A WORD OF forewarning: What you are reading is not a prescription. I have no opinion, at least not in the concrete, ultimate sense. The only think I've decided for sure about Chip Kelly's future with the Eagles is that I am glad I'm not the one responsible for making the decision (that is, all other things unchanged. I don't mean to suggest that Jeff Lurie should hesitate to contact my representatives if he has a dollar figure he'd like to discuss).
Anybody who sees this thing in black and white probably hasn't looked at it long enough. That, or they are making the same mistake they made when they decided for good that Donovan McNabb, Andy Reid and, say, Sam Bradford should not return. Mostly, they aren't considering the alternatives, and that one fan base's "inexcusable" season is another's dream.
Case in point: Chances are, at a similar juncture of some previous season, a younger version of you decided that the Eagles needed to move on from their personnel chief. But what if Jeffrey Lurie decides to hasten Kelly's departure by reinstalling Howie Roseman as the man with ultimate control over the short- and long-term future of the roster? Is the franchise better off with the guy who was present for the 2010-11 drafts that submarined their future or the guy who was here for Marcus Smith and Josh Huff? Is there a correct answer? If there isn't, then that's the point. Because the first thing that I am reasonably sure of is that change for the sake of change is not the right move in this instance.
Like it or not, Kelly has some significant strengths.
Receivers don't drop balls they aren't in position to catch. Running backs don't fumble away games they aren't in position to change. Kickers don't choke away wins they aren't in position to claim. In the Eagles' loss to the Redskins on Saturday, they had plenty of opportunities to make plays that would have left them fighting for a playoff berth in Week 17. That's more opportunities than were had by the Jaguars, or the Chargers, or the Browns, or the Lions, or the Bucs, or the Falcons, or the Bills, or the Bears, or the Titans, or the 49ers, or the Raiders. Those are 11 of the teams that have conducted coaching searches since the start of the one that led the Eagles to Kelly. While he might not be Bruce Arians or — for the sake of the argument — Andy Reid, he also isn't Mike McCoy or Gus Bradley, all of whom were hired in the same offseason.
Facts: In Kelly's first season, the Eagles scored 60 more points than they allowed. In his second season, they scored 74 more points than they allowed. This year, they are at minus-58, which is still better than Reid in 2012 (minus-164) and 2005 (minus-78) and 1999 (minus-85), all of which followed a six-year stretch in which Rich Kotite and Ray Rhodes went minus-22, 0, minus-20, plus-22, minus-55, and minus-183.
Again, things could be worse.
The strongest argument in favor of regime change is similar to what it was for Reid; that there's a ceiling with Kelly that he is unlikely to raise, thanks mostly to his fundamentalist adherence to a trio of tragically flawed beliefs:
1) Tempo never makes talent worse.
2) Culture always makes talent better.
3) Talent is largely dependent on scheme.
If Kelly refuses to yield on these three precepts, then one can certainly envision a scenario in which he spends another year building a roster on their foundation and then ejects high above Austin or southern California and leaves the Eagles' fan base stuck with the smoldering wreckage.
It's a serious concern, and if Kelly resists the installation of a proven NFL personnel man who does not report directly to him, then Lurie should start fielding offers from interested teams.
But there's an argument to be made that this whole mess actually began when Lurie put a careerist who had never won anything in charge of an organization full of proud football men raised in a culture that distrusts anybody who appears to have achieved a position without the substance to back it up.
The notion that Chip Kelly was ever going to take orders from Roseman seems incredibly naive in hindsight. Roseman's actual evaluative abilities are almost irrelevant: What he always lacked was cachet, a reason for his subordinates to defer to his opinion, a track record that enabled him to say, "Look, I know we disagree on this, but I think my track record suggests that there's a better-than-even chance that my preferred course of action will prove to be the correct one."
That's not an indictment of the current personnel boss. It's just reality. Ed Marynowitz joined the Eagles' personnel department in 2012 after four years at Alabama. Experience at the NFL level matters, particularly for a person responsible for watching a player compete against college athletes and then envisioning how he compares to players competing against professional athletes.
Here's another of Kelly's strengths: He is a good evaluator of talent when he sees it in front of him. He saw Nick Foles was not an NFL starter. He saw DeSean Jackson was one-dimensional. He knew LeSean McCoy was racking up mileage. He knew his guards were not good enough. He signed Malcolm Jenkins. He moved Walter Thurmond to safety. He tried to re-sign Jeremy Maclin. He knew he needed help at linebacker.
Kelly whiffed on DeMarco Murray and Miles Austin, but both looked like desperation moves born of necessity, and both might have been vetoed by a person with a greater feel for baseline NFL talent, a person with the ability and authority to say, "Hey, I know what you're trying to accomplish, here are some options that might actually help you."
Sam Bradford has developed into a legitimate NFL starter under Kelly. He has always had talent. Now he looks like a guy operating with the right coaching and scheme. Do not discount that.
The worst thing the Eagles can do is throw that away without exhausting all other options. Even then, they need to have a better option in place.