It’s probably fair to call Chip Kelly a very good NFL coach right now, but his reputation as a personnel man is still in its genesis and the early exit polls are mixed.
Kelly has remade the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster since winning a power struggle over the team’s former general manager Howie Roseman. Some believe he has cobbled together a potential contender, while others think the drastic change is too much in a game built on continuity.
None of Kelly’s moves were more polarizing than his about-face at the game’s most important position, essentially giving up on a quarterback who was 14-4 as a starter under the coach (Nick Foles) in an effort to go all-in and acquire Kelly’s long-time love from the University of Oregon, Marcus Mariota.
Those who understand the NFL realized Philadelphia just didn’t have the ammunition to move up in the draft and get Mariota if he was going to be selected in the first two picks as surmised. And sure enough Mariota went No. 2 overall to Tennessee and Kelly was left with his Plan B, oft-injured ex-St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford, a player acquired in an attempt to sweeten the pot in any potential Mariota trade.
From a traditional perspective, the Eagles’ acquisition of Bradford didn’t make a lot of sense from both a football and financial context.
On one hand. Kelly certainly does like Bradford’s skill set because he gave up a quarterback who put up better numbers while being paid significantly less in Foles, and added a second-round draft choice on top of it. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ football czar also reportedly fended off Cleveland’s overtures in the form of a first-round pick or Johnny Manziel for Bradford.
However, Kelly also loaded up the U-Haul with everything from Bradford, draft picks and proven veteran players in a thinly veiled attempt to acquire Mariota, and he has also refused to give Bradford anything resembling a viable extension offer to this point.
“I’m not 100 percent confident in anything,” Kelly said earlier this offseason when asked about Bradford and his future. “No one is … We’re going to put together a team. We think Sam has a great skill set. The research our doctors have given us in terms of the guys coming off (ACL) injuries in terms of their recovery rate is 90 percent, so we feel real confident in that.”
Confidence is fine but what is the ceiling here for the Eagles?
NFL Media created a bit of a stir earlier this week by reporting the non-story that Bradford, the presumptive Week 1 Eagles starter, plans to play out the final year of his massive rookie deal as the last No. 1 overall pick under the old collective bargaining agreement rather than sign an extension.
The spin from the Bradford camp being that the player is “betting on himself.”
Of course, that narrative assumes Philadelphia has more than a passing interest in signing Bradford to anything other than a bargain-basement deal right now, rather specious logic.
After all the phrase “betting on one’s self” intimates you have a viable option and that’s simply not the case for Bradford, who is owed nearly $13 million in 2015 and has played just seven games over the past two campaigns due to back-to-back ACL tears over a 20-month period.
The Eagles had to take the wait-and-see approach and that’s the real problem, because any eventual outcome that paints Bradford as successful this season (absent a Super Bowl win) is a long-term setback for the Birds.
Think about it?
If he’s a disaster…it’s no big deal, the team washes its hands of a bad trade and moves on to the next candidate at the position. However, if Bradford’s really good, anything short of the University of Oklahoma product turning into Tom Brady, a scenario even the most ardent Kelly acolytes would have a tough time picturing, is an issue.
Let’s say the Eagles remain stuck at 10 wins but take a step forward and win a playoff encounter behind a healthy Bradford who throws for more than 4,000 yards and 35 TDs in Kelly’s supposed quarterback-proof offense.
That’s a pretty high ceiling for this player and a scenario still not worthy of investing significant money and time into because of Bradford’s prior injury history with the Rams.
However, in a quarterback-driven league with a dearth of viable options at the position, it’s also an end game which will ignite a bidding war and force the Eagles to ante up elite QB money.
More than ever, it’s obvious Kelly’s envisioned long-term answer at the position now calls Nashville home, and his Plan B has no discernible exit strategy absent Bradford’s failure as a player.
Every transaction in the NFL is essentially a cost-benefit analysis. You try to determine the upside of a potential move, and weigh that against what it takes to get it done.
By that measure, Kelly erred in acquiring Bradford.
— You can reach JF McMullen at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also listen to John weekly on YAHOO! Sports Radio, ESPN Atlantic City, YSR Indianapolis, ESPN Lexington, Omaha’s The Zone, Mobile’s WNSP and ESPN Southwest Florida.