Chip Kelly gambling in Philadelphia

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Chip Kelly: Eagles not After Marcus Mariota


By MATT BARBATO
College Contributor Network

There have been plenty of storylines during the free agency frenzy that "unofficially" began last weekend, but there's one story in particular that keeps regurgitating.

What exactly are Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles doing?

This is a valid question and one that probably will not be fully answered until after the NFL Draft. But, before trying to dissect what Kelly is doing in his first year as the director of pro personnel, we must look back at what he's already done.

First, Kelly cut two of Philadelphia's longest-tenured players, outside linebacker Trent Cole and guard Todd Herremans. These moves were questionable, but understandable. Both players are in their early 30's and on the verge of decline. Next, Kelly cut ties with cornerback Cary Williams, which was fine because he was going to cost the team $8 million next season. The Eagles created cap space, which is always a good thing to have.

Then things got strange.

Kelly stunned the NFL world by trading running back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso. Then, despite having plenty of cap space, the Eagles let their top wide out Jeremy Maclin casually depart for Kansas City.

Just when things couldn't get any crazier in Philly, the Eagles made a blockbuster deal that sent quarterback Nick Foles and draft compensation to St. Louis for Sam Bradford.

To put the cherry on top, Kelly spent a good chunk of that cap space on cornerback Byron Maxwell, who received a six-year, $63 million deal with a whopping $25 million guaranteed.

By the time the first day of the new league year was over, Philadelphia was without its best quarterback, running back and wide receiver from a season ago and three top veterans in exchange for two players coming off of torn ACLs and a cornerback who might have been a product of playing with the best secondary in the league.

The last few days are a big reason why Eagles fans don't have a sunny outlook in Philadelphia.

Kelly's first trade with Buffalo wasn't baffling, but wasn't exactly a slam dunk. Any running back can probably thrive in Kelly's offense and McCoy's cap charge of $11.5 million would have been a bit steep given the market for running backs. Alonso is an excellent linebacker, but his health is uncertain and it seems like Kelly could have gotten more for "Shady" than only his former Oregon Duck.

Rumors are that Kelly could replace McCoy with DeMarco Murray, but this isn't an ideal fit. Murray is a great runner, but is more of a bruiser than a scat back with top-end speed. Also, Murray's mileage is questionable after getting almost 400 carries last season in Dallas. Putting Murray in a hurry-up, shotgun offense with a surplus of snaps might not keep him well-preserved for an entire season.

A running back who isn't getting much mention is Justin Forsett, who had a breakout year with the Baltimore Ravens last season. Forsett is a better fit for Kelly's up-tempo style and although he isn't as quick and shifty as McCoy, Forsett has great acceleration and could thrive in a zone-read offense.

Chances are Kelly can find a suitable replacement for McCoy, but there's no guarantee any of the quarterbacks on Philadelphia's roster are capable of running Kelly's system. Right now, the quarterback corps consists of Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Case Keenum and Matt Barkley. Sanchez has the most experience playing under Kelly's offense, but the results weren't great. Sanchez threw for over 2,400 yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 picks in nine games in relief of Foles.

A big trait for Kelly's quarterbacks is mobility and the threat of running on any play. Opposing defenses rarely prepared for Sanchez keeping a zone-read run and neither Barkley nor Keenum are exactly scramblers.

This is what makes the Foles-for-Bradford trade so puzzling. Foles wasn't Michael Vick, but he had some athleticism that kept defenses honest. Foles had 57 rushing attempts for 221 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, so his running ability isn't something teams could ignore. He produced as a passer as well and nobody will forget the 27 touchdowns and two interceptions on his stat line that same season.

Bradford is a pocket passer coming off his second ACL injury. Mobility sounds like the last trait Bradford possesses or even wants to possess. That's not to say he can't learn the offense and execute it, but his health and skill set don't exactly translate into becoming a mobile quarterback.

This means one of two things: Kelly is going to use more of an air-raid attack and eliminate the running game, or Kelly has another plan up his sleeve. That plan is packaging Bradford plus probably a couple of first-round picks to trade up in the draft in pursuit of Marcus Mariota.

This plan makes sense ideally, but not realistically. First off, Foles likely would have been a better trade chip than Bradford if the Eagles wanted to move up. Plus, trading for Bradford with the intent of flipping him is an extremely reckless decision if no team bites on the offer.

Bradford is the highest-paid player on Philadelphia's roster with a cap hit of $12.985 million in 2015. It's tough to fathom Sanchez or Keenum overtaking Bradford when Kelly went out on a limb to get him.

But no matter who the quarterback is, he doesn't have many people to throw to right now. Riley Cooper is a nice complementary piece, but he isn't capable of being a top receiver. The good news is that there are some options available on the market. Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Percy Harvin and Michael Crabtree headline some of the best guys available and each of them are looking for a bit of redemption. Harvin's speed makes him an enticing option, but there's no ruling out Philadelphia cashing in on more than one of these talented receivers.

Perhaps Kelly believes anyone can play in his offense and he wouldn't be too far-fetched to believe it. Kelly has gone 20-12 in his first two seasons in Philadelphia with a variety of playmakers. If there's anyone who can make more with less, it's probably Chip Kelly.

That's what all of this comes down to. Chip Kelly doesn't believe in Nick Foles or LeSean McCoy. Chip Kelly buys into Chip Kelly and only wants players who Chip Kelly believes fits Chip Kelly's system. Sometimes in the NFL you have to bet on yourself. Kelly went all in.

He better hope he made the right investment.

Matt Barbato is a senior at Marquette University. His favorite sport is football and is an avid New York Jets fan, for better or worse. You can follow him on Twitter @RealMattBarbato
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