There was a lot of speculation that if Chip Kelly was given an opportunity to stay in Philadelphia for another season, he would have made a play for Colin Kaepernick in the offseason.
Despite the claim that accuracy and quick decision-making were more paramount to Kelly than mobility at the quarterback position, his stubborn insistence on using zone-read mechanics with signal callers like Nick Foles and Sam Bradford belied that thesis.
For those who have studied Kelly, perhaps no quarterback in football, with the exception of Cam Newton (and perhaps his former QB at Oregon), is better equipped physically to run what the coach really wants more than the former face of the franchise in San Francisco.
This past season was a disaster for Kaepernick and the 49ers, though, and the team moved away from the young leader who got them to consecutive NFC Championship Games and five yards from a Super Bowl championship in favor of former first-round bust Blaine Gabbert.
Another regime change, however, which spared general manager Trent Baalke but sent overmatched head coach Jim Tomsula to the unemployment line has put Kaepernick’s future in the Bay Area back in a state of flux with the new head coach making the ultimate decision.
Whomever lands in Santa Clara, be it Sean Payton, Kelly or another name on the Niners’ wish list, could decide Kaepernick is a worthy reclamation product or use the No. 7 overall pick in the upcoming draft to reboot things at the position.
What’s known from Kelly’s camp is that the coach wants to remain in the NFL and he reached out to San Francisco to see if the organization would have an interest in changing its culture and embracing sports science and the up-tempo scheme that took the NFL by storm for a short period of time before fizzling out badly in Philadelphia.
Kelly’s reputation around the league right now is a bit toxic with the narrative pointing to his ego being too large to work well with others. And Baalke is just a year removed from another poor relationship with ex-coach Jim Harbaugh, another mentor who wasn’t exactly a people person.
If 49ers owner Jed York and Baalke believe Kelly has learned from his mistakes in Philadelphia and won’t initiate another palace coup the minute the GM questions one of the coach’s decisions, Kelly would make a lot of sense because his offensive style is tailor-made for a talent like Kaepernick.
That said, his philosophies may not be a fit for long-term success. Many Eagles complained after Kelly was dismissed that his style of doing things wears on players, particularly defensive players. The 53-man regular-season roster and the 46 you get to dress on game day is a far cry from the multitudes at Kelly’s disposal on the college level.
Meanwhile, his aloofness and lack of concern for the well-being of his employees, something his former boss labeled “emotional intelligence” is likely going to follow him the 3,000 miles to California.
Kelly, though, is very close to Niners’ senior executive Tom Gamble. In fact, it was Howie Roseman’s firing of Gamble in Philadelphia that set the coach off and spearheaded his grab for power in the Eagles’ personnel department.
With a trusted ally already in place with the 49ers, a natural buffer to save Kelly from himself and concentrate on coaching football exists. And that might be enough to pique the interest of San Francisco, especially if the rebuilding team isn’t all that keen about giving up a second-round pick to pursue a much safer choice like Payton.
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.
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