Chip Kelly at the Owners Meetings: What Did We Learn?
PHOENIX – Chip Kelly confirmed that one of his objectives this offseason – his first in complete control of player personnel – was to even the salary cap scales and devote more money to the defensive side of the ball after two seasons in which the Eagles spent more on offensive players than any other team in the league.
"We were inadequate in terms of the money allocated defensively to offensively, and we're trying to balance that out," Kelly said on Wednesday during the NFL owners meetings. "I think it showed in our play."
Even with as little as $3.7 million committed to the quarterback position, the Eagles allocated 59 percent of their space to the offensive side of the ball, 39 percent to defense and two percent to special teams last season.
They took on Sam Bradford's $12.9 million cap number after the trade that sent Nick Foles ($1.5 million) to the Rams and still managed to decrease the percentage they have earmarked to the offense (54) and increase the amount on defense (44 percent) as the roster stands now.
If Kelly had signed receiver Jeremy Maclin as he said he had hoped, there probably wouldn't have been more balance. Essentially, the scales tipped back toward the defense with three moves – trading LeSean McCoy ($11.9 million), signing cornerback Byron Maxwell ($8.7 million) and dropping out of the bidding for Maclin, who eventually signed with the Chiefs for $11 million a year.
But coming a year after the Eagles released receiver DeSean Jackson, Kelly clearly wanted to clear the books of contracts in which he thought too much cap money was committed to offensive skill positions players other than at quarterback.
He didn't address the notion during a 60-minute roundtable interview, but Kelly could have felt that his offensive scheme is effective enough to be productive without paying top dollar at running back, wide receiver and tight end, while the defense needed an infusion of talent to thrive.
"I think it's all based on what's available at the time," Kelly said. "How do you allocate it? You can philosophically say we want to pay X, X, and X at each position. But that's not available to you. … You can't look at it and say philosophically, let's put a price tag on each position."
Kelly, of course, gave running back DeMarco Murray the third most guaranteed money ($18 million) for a running back in the NFL this offseason. It would be imprudent to ever try and constrict the iconoclastic coach to a single narrative.
-- While Kelly gave Murray almost as much per year as the Eagles were set to pay McCoy, he said he was more concerned with cutting the 2015 cap number for running backs, which he did with Murray ($5 million) and Ryan Matthews ($2 million).
But Kelly suggesting that money was the only reason he traded McCoy doesn't pass the smell test. Even owner Jeffrey Lurie said that his coach wanted a more north-to-south running back. The Eagles never approached McCoy's agent Drew Rosenhaus about restructuring his contract despite Kelly's claim to the contrary, two NFL sources said.
"When you look at moving forward, that was just a really big number," Kelly said. "They weren't moving off the number so that was where the decision was made."
-- Kelly disputed the idea that Maxwell benefitted from playing in the Seattle secondary along with three all pro defensive backs. He said, if anything, the cornerback was tested more often because he played opposite Richard Sherman.
"I think that's a misconception because he didn't have two safeties behind him," Kelly said. "They were either a Cover-3 or a Cover-1, and they don't play two-deep, and Kam [Chancellor] is usually down in the box. The one thing I think is interesting about Byron is because of how good Richard Sherman is, scheme-wise, [Maxwell] a lot of times got the best receiver."
Maxwell will likely start on the left side, but the right starting cornerback spot is unfilled. Kelly mentioned that free agent addition Walter Thurmond, Nolan Carroll and Brandon Boykin would be the primary competitors unless other cornerbacks are added via free agency or the draft.
-- Kelly didn't include Jaylen Watkins in his cornerback list even though he played both inside and out in the season finale. When asked whether the second-year player would be in the mix at safety, Kelly said it was a possibility.
The Eagles have yet to add a safety after Nate Allen left via free agency. Malcolm Jenkins will back at one starting spot, but there isn't likely replacement waiting in the wings. Earl Wolff, Chris Maragos, Chris Prosinski, Jerome Couplin and Ed Reynolds are currently the only other safeties on the roster.
"We'll take a look at that," Kelly said. "That's what this process is all about, the offseason, you get a chance to see guys on the field, what is Earl like in Year 3. There's guys on our team right now that can certainly play that role but it depends where they are when you get a chance to see them through OTAs, through minicamp, through preseason camp."
Kelly may have no choices with the crop of safeties left in free agency and in the coming draft thin.
-- It's all but a foregone conclusion that the Eagles will select a receiver at some point in the coming draft. Kelly said it was the deepest position. The team has an obvious need after Maclin walked.
Riley Cooper and Josh Huff are penciled in as the starting outside receivers, but Kelly didn't rule out the possibility of moving Jordan Matthews out of the slot where he played mostly as a rookie.
"We just wanted him to play one position and learn one position," Kelly said of Matthews. "He can do it just like Josh can do it. Riley Cooper could move into the slot for us."
Huff is a wild card. He hardly played on offense last season and when he did made some costly mistakes. But he missed the first month of his rookie year with a shoulder injury and Kelly said that Huff has the ability to make a second-year leap.
"He's an unbelievable special teams player. So we already know he's established there," Kelly said. "Now it's just getting a little bit more consistent and he'll get an opportunity now with Mac gone."
-- Kelly has also mentioned Sproles and tight end Zach Ertz as possible pass catching options to pick up the slack. Sproles caught 40 passes for 387 yards last season, but it was the fewest number of catches he had in six seasons.
Kelly used him more in a traditional running back role as McCoy's backup. With Murray and Matthews on board, Sproles may not see as many carries, but Kelly said that he "needed to get him on the field more."
"Our goal in this offseason if we moved LeSean was we wanted to bring two guys in," Kelly said. "We wanted to have depth at the running back spot and possibly carry four guys during the season. ... But obviously in Year Two, a lot more familiarity with what we're doing, getting acclimated in terms of what we're doing."
-- Kelly said two weeks ago that the Eagles planned on bringing inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans back even after the Kiko Alonso trade, which left some wondering if Mychal Kendricks could be traded.
Ryans is coming back from his second Achilles tendon rupture, however, and Kelly said one of his main offseason goals was to address the depth at inside linebacker after Ryans missed eight games and Kendricks missed four with a calf injury.
Kelly was asked about Kendricks' performance last year.
"When he was healthy, he played really well for us," Kelly said. "But we missed him for … four games. And the health aspect was a difficult thing. We were a different team without him on the field. But when he played, he played really well for us."