I can understand why the Eagles gave Chip Kelly control over personnel if it was between that and losing him. And the first major trade he pulled off was good: dumping an extremely expensive running back who was mediocre last year and getting a very good linebacker (albeit one coming off a year lost to injury) is a terrific trade. And as someone who would rather see the Bills win than any other AFC team, it’s awesome to see them once again try to build an offense around a large financial or draft pick investment in the running game, because 1974 is bound to come back anytime now.
The problem is that the rest of Kelly’s moves could come right out of the playbook of any hapless Browns/Bills/Jaguars hack:
In all, Kelly is committing a lot of money to his running backs. Let’s assume that Mathews’s deal eats up about $4 million in cap space this year. Assuming that it has a roster bonus, Murray should come in at about $9 million. The Eagles already have Sproles on their cap at $4.1 million. Even if they cut Chris Polk, that means about $17 million in cap space is committed to running backs.
The only team that even comes close to the Eagles on running back spending would be the Vikings, who have $18 million committed to backs this season, but $15.4 million of that money belongs to Peterson, who is likely to be released or traded. Otherwise, nobody else is spending more than $10.9 million on running backs, which leaves the Eagles as an enormous outlier in terms of how they’re choosing to use their cap space.
Here’s the simplest way I can put this: Pretend, for a moment, that the Raiders or the Jaguars or the Browns made this exact same pair of moves. They would be the laughingstocks of the league, fools making the same stupid mistakes that bad franchises always make. The Eagles understandably aren’t being painted with that brush because Kelly has earned a certain level of credibility as a forward-thinking coach. With the moves Kelly has made this offseason, that credibility is on the line.
Kelly may very well make these signings work, but the Murray deal is a classic example of what bad teams do in free agency. Two years from now, we may very well look back at the past 72 hours in Eagles history as the moment when Kelly sealed his status as the next Bill Belichick. We also may look back at it as the time when Kelly sealed his fate.
This kind of investment in running backs in 2015 is really stupid. It would be bad even if the spending was on backs of proven durability as well as high performance, because the position just isn’t important enough to contemporary NFL offenses. But of course Matthews hasn’t been an elite RB since 2011 and can’t stay on the field, and while Murray is very good (although probably not as good as he looks running behind Dallas’s offensive line), has an extensive injury history and Garrett handled him like Billy Martin handled his starting pitchers in his one healthy year last year. Paying Murray a top-of-the-market contract after a 500-touch season is about as good a gamble as getting in on the subprime mortgage market in 2006. These are two bad contracts that are much worse in tandem than either one would be individually. And the contract Kelly offered Frank Gore was no prize either — let’s just say the organization that did land Gore thought that Trent Richardson was worth a 1st round pick.
And that’s just the beginning. As Barnwell says, paying a corner who looks perfectly solid playing across from Richard Sherman in Pete Carroll’s defense as if he’s Darrelle Revis is a bad investment. But at least Maxwell can play. If anything, I think Barnwell is underselling how atrocious the Bradford trade is. There are three rather obvious problems with the deal.
- Bradford has an onerous contract.
- Bradford can’t stay on the field.
- Bradford has been dogshit on those increasingly rare occasions when he does make it onto the field. His career QBR of 40.7 would rank him 26th among NFL QBs last year, behind human replacement level Kyle Orton (42.6) and also behind luminaries such as Ryan Fitzpatrick (55.3) and and Brian Hoyer (43.1).
Now, yes, Bradford does figure to look better going from offenses run by the likes of Brian “talent sees the next generation and flees in terror” Schottenheimer and (Josh McDaniels – Bill Belichick) to an offense run by Kelly. Let’s generously say the difference is worth 20 points of QBR. This would land him…somewhere between Mark Sanchez and Nick Foles under Chip Kelly. The upside of the move, in other words, is that Kelly will get the same performance he was getting from much cheaper players he already had. And, of course, given Bradford’s history it’s likely that the Sanchize will end up taking a healthy share of the snaps this year anyway. On this trade, perhaps the best analogy isn’t the Bills or Raiders but Tony Reagins. The Rams got rid of one of the worst contracts in the sport and landed a probably better player and a net improvement in draft position out of the deal (and probably would have been even better off taking the 1st rounder Kelly remarkably offered.)
Kelly’s reputation as an offensive supergenius actually does have some merit. But the fact that he can make the Nick Foleses and even Mark Sanchezes of the world look competent is all the more reason not to massively overpay offensive talent (or “talent” as the case may be.) It’s hard to imagine Kelly matching the level of success attained by his one-time college rivals Carroll and Harbaugh until he works with someone in charge of personnel who (unlike himself) has some idea what he’s doing.