Don't be too quick to judge Eagles' Chip Kelly
The head coach was 20-12 in his first two seasons and has a better winning percentage than several successful NFL coaches.
ONE OF the benefits of the NFL's annual Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit is that it offers fans across the nation a chance to pause and reflect on how fortunate they are not to be rooting for a team like the Lions. For fans of the Eagles, many of whom have reacted to back-to-back losses to the Dolphins and Bucs by suggesting that Jeffrey Lurie part ways with Chip Kelly, this year's holiday should take on added meaning as they watch their squad square off against a franchise that has produced two winning seasons under five head coaches since 2001.
As far as uplifting slogans go, it doesn't get much worse than, "Philadelphia: At least we're not Detroit!" But as disappointing as 2015 is shaping up to be for a team that entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations, some perspective is in order.
For a city that hasn't seen an NFL title in 55 years, we can be awfully quick to determine that our coaches and quarterbacks are something less than championship caliber.
No doubt, things have not gone according to Kelly's plan. The coach himself acknowledged Monday - albeit brusquely - that his team was not where he envisioned it being 10 games into his third season at the helm. No doubt, the Eagles' 4-6 performance - particularly the last two losses - raise plenty of concerns about Kelly's short- and long-term vision for his football team. At the same time, it is neither wise nor fair to ignore what the man accomplished in his first two seasons, and as long as we consider those seasons from an objective perspective, they offer a pretty clear indication that he just might know a thing or two about how to win games in the National Football League.
Fact is, Kelly went 20-12 while starting Michael Vick, Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez at quarterback. His current .571 winning percentage in the regular season is the same as Pete Carroll and is better than Marvin Lewis (.540) and Tom Coughlin (.538). Yes, he is 5-9 in his last 14 games. It's a concern. But it isn't evidence that a better option exists.
That's something we often forget: It can get worse. A lot worse.
Maybe you think that the Eagles would be better off with Gus Bradley, despite his 11-31 record in three seasons in Jacksonville. Or San Diego's Mike McCoy (20-22), or Andy Reid himself (25-17 in three seasons with Kansas City), or Jay Gruden (8-18 in two seasons in Washington), or Houton's Bill O'Brien (14-12 in two seasons), or Cleveland's Mike Pettine (9-17 in two seasons). But that list is evidence of the difficulty of finding a good head coach, and that you'd better be damn sure your current guy isn't good enough before you entertain thoughts of moving on.
I suspect the haste with which a certain segment of Eagles fans has labeled Kelly unfit for duty has something to do with the fact that the guy was a polarizing figure from the start. That's understandable. Speaking as somebody who does not enjoy watching spread offenses, and who has some serious reservations about the sustainability of Kelly's scheme, I empathize with those who have spent the last year-and-a-half feeling as if they are watching exactly what they feared. And maybe they are. But it is also possible that a season like this was in store for anybody who happened to be the Eagles' head coach in 2015.
Is it rational to think that Jason Peters would be healthy with a different head coach? The decision to cut Evan Mathis is a viable point of contention, but is it rational to think that a different head coach would have decided to hang on to Todd Herremans, who couldn't even hold onto a starting job on the Colts' dismal offensive line? Brandon Boykin has played only 3.2 percent of the Steelers' defensive snaps. Is Mike Tomlin as blind to reality as Kelly?
How about Foles, who lasted only nine games as the Rams' starter before Jeff Fisher benched him for Case Keenum? The performances of Foles and Sanchez suggest a rational foundation for the desperation that led Kelly to trade a second-round pick to the Rams for Sam Bradford, don't they?
At the very least, everything we've seen suggests that there was a logical method to Kelly's perceived offseason madness. You can certainly argue that he erred in trading LeSean McCoy, who has missed two games because of a hamstring injury, but was excellent in the seven he played heading into Monday night, carrying 113 times for 528 yards while averaging a full yard more per carry than DeMarco Murray (141-for-515).
While Murray clearly isn't a great fit for Kelly's scheme, the coach did attempt to use McCoy to bolster his depth at linebacker, a position that was one of the main culprits in Sunday's 45-17 loss to the Bucs. Kiko Alonso has been injured and ineffective, but that doesn't change the fact that the position needed to be addressed.
As for the wide receivers . . .
If the Eagles had retained DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin at the same terms as their current deals, their combined cap number for 2016 would be least $18.65 million. According to OverTheCap.com, that would have left them within a few hundred thousand dollars of the salary cap with their most expensive position still unfilled (quarterback, where Bradford's contract expires after this season). Roster construction is all about opportunity costs. To ignore the ones the Eagles would have incurred by retaining Jackson and Maclin is to ignore reality.
This isn't an argument that Kelly has optimized his hand in 2015. It is an argument that the Eagles are just now feeling the full effects of a series of questionable drafts that began under the last regime, and that most NFL coaches would have struggled to rebuild a porous defense while avoiding the decline in talent the Eagles have seen on the offensive side of the ball.
Maybe there is a better option out there. The Lions, for one, are open to suggestions.
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy