What Kelly wants, Eagles will try to get

Posted: September 06, 2014

As fair as it is to critique the disproportionate number of former Oregon players on the Eagles roster, the greater issue isn't a question of "Why?" but "How?"

How did so many ex-Ducks - five on the 53-man roster, two on the practice squad - end up in Philadelphia?

The obvious answer, of course, is Chip Kelly.

But the follow-up is a much trickier question to answer: How did Kelly seemingly gain so much authority over player acquisition when the division of personnel power was billed as a 50-50 split between the new coach and general manager Howie Roseman?

Roseman disputed the notion that Kelly was pulling strings without conferring with the GM and his staff of 16 scouts.

"He lets us make our own evaluations and talk to him about it, and then he gives us his opinion," Roseman said Saturday after the final cuts were made. "He doesn't do anything different than he does for any player from any other school. It's really not fair that he gets hit on some of this stuff when the guys that we're keeping, we're keeping because they're good players and they can contribute to our football team."

As it stands now, the five Oregon players - 25 percent of the former Ducks on NFL rosters - are backups. Wide receiver Josh Huff (third round) and defensive end Taylor Hart (fifth) were two of the Eagles' seven draft picks in May. Defensive end Brandon Bair and receiver Jeff Maehl were acquired last season.

Linebacker Casey Matthews is the only one of 12 former Ducks on the Eagles roster in some form or other who was here before Kelly's arrival. Receiver Will Murphy and nose tackle Wade Keliikipi are on the practice squad.

"I like having good football players," Kelly said last week when asked why he liked having so many Oregon players on his team.

Kelly wouldn't subscribe to the idea that he wanted them because of familiarity or their practice habits.

"The question, to me, is: Does Coach want anything other than to win football games and to have the best players on the team?" Roseman said. "I think there's no question to anyone that's around him that that's his sole function and his sole desire."

Fair enough.

But Kelly certainly would not be the first successful coach to favor his guys. Andy Reid signed his share of former Brigham Young players and ex-Packers. But for every Reno Mahe, there was a Chad Lewis. And the players Reid brought with him from Green Bay usually already had some success in the NFL.

With Reid there was also a clearer definition of roles, especially after GM Tom Modrak left the Eagles. Reid had final say on football matters, although to say that he made every personnel decision would be wrong.

The Eagles had some semblance of a system with checks and balances. Team president Joe Banner was in many ways the middleman between Reid and owner Jeffrey Lurie. Reid reported to Lurie, as Kelly does, but the streamlining of the front office when Banner stepped down meant that either the coach or the GM would have one fewer person in his way if he wanted more control.

Generally, if a winning coach wants more power, he's going to get it. Reid was awarded it after going 11-5 and winning a playoff game in his second season. But Lurie has always eschewed giving one man all the power, which is why Banner and then Roseman also had sway.

Kelly already has final say over the 53-man roster. In July, Lurie said there was nothing to speculation that Kelly's clout had grown significantly during the offseason.

"It's really a team approach. Everyone is humble about it," Lurie said. "Nobody's trying to take responsibility for anything. It's strictly to be better than 31 other teams, you'd better be a really good team. It's just not about one person."

A few coaches have had absolute power. Bill Belichick has ruled the New England Patriots with an iron fist for 15 seasons, which would suggest there are exceptions to the rule that power is not a means, it is an end.

Roseman's job, in part, is to get players who fit Kelly's specifications. And the Eagles have added a handful of players who have met the coach's preference for big and long athletes. Roseman said that Kelly's institutional knowledge of Oregon players has taken "some of the guesswork out" of projecting prospects.

Since Kelly became coach, the Eagles have acquired 28 players who had some link to him, whether he coached them, against them, or tried to recruit them in college. Former Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson drew up a similar drafting blueprint on the way to two Super Bowl titles.

But the three centerpieces of Johnson's first three drafts became future Hall of Famers. Kelly's most prominent move was to discard three-time Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson this offseason. Lurie confirmed that his coach was the driving force behind the decision.

Roseman said he was on board. Some of the other offseason moves were curious, considering some of the Eagles' past reluctance to extend players older than 30. The 32-year-old tackle Jason Peters received a four-year contract extension, and the Eagles traded for and signed 31-year-old running back Darren Sproles to a two-year extension.

The 2014 draft had a flavor similar to the draft of the year before, with the Eagles taking a number of prospects Kelly was familiar with. But Huff and Hart went before many analysts had predicted. Kelly even admitted that Roseman had to talk him out of selecting Hart in the fourth round.

Marcus Smith, a long outside linebacker who met Kelly's preferred measurements, was chosen in the first round before many expected.

The Eagles reached for prospects in the 2010 and 2011 drafts, and the results proved to be disappointing. When Roseman was given more control over the 2012 draft, he kept to the credo of taking the best available talent on the board. While the jury is still out on that class, it already on paper is one of the Eagles' best in years.

The 2013 draft appears to be a solid one, too, without any noticeable leaps of faith in the first five rounds, save perhaps quarterback Matt Barkley. It was the Eagles' first draft with Tom Gamble working under Roseman as his second in command.

The Eagles hired Gamble as vice president of player personnel in February 2013, less than a month after Kelly took the Eagles job. A few months later, Kelly spoke of his relationship with Gamble that stretched back to his days at New Hampshire and continued when he was at Oregon and the senior scout was with the San Francisco 49ers.

Kelly sat between Roseman and Gamble in the draft room. That's about as much information about what goes on in the Eagles draft that has seeped out. In May, Kelly was asked who makes the final decision when he and Roseman can't agree.

"I haven't yet sat there and I want him and he wants him and then, you know, are we going to box for it?" Kelly said. "You know what I mean? It just hasn't gotten there. I think we can sit down and reason with it. But we disagree a lot, and I think that's a good thing.

"This isn't a building of yes men."

But does anyone have the muscle to tell Kelly no?


Six Degrees of Chip Kelly

Of the 88 players the Eagles have acquired since Chip Kelly was named head coach on Jan. 16, 2013, 27 have had some connection to Kelly's days in college, whether at Oregon or New Hampshire. There are likely a few undrafted rookies Kelly knew little about before they were signed, but 14 of the 27 are still on Eagles rosters.

2013

Acquired   How   Player   College   Pos.   Relationship   Verdict

Feb. 14   Free agent   Dennis Dixon   Oregon   QB   Played for   Waived

Mar. 12   Free agent   Patrick Chung   Oregon*   S    Played for   Roster/Waived

Apr. 26   Draft   Zach Ertz   Stanford   TE   Played against   Roster

Apr. 26   Draft   Bennie Logan   LSU   DL   Played against   Roster

Apr. 27   Draft   Matt Barkley   Southern Cal   QB   Played against   Roster

Apr. 27   Draft   Joe Kruger   Utah   DE   Recruited   Injured Reserve/Waived

Apr. 27   Draft   Jordan Poyer   Oregon St.   CB        Played against    Recruited/Waived

Apr. 29   Free agent   Kyle Quinn   Arizona   C   Played against   Waived

Apr. 29   Free agent   Isaac Remmington   Oregon   DL   Played for   Practice squad/Waived

Apr. 29   Free agent   Russell Shepperd   LSU   WR   Played against   Waived

Apr. 29   Free agent   Brad Wing   LSU   P   Played against   Waived

May 13   Free agent   Will Murphy   Oregon   WR   Played for   Practice squad

July 27   Free agent   David Ball   New Hampshire   WR   Played for   Waived

July 29   Free agent   Travis Long      LB   Played against   Practice squad/roster

Aug. 12   Trade   Jeff Maehl   Oregon   WR   Played for   Roster

Sept. 3   Free agent   Keelan Johnson   Arizona State   S   Played against   Practice squad/Roster/Waived

Sept. 4   Free agent   Brandon Bair   Oregon   DE   Played for   Practice squad/Roster

2014

Acquired   How   Player   College   Pos.   Relationship   Verdict

Jan. 7   Free agent   Josh Kaddu   Oregon   LB   Played for   Waived

Mar. 28   Free agent   Mark Sanchez   Southern Cal   QB   Played against   Roster

May 9   Draft   Josh Huff   Oregon   WR   Played for   Roster

May 10   Draft   Taylor Hart   Oregon   DE   Played for   Roster

May 10   Draft   Ed Reynolds   Stanford   S   Played against   Practice squad

May 10   Draft   Beau Allen   Wisconsin   NT   Recruited/Played against    Roster                

May 10   Free agent   Josh Andrews   Oregon State   OL   Played against   Practice squad

May 10   Free agent   Kevin Graf   Southern Cal   OL   Played against   Practice squad

May 10   Free agent   Wade Keliipiki   Oregon   NT   Played for   Practice squad

Aug. 19   Trade   Kenjon Barner   Oregon   RB   Played for   Waived

*Played on Oregon defense when Kelly was offensive coordinator- Jeff McLane


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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