It is the longest-running mystery in Philadelphia sports history, and now the part of Sherlock Holmes is being played by Chip Kelly. The coach and his team are in search of that elusive Vince Lombardi Trophy, a sterling silver football award that stands 22 inches, weighs seven pounds, and has never been hoisted by a man in an Eagles uniform.
The suspense is killing Eagles fans, the majority of whom were not alive when the franchise last won an NFL championship by beating Lombardi's Green Bay Packers in 1960 and many of whom wonder if they'll still be breathing when the team celebrates its next title.
Kelly's role in the search for a Lombardi Trophy has expanded from simply moving the pieces around the chess board to also having full control of what pieces make it onto the board. After two seasons as the team's coach and two-plus months as the unchallenged head of personnel, he has shocked us all by blowing up most of the board.
The latest explosion came on the NFL's version of New Year's Day.
Almost immediately after the league officially opened its new year for business at 4 p.m. Tuesday, the news broke that quarterback Nick Foles had been traded to the St. Louis Rams. In return, the Eagles received 27-year-old quarterback Sam Bradford, a former Heisman Trophy winner out of the University of Oklahoma.
It's a curious deal on a variety of levels. In addition to Foles, the Rams also received a fourth-round pick in 2015 and a second-round pick in 2016. The Eagles got a fifth-round pick from St. Louis in 2015 (and possibly a fourth- or third-round pick in 2016). This scorecard has the Rams getting the better quarterback and the better draft picks.
And then there is Bradford's medical history. He was the first overall pick in the NFL draft by the Rams in 2010, but he has played in just seven games over the last two seasons after twice tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
The first injury occurred in Week 7 of the 2013 season in a loss at Carolina, and the recurrence took place last August during a preseason game against Cleveland. He missed the entire season. At a time when a debate has raged about whether a more fleet-footed quarterback such as the University of Oregon's Marcus Mariota would be a better fit for Kelly's zone-read offense, the Eagles have acquired one of the few signal-callers who might be slower and less mobile in the pocket than Foles.
That's why it is hard to believe that Bradford is anything more than a pawn in a bigger game that Kelly plans to play. Bradford has only one season remaining on his rookie contract, which paid him $78 million over six years. He is scheduled to make a base salary of $12.985 million this season and has a salary-cap number of $16.585 million, according to the website overthecap.com.
The money is not an issue for the Eagles because they have plenty of available cap space. The short-term question is whether Kelly thinks he can win with Bradford as his starter or if the coach even plans to find out. The Rams never won with Bradford. He was 18-30-1 in 49 career starts in St. Louis and completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 59 touchdowns with 38 interceptions. By comparison, Foles went 15-9 as the Eagles' starter and completed 61.6 percent of his passes with 46 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
If this is the plan at quarterback, it's impossible to say it is better than the one that was in place last season, when Mark Sanchez backed up Foles. Sanchez, who re-signed with the team Sunday, remains the backup quarterback.
The Foles deal is a continuation of Kelly's risky plan to reconfigure a squad that was coming off consecutive 10-6 seasons. Suddenly, none of the premier skill-position players from those teams is still around and there is no clearer picture about how Kelly could possibly move up in next month's draft and select Mariota.
LeSean McCoy has shuffled off to Buffalo, a cold reality for the running back that the Bills made much warmer by signing him to a five-year contract extension that guarantees the three-time Pro Bowler $26.5 million. In return, the Eagles have Kiko Alonso, an inside linebacker who turns 25 in August. He was born in New England, played at the University of Oregon, and has the type of size - 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds - that the coach loves. In other words, he is a Chip Kelly trifecta. We will see if he is part of a winning ticket.
More stunning was the departure of Jeremy Maclin, who reunited with former coach Andy Reid in Kansas City when the Eagles apparently would not give him the money he was looking for. After sitting out the entire 2013 season with a torn ligament in his right knee, Maclin returned last season and seemed the perfect match for Kelly's fast-paced offense.
The 2009 first-round pick set career highs in catches (85) and receiving yards (1,318) and tied a career high with 10 touchdowns. Now, like star receiver DeSean Jackson the year before, he is gone. We wondered all last season what the Eagles offense would have looked like with Jackson and Maclin lining up together with rookie Jordan Matthews occupying the slot. Now, we wonder what it's going to look like without Maclin, Jackson, McCoy, and Foles.
Guard Todd Herremans and linebacker Trent Cole, one of the franchise's all-time greatest pass rushers, are gone, too. Both of them signed with Indianapolis after being released. Cornerback Byron Maxwell has left Seattle to join the Eagles, with the deal reportedly worth $60 million over six years, and that's the one move that has been loudly applauded by all.
Chip Kelly is trying to solve the great mystery of how to bring an NFL title to Philadelphia and, so far, he is going about it in the most mysterious of ways.
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