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Is Kelly too loyal to his players?

In his three seasons as Eagles coach, Chip Kelly has never benched a starter based solely upon performance. He has released or traded only three players in-season never for them to return.

In his three seasons as Eagles coach, Chip Kelly has never benched a starter based solely upon performance. He has released or traded only three players in-season never for them to return.

He is loyal - some may say to a fault. There is a school of thought that coaches, in order the keep players on their toes and to hold them accountable for poor play, should at pivotal times use benchings or cuts to send a message.

Players, the theory goes, perform at their best when motivated by fear, and there is perhaps no greater fear than being deprived of playing in the NFL. While it is difficult to say for certain whether the 4-7 Eagles are playing with or without that kind of motivation, they sure haven't looked like an inspired team over the last three weeks.

"I don't think there are any statements or messages," Kelly said Thursday. He added: "I don't sit there and say, 'Hey, let's do this,' and it will make a statement to everybody else that all of a sudden they are going to practice harder or prepare harder or study film harder or play harder because Joey Jones got let go."

Some old-school types might disagree. Bill Belichick released Chris Harper on Monday, a day after he muffed a fourth-quarter punt that was critical in the Patriots' eventual loss to the Broncos. Harper, an undrafted rookie, had spent most of the season on the practice squad, but Belichick has always been quick with the hook.

He famously cut Tiquan Underwood the day before the 2011 Super Bowl. Belichick made the move to add another defensive lineman to the roster, but Patriots players during his tenure have long become accustomed to the adage about NFL standing for "Not For Long."

"I think everybody makes mistakes. No one plays a perfect game, and no one coaches a perfect game," Kelly said. He added: "You also look and say, 'OK, we are going to sit him down. Now, who are we going to play?' "

The lone players who made the Eagles' initial 53-man roster only to be cut forever were defensive backs Jordan Poyer and Shaun Prater in 2013. Kelly has released other players, but they've either returned later or were signed shortly after to the practice squad.

He has placed great emphasis on familiarity, which explains the many times that offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde and linebacker Emmanuel Acho have bounced on and off the team.

The only time Kelly traded a player in-season - he's always had final say over the 53-man roster - was again in his first season. He dealt nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga to the Patriots. But he also had Bennie Logan waiting in the wings. Coincidence or not, the Eagles went 7-1 from that point.

As for being benched, the only two players to lose their full-time jobs were quarterback Michael Vick for Nick Foles in 2013 and guard Matt Tobin for Andrew Gardner in 2014. But they didn't lose them until after they missed time with injuries.

Even through Bradley Fletcher's struggles last season, Kelly stuck with the cornerback. He missed the final game of the season with an injury, and Nolan Carroll, who played at a higher level this season before breaking his ankle last week, got the start.

Several Eagles said that worrying about possible repercussions for poor play could have an adverse effect.

"You can't play with that fear of not messing up because you might get cut. If you think like that, it's going to happen," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "For me, I try to think positively. For some guys that may work - putting him on the edge. But I can't function that way."

There's something to be said for showing a struggling player that you have enough confidence to allow him to work out of a funk.

"One of the things Coach says is, 'I believe in every one of the players in this room.' So if you say that, then it's hard to turn around and cut somebody," Tobin said. "It's sending two different messages. [Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] was just saying that's the easy way now to do it - to just cut somebody - instead of working with you and trying to make it better."

But what if it isn't working? Kelly seemed more open to the idea of giving backups a chance to supplant starters last week. Tobin and Dennis Kelly continue to split practice repetitions at right guard. Wide receiver Jonathan Krause was called up from the practice squad the week before. Could there be changes when the Eagles face the Patriots?

To single out players without guaranteed money in their contracts might also send the wrong message. Eagles such as running back DeMarco Murray and cornerback Byron Maxwell - free agents who signed big offseason deals - haven't lived up to their contracts and have occasionally looked less than enthused about doing their jobs.

"They're not going to bench certain guys - you know that as much as I know that," Tobin said. "But if something were to happen to them, then that might wake up the rest of the guaranteed guys. But for us bottom-half-of-the-roster guys, I don't think that's going to change anything - at least for me, anyway."

Andy Reid cut defensive end Jason Babin with five games left in the 2012 season. He fired defensive line coach Jim Washburn a week later. Reid was on his way out, but he showed that he could still hold his team accountable.

Kelly hasn't been afraid to cast off big names in the offseason. He jettisoned DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Evan Mathis, among others. Those decisions certainly put players on notice. But he's had a different approach once the games start.

"Sometimes teams can get complacent," Dennis Kelly said. "Depending upon the situation and what's going on with the team, it might be the right thing to do. But sometimes it might lead to a free fall because it looks like panic."

Some may argue the free fall already has begun.