Eagles' Chip Kelly acknowledges fallout from Riley Cooper incident
'There could be,' he says, when asked if he thinks there's a connection between the 2013 Cooper incident and perceptions of him.
THE QUESTION has sat unacknowledged in the background during the back-and-forth this year over Eagles coach Chip Kelly's relationship with African-American players.
Did these qualms all start with Kelly's decision two years ago not to cut wide receiver Riley Cooper, after Cooper was caught on video cursing a security guard with the "n-word?"
If Kelly had axed Cooper then, instead of sending him away to reflect for a few days, then welcoming him back into the fold, would Kelly be perceived differently by his players? Would he be perceived differently by fans, who bring up Cooper on social media whenever a former Eagle voices criticism of Kelly and mentions race, as Brandon Boykin did this week?
"There could be," Kelly said, when asked yesterday if he thinks there's a connection between the Cooper matter and perceptions of him. "But I don't literally, I don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to connect 'X' to 'Y' to 'Z' and all those other things. We have other things that we need to take care of."
Kelly said he doesn't regret his handling of the first crisis of his Eagles coaching tenure.
"I think Riley made a mistake, and I think that's part of it. We all backed him. Michael [Vick] backed him. Jason Avant backed him. I think that's part of being in an organization and on a team. I look at that as a specific incident, and he was 100 percent wrong. Those are things that should never be said, and I hope he learned his lesson. I think he regrets what he did that day every single day. I see that. But do I regret what I did in terms of how we handled Riley? No, we don't."
Does Cooper really regret those words "every single day"? Hard to tell. Reporters covering the team have learned that Cooper, initially contrite, will not address the matter. He stopped addressing it very quickly after his return, two years ago.
Does Cooper hear and read what has been said about Kelly by former assistant Tra Thomas, by disaffected former running back LeSean McCoy and by cornerback Boykin, who later contended that he was criticizing Kelly's tight control of players and not calling him a racist? Does Cooper wonder if he helped put the coach in this box? Has Cooper been able to repair his relationships with African-American teammates? Have black players who have come to the Eagles since the incident asked Cooper about it?
Eagles players were supposed to be available to reporters after yesterday's first public practice of training camp, at Lincoln Financial Field. Cooper was approached at least twice, by Phillyvoice.com on the field and then by the Daily News in the tunnel heading to the locker room. Both times, Cooper declined to speak.
Phillyvoice's Matt Mullin wrote that Cooper said, "Come on, what's your question?" as Mullin told him what Kelly had said earlier. Then Mullin said Cooper yelled to an Eagles public relations employee, "Are we leaving?" And, "He said I've got to go."
In the hallway, with the PR person walking with him, Cooper asked if my question was about football. I said I wanted to ask about Kelly's words. Cooper shook his head and walked away.
Chip Kelly said running back DeMarco Murray didn't participate in team drills Sunday because the Eagles' monitoring of his hydration showed him to be in danger of pulling a muscle.
"He's probably the most conditioned athlete on our team, but if you don't drink the requisite amount of water and electrolytes and have them in your system, it doesn't matter how fit you are. Especially [given] the weather, that was a big factor for us, too . . . You don't want to lose a guy in the first day.
"So it was just a medical staff and coaching staff decision to hold him out . . . We would do the same with anybody. It is not that we are treating him differently than anybody else. We have full monitors on everybody. That's why we have GPS systems and heart-rate monitors and all those other things."
ESPN's Ed Werder reported that the Eagles and Sam Bradford's agents are discussing a possible short-term extension for the quarterback, who is scheduled to make $13 million this season in the final year of the record-setting rookie deal he signed in 2010 as the No. 1 overall pick for the Rams.
Chip Kelly said yesterday he will never discuss contracts, but though there is risk in any extension for both sides - Bradford could get hurt, which would cost the Eagles; or he could have an amazing year, which would cost him money - there also are reasons to look at such a compromise.
Any extension would lower Bradford's 2015 cap number. As the season progresses, if Bradford is playing well, the contract question is bound to come up again and again, which could be distracting. While the Eagles could franchise him at something like $20 million next season, that would come straight off the cap, with no amortization. If Bradford is signed for another year or two, the franchise tag then is available for, say, linebacker Mychal Kendricks.
The key to a Bradford deal of any sort might be playing-time incentives, given Bradford's back-to-back ACL tears. Bradford might want to solidify his position here, if he likes the offense and Kelly.
Running back Brian Westbrook and linebacker Maxie Baughan will join the Eagles' Hall of Fame Oct. 19, as the Eagles host the Giants for "Monday Night Football" . . . The Eagles will wear No. 60 helmet decals this season in memory of Chuck Bednarik . . . Strong practice yesterday for tight end Zach Ertz. At one point, with Mychal Kendricks draped over him, he elevated for a Mark Sanchez pass down the seam and hit the ground hard, but he returned to practice . . . The Eagles wore pads for the first time but didn't really hit hard or tackle to the ground. Chip Kelly said that's what preseason games are for . . . The Eagles released one undrafted rookie wideout and signed another, replacing Devante Davis with Josh Reese.