have to stay healthy to compete for a starting job.
Lastly there is the safety spot opposite of Malcolm Jenkins. That is a big concern because no matter how much talent you have up front (see the “Dream Team” season), your defense will fail with bad safety play. Earl Wolff has failed to impress whenever he has been on the field and is constantly injured. A sleeper to watch for at this spot is Jerome Couplin III, who is pretty much an unknown at this point. But he does have impressive size at 6-1, 213 lbs. and could make a run at the starting job.
Barring any injuries, the team is pretty much set at every other position. But there are still plenty of free agents out there that the Eagles and Kelly can target to fill their needs. According to Spotrac, the team has just $8 million remaining to spend in free agency. But the team can always restructure contracts and find more cap room somewhere.
Even though the Eagles have made a ton of moves to start free agency, the team still has plenty of more holes to fill. Luckily for them, they still have a bit of money to spend in free agency and eight picks in the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft. Chip Kelly has certainly put his stamp on the roster so far, it’ll be interesting to see what else he may have in store.
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