One of the hardest things for a new NFL head coach to learn is that he must be willing to discard his own ideas. Even if they were good ideas at the time. Even if moving past them could be a little embarrassing.
Chip Kelly, who can come off at times as arrogant and stubborn and self-satisfied - the very template of a guy who might have trouble acknowledging his own mistakes - turned in a remarkable cut-down sheet on Saturday. He got rid of five players who had been drafted during his term here; discarded a favorite son who had been his leading receiver at Oregon; and admitted to the world that, despite the countless hours spent on him, Tim Tebow is not an NFL quarterback, a fact of which the world was previously aware.
"I think the best players earn spots on this team, and I don't look at where they came in or what their draft selection was or all those other things, and I think if you do, you're going to hurt your football team," Kelly said.
It really was that simple as the Eagles made their final roster trim, reserving one spot that might be taken by the eventual third-string quarterback. Kelly's decisions were pragmatic, and if some of the guys going out the door pointed out failures in judgment by the organization - his organization - then so be it.
Draft picks Matt Barkley, Ed Reynolds, Jaylen Watkins, Randall Evans, and Brian Mihalik were traded or released, along with receiver Jeff Maehl and Tebow, a special project that most people thought Kelly took on to show the world how smart he is.
The other cuts were less surprising, although enough talent was dismissed that it's reasonable to think that the players who remain are deeper and better, as a whole, than the 2014 roster. Some of Saturday's cuts are going to get jobs elsewhere and not just be shuffled onto the Eagles' practice squad.
"There was no master plan," Kelly said. "Everyone competes and let it play out the way it plays out."
The way it played out, Josh Andrews' versatility and talent on the offensive line made him just that much better than Malcolm Bunche, whom the Eagles really like, and veteran John Moffitt. Cornerbacks E.J. Biggers, let go by the Redskins, and Denzel Rice, an undrafted free agent, had better camps and earned jobs ahead of former fourth-round pick Jaylen Watkins. Jerome Couplin, signed off the Detroit practice squad last year, won the last safety spot in a competition with Chris Prosinski and former fifth-round draft pick Ed Reynolds.
Up and down the positional roster, that's how it went. Brad Jones instead of Najee Goode. Kenjon Barner instead of Raheem Mostert. Seyi Ajirotutu instead of Maehl.
"The best players play," Kelly said.
All coaches say that kind of thing, and all of them like to say that the players are really the ones who make the cuts, but there's usually more to it than that. With Kelly, maybe not. For a man with an apparently sizable ego, he didn't let it get in the way Saturday.
The changes at the quarterback position were really the showstoppers. It's possible, even likely, that Tebow could have stayed on the roster as a curiosity and perhaps an occasional gadget player and it wouldn't have hurt the team at all this season. It's also possible, and even more likely, that having Barkley hang around for another season wouldn't have caused any harm, either. Kelly didn't care, and if he risked looking foolish, that was all right, too.
"We don't feel he's good enough to be our third quarterback right now," Kelly said of Tebow. By extension, he was saying the same of Barkley, whose arm strength has been suspect since he was drafted. Yet both players got to this point, and their failures left the Eagles scanning the waiver wire at the 11th hour for a more suitable backup to the backup. That's not great planning or talent assessment there, but Kelly didn't hesitate to point it out for everyone to see.
"We looked at everything and made the best decision of what to do for the Eagles," Kelly said.
That is at the heart of what Kelly said and did on Saturday. He also delivered an exasperated lecture on the difference between the practice squad and the 53-man roster, dismissed questions about Zack Ertz's fitness by saying the tight end actually hadn't had surgery but had been working secretly to be the team's kicker and third-string quarterback, and batted aside a reporter's attempt to learn the identity of the team's nickel cornerback, information that could somehow apparently provide aid and comfort to the Atlanta Falcons.
It was classic Chip Kelly. And now we are aware that a willingness to throw bad ideas and bad quarterbacks overboard is classic Kelly, too. Who knew?