Kelly: Eagles' free-agency moves about fit, not money

Posted: March 17, 2014

ATLANTIC CITY - Spend a couple of months away from Chip Kelly, you forget how fast the man talks.

The Eagles' coach spoke with a gaggle of reporters yesterday evening on the red carpet as he headed into the 77th Maxwell Club banquet, held at the Revel casino, where Kelly received the Greasy Neale Award as pro coach of the year. It was the first meaningful public interaction with Kelly since just after the Eagles' season ended, with a 26-24 NFC wild-card playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints. There were lots of subjects to cover and what turned out to be a little more than 11 minutes in which to cover them, so pretty much what happened was that Kelly would deflect a question with a quip, and then somebody would ask something completely different, no follow-up. A reporter trying to piece together a theme felt a lot like a defensive coordinator trying to get a handle on Kelly's hurry-up offense.

The closest thing to a theme was Kelly defending the Eagles' free-agency approach. Asked why the Birds went for safety Malcolm Jenkins at 3 years and a maximum of $16.25 million, instead of, say, giving Jairus Byrd $54 million over 6 years, as way New Orleans did, upgrading from Jenkins, Kelly said the issue was fit, not cash.

"I don't think price tag has ever been an issue, especially with Mr. Lurie [owner Jeffrey Lurie]. That's not how we talk about things," Kelly said. "It's who fits in terms of what we do on either side of the ball and where do they fit special teams-wise. It's just kind of how we looked at them."

The implication arising from subsequent questioning was that Jenkins, as he told reporters Wednesday at NovaCare, is more than only a deep safety, and the Eagles plan to move him around.

"Malcolm got drafted as a corner, so he's got corner skills, he's got cover skills. When you look at some guys, they're just free safeties. And you look at some guys and they're just strong safeties. We need some versatility. I think when you know you're playing a team and that guy is going to be the deep safety and that guy is going to be the down safety [it's easier to game-plan]. In our scheme, when you play against a guy like Peyton Manning, you better not have the same guy doing the same thing.

"I think he can cover. I think he can play man, because he's got the corner skills. He can also play free safety, because he has range. He'll be down on the box. The one thing we felt about Malcolm all along, for us, that he was the right guy we were looking for because of his versatility. There are some other guys out there who are tremendous football players, but from what Billy [Davis, the defensive coordinator] was looking for and what we were looking for on the defensive side of the ball . . . he was the right fit for us."

Jenkins talked about leadership and knowledge of the game, being able to call signals. Kelly confirmed that was part of what the Birds are seeking from him.

"It's huge. The guy who sets our front is DeMeco [Ryans], our MIKE linebacker. You really need a guy on the back end, to set the back end, and that's where part of the whole deal is, Malcolm's versatility, and to have a guy back there that is a student of the game, that studies it, that puts us in the right thing," Kelly said. "A lot of things we do are based on formation. Billy may well send a play in, but now it depends on what they come out in. So to have a guy back there that's smart, that can recognize it, that if they came out in this, if they're in 'empty,' our automatic check is this, you've got to have a guy back there that's the quarterback of the back end.

"At times, some of the communications parts were some of the breakdowns to some of our bigger plays that were made against us last year, so to add a guy like Malcolm, that was a huge plus for us."

Asked about the Eagles' free-agency objectives, Kelly said: "You have to look at what the market is. There are no objectives . . . You could have pie in the sky, that we want this, this and this, but is it available? And do those guys want to come to your team? Free agency is just additions to your team. I think the best thing we did as an organization is we signed Jason Peters, we signed Jason Kelce, we signed [Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin], Donnie Jones. We signed our good players back, before they got an opportunity to go to free agency, so you look at free agency as a way to complement. We've been here a year now, we still have some holes in terms of being a complete team. You can fill some of them in free agency, but we still have a ways to go."

Asked whether he thinks his defense has improved enough, Kelly said he'll have to see the new guys practice with the old guys, and so on, to get a clear picture.

"The good thing is, we don't have to play now," Kelly said. "Let's get the guys on the field that we've added, get back on the field and get going. How are our guys in what they do in the offseason? There's a ton of them running around the building, working very hard. There's a lot that are away, hopefully working very hard. We'll see. I have no idea. Since the last game we played against the Saints, it's the same thing for me, until we can get on the field and start working with them."

Kelly deftly deflected a question about DeSean Jackson's importance with a joke about reporters' prioritizing one player over another, implying that he does no such thing. He parried a question about the threat of a movement in college football to hobble hurry-up offenses by saying he doesn't worry about things he can't control.

Someone wondered about things being different in Year 2, trying to build on success.

"It's the same thing. It hasn't changed. Can we get better on a daily basis? The little, teeny things that let you become successful on Sundays," Kelly said. "It's not like, all of a sudden it's Year 2, what we told you in Year 1 doesn't count. We're going to go back to square one the first time we meet with our guys, but it's not like introducing 'em that this term means this. We've got guys that you can kind of hit the ground running, so to speak . . . There are new guys that we've added to the puzzle. How do we bring those guys along at the same time? We've got a good start, but it means absolutely nothing. It's truly - it was like that in college and it's that way in the NFL - it's a year-to-year league."

On Twitter: @LesBowen



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