Chip Kelly making right moves to rebuild Eagles defense

Posted: March 17, 2013

When he looked at the team he inherited from Ray Rhodes in 1999, Andy Reid was appalled by the lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball.

"The cupboard was bare," he said a few years later, after restocking well enough to make the Eagles a perennial playoff team.

Lo these many years later, Chip Kelly has begun trying to rebuild the team he inherited from Reid. This time, the cupboard was bare on the defensive side, and Kelly has already gone about addressing that.

That first offseason, Reid simply had to add inventory: wide receivers Torrance Small and Charles Johnson, offensive linemen Lonnie Palelei and Jeff Dellenbach, tight end Luther Broughton, and stopgap quarterback Doug Pederson. They weren't necessarily the players who would make up a championship-caliber roster, but they were capable enough to begin the turnaround.

Just as important, Reid cleared the way by jettisoning many of the players whose fingerprints were on that 3-13 season: Charlie Garner and Irving Fryar, Richard Cooper and Ian Beckles, Bobby Hoying and Jason Dunn.

Oh, and one other thing: Reid invested the second pick in the draft in a quarterback. That may prove the biggest similarity of all.

And that's what the Eagles went about doing in the first week of free agency. They cleared out the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. Then they added seven players (plus one on offense). None of them are household names. None of them come to town with the hype or expectations attached to Asomugha two years ago.

They aren't moves designed to put the Eagles over the top. They are moves designed to make the Eagles defense competent, and that's a fine place to start.

With a few sweeps of the broom and strokes of the pen, general manager Howie Roseman basically installed a new secondary. Cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams and safeties Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung don't have Asomugha's Pro Bowl pedigree. But they have enough experience and upside to give new defensive coordinator Bill Davis something to work with.

Can Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, or Colt Anderson stick? Maybe, but now they will have to beat out legitimate NFL players. They won't be starters because they're the only safeties on the roster.

In some ways, linebacker Jason Phillips was the most revealing acquisition of the bunch. He may work his way into a rotation, especially if the Eagles wind up in a 3-4 alignment most of the time. But he's really here because he can play special teams.

Phillips is the kind of quality depth guy - a capable backup who can elevate kicking teams - the Eagles failed to keep in stock over the past couple of years. That penny-wise approach kept them millions under the salary cap, but led to foolish poundings on the field every week.

Now the Eagles have cap space the other way around. They got rid of big bucks players like Asomugha and cut quarterback Michael Vick's salary. There is flexibility now to spread the money among the kind of good, solid players that make up a winning roster.

To become a great team, the Eagles eventually will have to pay a few superstars - especially at quarterback. Nothing Roseman and Kelly did so far will prevent them from doing what it takes to go from good to great. Ultimately, that is going to mean identifying their quarterback.

The other intriguing development last week was the visit paid by Roseman, Kelly, and Jeff Lurie - really, everyone except Swoop - to West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. Until then, it had been assumed the Eagles would use the No. 4 pick in next month's draft anywhere but at quarterback.

Now? Well, it's simple. If Kelly came away believing Smith can be a winning quarterback in the offense he wants to run, the Eagles have to draft him. There is no other reasonable choice. Again, because it's key, this assumes Kelly saw what he needed to see.

That was the really important lesson from last time around. Reid held the No. 2 pick and knew he was taking a quarterback. It was only a matter of choosing Donovan McNabb from the rest of the class.

If he's going to win here, Kelly has to find his quarterback. It is the one thing that makes all these other moves add up to something.

Contact Phil Sheridan at Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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