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Eagles' big moves free up some big bucks to chase big free agents

By trading McCoy, cutting Williams and about to jettison Cole, Eagles are poised to make a big splash in free agency.

WE LEARNED last March that Chip Kelly isn't afraid to shake things up when he released DeSean Jackson.

We learned it again yesterday when Kelly sent shock waves through EaglesNation by agreeing to trade away his star running back, LeSean McCoy, and moving closer to releasing the second best pass-rusher in franchise history, Trent Cole.

The moves, along with the release earlier in the day of cornerback Cary Williams, and last week's exit of veteran right guard Todd Herremans, are largely, but not entirely, salary-cap motivated. McCoy, Cole and Williams would have counted nearly $27 million against the Eagles' 2015 cap. With the three gone, the Eagles will have roughly $54 million in cap space a week before the start of the free-agency signing period.

That number is likely to rise even higher, since the Eagles are acquiring inside linebacker Kiko Alonso from the Buffalo Bills in the trade for McCoy. Unless I'm missing something, Alonso's arrival would seem to make DeMeco Ryans and his $6.9 million cap number expendable. Ryans, 30, is coming off his second ruptured Achilles' in 5 years. Alonso, who played for Kelly at Oregon and was the NFL's defensive rookie of the year in 2013, missed all of last season with a torn ACL.

Anyway, the Eagles now certainly have the wherewithal to be major players in free agency. If they want to outbid the rest of the NFL for Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell and Patriots safety Devin McCourty, they can do it.

If they want to replace Herremans with 27-year-old Broncos free agent Orlando Franklin, they can do it. If they want to sign Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith and/or bring back Jeremy Maclin, they can do it.

If they want to sign one of the top free-agent edge-rushers such as the Steelers' Jason Worilds or Houston's Brooks Reed, they can do it. Obviously, they can't do all of it. But they certainly can fill some important needs.

The trouble is, free agency often is a bigger crapshoot than the draft. Just ask Dan Snyder and the Redskins. Just because a player succeeds with one team and one system doesn't mean he will succeed with another.

If you need proof of that, go back and review the Eagles' last free-agent spending spree in 2011. How'd that work out?

Granted, that was Joe Banner and Howie Roseman calling the shots, and this is Kelly. But right now, we still have no idea what kind of talent evaluator this guy is.

McCoy's departure was the biggest surprise of Black Tuesday. Only Marshawn Lynch has rushed for more yards over the last 4 years than McCoy. But he already has nearly 1,800 career touches, which is a lot of tire wear, even for a guy who will turn 27 in July.

My sense is Kelly doesn't think he needs a great running back for his spread offense to be successful, particularly one with an $11.9 million cap number.

And with the running back class in this spring's draft considered one of the deepest in years, he also probably thinks he can find an adequate replacement to team with Chris Polk and Darren Sproles and not miss a beat.

McCoy led the league in rushing two seasons ago and rushed for 1,319 yards last year. But Kelly always has been somewhat lukewarm in his praise of McCoy and didn't hide his annoyance at the running back's frequent indecisiveness, which contributed to a league-high 125 carries of zero or negative yards in 2013-14.

According to McCoy's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, the Eagles never talked to him about a contract restructuring that would have lowered McCoy's cap number, which is a clear indication that Kelly just thought his offense would be fine without him.

Cole is a different matter. He's 32 and clearly at the tail end of his career. But he still had 6 1/2 sacks last season and finished second on the team in hurries (20) and third in tackles for loss. He was an important factor in the Eagles' success against the run.

With the jury still very much out on 2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith and Brandon Graham an unrestricted free agent, the Eagles had hoped to get Cole to agree to a pay cut and keep him around for another year.

The problem is, Cole and his agent think they can get more money from another team that might be interested in leasing his services for a year or two than what the Eagles were offering.

Cole's exit, along with Graham's expected free-agent departure, will leave the Eagles in a bit of a pass-rushing pickle. The only proven edge-rusher they'll have on their roster is Connor Barwin.

I highly doubt Kelly is willing to bet the ranch on Marcus Smith emerging as a major edge-rush force in his second season. And I don't see him moving Alonso or Mychal Kendricks outside. So that means they'll almost certainly look for help in free agency and/or the draft.

It's not unusual to see a lot of turnover on a roster when a new coach is hired. The difference here is it's happening 2 years into Kelly's tenure, following back-to-back 10-6 seasons.

On Twitter: @Pdomo