A few thoughts on Chip's tight ship
The criteria for being one of Chip Kelly's "guys" seem to be growing more and more stringent, as the release of Evan Mathis shows.
I don't think releasing Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis dooms the Eagles this season. I don't think any of the stuff Chip Kelly has done since taking over personnel control in January necessarily dooms the Eagles this season, or beyond. I still think there's a real good chance the guy is smarter than all of us.
But I do think we'll look back someday on all this restructuring and we'll either cite it as the time when "the Kelly way" turned the franchise toward championship contention, or we will cite this offseason as the beginning of the end, when Kelly's inflexibility irreparably marred his genius and started him on the path back to college coaching.
We have come a long way in a year and a couple months, from releasing DeSean Jackson, who failed to show for his 2013 season exit interview, didn't want to learn all the wideout positions, clashed with his position coach and had several priorities more important to him than team success, to releasing Evan Mathis, who sat out optional OTAs because he wanted a bit more money.
I think if you'd asked Mathis six months ago if he considered himself a Kelly disciple, he would have said yes. Keeps himself in top shape, owns a gym in Arizona, eats right, doesn't do dumb stuff off the field. Made a point of not saying anything about his contract after he reported last year, to not detract from the team focus. Never grumbled about the pace of practice, or anything else.
But in Year 3, being a Kelly disciple has really taken a super-serious turn. (Pretty soon you'll have to carve a symbol into your forehead, like the Sparrows in "Game of Thrones." (Guess who the High Sparrow is in this analogy.)
If you want examples of exacting coaches who do really well, you don't have to venture any farther than Chip's buddy Bill Belichick, in the news this week for apparently benching Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler during optional OTAs because Butler missed his flight and reported for the -- again, optional -- workouts a little late.
But here's the thing: Belichick gets away with being Belichick because he has those four Super Bowl rings. If Jay Gruden tried that in Washington, or Mike Pettine tried it in Cleveland, players might mutiny. Certainly, there would be head-shaking and chuckling throughout the land, including in the Washington or Cleveland locker room.
Chip seems to be building a roster of guys who will commit to what he wants exactly and unquestioningly. But that won't last forever. At some point, at least a few of these players will want more money, or will otherwise get tired of being treated like 15-year-olds attending football camp for the first time. When that day comes, the Chipper had better be winning, and winning real, real, real big. Because players have choices in the NFL -- unlike once they sign the letter of intent in college -- and there are plenty of contending teams who offer an easier, more flexible atmosphere than Chipworld.
We're going to find out this season whether culture really trumps scheme/talent, and we're also going to find out a lot about maintaining culture, once it's established.
Ought to be an exciting time in Wester...um, Eagles Nation.