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Kelly's moves show inexperience, could hurt Eagles' flexibility

The best that can be said about the free-agent contracts Chip Kelly handed out this offseason is that he wants to win now.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. (Robert Deutsch/USA Today)
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. (Robert Deutsch/USA Today)Read more

The best that can be said about the free-agent contracts Chip Kelly handed out this offseason is that he wants to win now.

The Eagles coach identified players he wanted for his systems and made bold moves to acquire them over the last month. But that often meant overpaying when the market suggested he could have gotten free agents such as Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray for less.

Kelly paid Maxwell more than $2 million more a year than any other team was willing to pay for the cornerback. The desperate Raiders offered more to Murray than the Eagles' five-year, $40 million contract, but the Cowboys and Jaguars - more attractive options for the running back - were never in the same ballpark.

An argument could be made that Kelly needed to overreach to get talents he identified as pivotal to the Eagles' success. But he also shelled out contracts that were unlikely to be matched for injury-prone players.

Running back Ryan Mathews was given a three-year deal worth $11 million. Cornerback Walter Thurmond signed a one-year, $3.25 million contract one day into free agency. That's essentially the same amount he got last year from the New York Giants ($3.5 million) before he missed 15 games with a torn pectoral muscle.

The latest head-scratcher was a one-year contract to wide receiver Miles Austin that is potentially worth as much as $2.3 million. While that is small change compared with the Maxwell and Murray deals, it is a contract that doesn't make fiscal sense this late into free agency.

Who was the Eagles' competition? Austin, who has missed 15 games to injury over the last four seasons, said last week that he had no other visits lined up. And it was clear the Browns, who signed him to a one-year deal, $2 million deal last May, had no intention of bringing him back.

Somehow, the Eagles gave the soon-to-be-31-year-old a raise after he caught just 47 passes for 568 yards and two touchdowns in 2014. Austin missed the final four games of the season with a freak kidney injury. But his name appeared on the weekly injury report a whopping 26 times, mostly because of hamstring injuries, during the previous three seasons with the Cowboys.

And yet, $1 million of Austin's contract with the Eagles is fully guaranteed. They can't cut him without a penalty.

Kelly's first offseason in charge of personnel has been dramatic for the way he has turned the roster over, parted with key starters, and traded for and signed high-priced players, many of whom have injury-riddled pasts.

Clearly, he saw value this offseason in acquiring injured players such as quarterback Sam Bradford and linebacker Kiko Alonso. If Kelly has indeed discovered a way to reduce injuries through his sports science programs, then his gambles could pay off and the Eagles should be stronger.

He also probably feels confident enough in his coaching that he can continue to win games even if the law of averages suggests several of those additions will reinjure themselves.

But Kelly the general manager failed to take advantage of the value he saw in acquiring injured players. Howie Roseman is still technically in charge of the cap and contracts, but the former GM has virtually no say over football-related decisions, according to sources familiar with the Eagles' front-office operations.

Kelly is 100 percent in control, and there isn't a system of checks and balances in place. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said two weeks ago at the owners meeting that he wasn't concerned about handing so much power to someone with so little NFL personnel experience.

"Let's let it play out," Lurie said. "I think with any coach, you need patience, you need vision, you need to let them gamble and fail, and gamble and succeed, because the last thing you want to do is make a coach risk-averse. I just don't believe in that. It was one of the keys to our success with Andy [Reid]."

Reid, though, trusted Joe Banner's evaluations and reading of the market enough to know when not to push for players he wanted. There were, of course, miscalculations, but the Eagles of Reid and Banner had more successes than failures in negotiations.

Roseman was known as a hard-liner, as well. It's difficult to see him making the recent deals unless he was afraid to lose a free agent because of how it could be perceived by Kelly. Lurie can say all he wants about a professional working environment, but Kelly and Roseman don't have that dynamic.

Who's willing to tell Kelly that an agent is bluffing or that it's time to walk away? Perhaps Ed Marynowitz eventually becomes that voice, but right now the 31-year-old vice president of player personnel can't possibly have that kind of clout.

The Eagles, long considered one of the more fiscally sound organizations in the NFL, have spent more salary-cap money ($149.4 million) for the 2015 season than any other team. The cap is $143.2 million, but the Eagles had $15.7 million from last year to carry over.

They have $10.4 million in space, but with approximately $6 million earmarked for draft picks and rookie free agents, the Eagles will head into the season with as little to carry over as they ever have.

And several of the new contracts have a first-year cap number lower than the average of the overall deal, meaning the Eagles are sacrificing the future for the present. What happens if Bradford is healthy all season and plays well? Kelly will likely have to sign him to a long-term deal in the $18 million- to $20 million-a-year range, and that will create meaningful cap problems.

Of course, if Bradford delivers, the Eagles may win something meaningful. But if they don't, Kelly's contracts could haunt the team.

Eagles' Salary Cap Moves

Here is a list of the Eagles' transactions this offseason and how they have affected the team's salary cap for 2015.

   Salary-cap room*   

Transaction   Gain   Loss   

Signed Miles Austin      2.225

Restructured DeMeco Ryans   2.9

Signed DeMarco Murray      5

Signed Ryan Mathews      2

Signed Walter Thurmond      3.25

Re-signed Mark Sanchez      3.75

Signed Byron Maxwell      8.7

Traded for Sam Bradford      12.985

Traded away Nick Foles   1.40612

Re-signed Brandon Graham      6

Cut Trent Cole   8.4

Cut Cary Williams   6.5

Signed Brad Jones      1.15

Cut Todd Herremans   2.8

Cut James Casey   4

TOTALS   26.00612   45.06   

* – in millions of dollars; Sources:,