Sixth in a series
On March 11, 2015, reporters assembled in the auditorium at the NovaCare Complex expecting Sam Bradford to take the podium.
Instead, Chip Kelly emerged unannounced for his first news conference since a front-office shake-up left the coach in charge of personnel and Howie Roseman out of the decision-making process.
Kelly hadn't spoken in two months, and a lot had happened in the interim. Tom Gamble, vice president of player personnel, was fired. Roseman had been exorcised from the personnel department. Ed Marynowitz was promoted in Gamble's place, and Kelly had begun to remake the roster in a series of moves that would shake Eagles Nation.
He had already traded LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso and Nick Foles for Bradford, and signed Byron Maxwell to one of the richest contracts ever given to a cornerback. All those topics were addressed, but the subject that garnered the most headlines was a quarterback who wasn't yet even in the NFL let alone on the Eagles.
Marcus Mariota was widely believed to be one of the top prospects in the coming draft, and while the Eagles would have had to forfeit a king's ransom to move up for the Oregon quarterback, some believed that Kelly would do whatever it took to get his former player.
"Let's dispel that right now. I think that stuff is crazy," Kelly said then. "You guys have been going with that stuff all along. I think Marcus is the best quarterback in the draft. We will never mortgage our future to go all the way up to get somebody like that because we have too many other holes that we are going to take care of."
Ultimately, Kelly was right. The Eagles didn't mortgage their future for Mariota. But intelligence since then suggests that it had more to do with the Titans' unwillingness to trade the No. 2 pick than with Kelly's reluctance to send multiple picks and/or players to move up 18 spots. Was there an offer that could have gotten it done? Probably. But the asking price had gotten too steep.
The Eagles even tried to leapfrog Tennessee into the top spot, but the Buccaneers were committed to selecting quarterback Jameis Winston.
"It was like driving into a nice neighborhood and looking at a house, and they tell you the price, and you walk away," Kelly said after the Eagles drafted wide receiver Nelson Agholor in the first round. "We didn't walk in the front door and take a look around.
"Part of our plan, as we've said all along, is we're going to build this team. We still think there is a lot of value in this draft and in future drafts."
There would be no future Eagles drafts, of course, for Kelly. The 2015 version would be his only as de facto general manager and his last as coach. It's still too early to come to any conclusion about the class, but for the most part, the group, especially Agholor, hasn't delivered enough after two seasons.
In some ways, the draft was doomed from the start. Roseman and Gamble had spent months scouting college players and crafting the draft board in its early stages. But when Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie gave Roseman consent to fire Gamble, and in turn, upended the front office, he disrupted a yearlong process.
NFL teams change course in January and February all the time, but typically they do so with a fresh approach - a new coach, a new GM, a completely overhauled coach-GM dynamic. Lurie not only gave the existing coach, who had mild success, full control over football operations, he left the GM, who had lost a power struggle, in the building.
Roseman was still technically in charge of the salary cap and contract negotiations, but he did very little that offseason. Kelly tried to pin some of his bad contracts on the former GM, but even if Roseman was responsible for giving Maxwell $63 million, he was clearly doing the coach's bidding.
Kelly wanted final say after all. He just didn't seem to want to be held accountable. When the Redskins in the penultimate game of that season embarrassed the Eagles, Kelly played semantics and said that he wasn't the GM, and the only way that his job changed was that he now had control over the offseason roster.
And the generals were just following orders.
Kelly, though, had no problem going where few NFL decision makers go - even after they leave the league - when asked who was responsible for drafting the ill-fated Marcus Smith a year prior.
"Howie had final say on that decision," Kelly said during that March 11 interview.
Roseman has certainly made his fair share of mistakes in personnel. It is, at the end of the day, his job to find the players who will excel in the coaches' schemes and locker room. But there should be little lost in translation when the coach is picking the players for his systems.
Kelly and Marynowitz implemented an integrated approach between the coaching staff and the personnel department in the evaluation process that offseason. Roseman, just recently, admitted that he tried to wear too many hats during his first stint in charge of personnel and that he needed to be more collaborative.
"The way that our meetings are structured now, everybody has an opportunity to speak their mind," Marynowitz said then. "We get everything on the table."
Kelly also took a different approach to predraft visits. While Roseman had conceded before that some of the prospects he brought to the NovaCare were merely meant to throw other teams off, the coach saw the meetings as crucial to assessments.
"Any time you get an exposure, you get a better idea of what they are all about," Kelly said. "And I know some people . . . use them as smoke screens or things like that. We're not into that."
Marynowitz also gave a detailed explanation of the Eagles' new three-step approach to funneling down prospective draftees from 12,000 players to the 150 who were on their board:
Height, weight, speed according to the position.
Position specifics or the critical factors for that position, which is athletic ability to play that specific spot, which is also relative to system and scheme.
Character, attitude, and intelligence.
"Just because a guy is exceptional or deficient in one, it won't preclude us from taking him. But ideally, especially in the upper rounds, you're striving for guys that fit in all three of those," Marynowitz said. "You just don't want to take exceptions."
Kelly was familiar with Agholor having coached against Southern Cal two years earlier. The receiver caught six passes for 182 yards and one touchdown in the game. In three years, the Eagles drafted 10 players whom Kelly had coached, coached against, or tried to recruit in college.
Some scouts and analysts compared the 6-foot, 195-pound Agholor to Jeremy Maclin, who left the Eagles via free agency that offseason. Kelly noted their similarities in size, but he said that Agholor had more versatility inside and out. Agholor didn't have the frame to bulk up as much as Maclin did during his first full offseason.
The Eagles invested much time in getting to know Agholor. Kelly equated his mental approach to that of receiver Jordan Matthews, who was drafted a year earlier.
"I think the great thing about Nelson is he has a growth mind-set and not a fixed mind-set," Kelly said. "He's always trying to get better."
Agholor, though, has struggled with the psychological constraints of playing a marquee position in a large market after being selected in the first round. In terms of his on-field abilities, he has yet to stand out in any particular area.
Kelly traded up five spots to nab cornerback Eric Rowe. He had transitioned from safety to corner in college and would play and start there late in his rookie season. A year later, however, after the coaching change, Rowe failed to ascend the depth chart under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Roseman traded him to the Patriots for a fourth-round pick just before the season. While Rowe would have his ups and downs in New England, he played significantly in the Patriots' Super Bowl victory over the Falcons.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks was taken next in the third round, and many initially panned the selection because of his injury history. But Hicks has easily become the most promising of that class. He made many game-turning plays before an injury sidelined him as a rookie and had arguably a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2016.
The Eagles' third-day choices netted little.
It's unclear how Roseman would have handled the 2015 draft had he still been in command. He was in the "war room" over the course of the three days, "advising" Kelly and his staff.
"He was in there the whole time," Kelly said. "We had our same group in there and a lot of bouncing ideas off of, a lot of trade talks. Do we go here? Go here? What should you ask for, you know?"
Remarkably, a year later, neither Kelly nor Marynowitz was in that room. The former was coaching the 49ers but without a say in personnel, and the latter returned to college to work at Alabama.
And Roseman was back in the head chair making the call that would forever alter the course of the Eagles.
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