Chip Kelly Update: Redemption and a Power Struggle

After a soul-crushing three-game losing streak that knocked them out of the playoffs, the Philadelphia Eagles salvaged a bit of respect by beating the New York Giants 34-26 in the season’s final game, despite Odell Beckham Jr.’s best efforts. The rookie phenom tied Michael Irvin as the only other NFL player to get 90+ yards nine games in a row, ever, and hauled in 185 yards on 12 carries. But Philadelphia returned to early season form with special team points — a blocked punt returned for a touchdown by Trey Burton — and a game-clinching interception by Nate Allen.

It was a mark of mental strength, gutting out a tough division rivalry game between two teams “playing for nothing” (meaning they were unable to make the playoffs, and poised to draft higher if they lost). Chip Kelly does not get caught up in mental games about losing strategically to rest players, develop rookies or move up in the draft. He stays simple and focused on winning. Why? Because winning (like losing) is a habit.

Howie Roseman explaining himself last year

from video (philadelphiaeagles.com)

Howie Roseman explaining himself last year

Then the drama began. On Wednesday, just three days after the season ended, the Eagles “parted ways with” Tom Gamble, their Vice President of Player Personnel. This led to a lot of media speculation about a bureaucratic showdown between Kelly and General Manager Howie Roseman. (Buckle up, this gets complicated.)

Roseman was actually the one who hired Gamble, the San Francisco 49ers Director of Player Personnel, whose father Harry — a former Eagles GM — was an elderly and ailing resident of nearby New Jersey. But Gamble was seen as Chip’s buddy, especially after they took off together on the day of final roster cuts last August to scout the Navy – Ohio State game. (Chip Kelly is an old friend of Ohio State’s coach Urban Meyer.)

Like Kelly, Gamble is “a football guy.” Roseman is not. He has never played or coached the game, and some football guys will always look down on him as a result. Various scribes — led by Jeff McLane, one of the two Philadelphia Inquirer beat reporters, whose Twitter image is a drawing of Chip as a crazy Napolean — construed this as an epic internal battle, Chip Kelly vs. Howie Roseman.

There were all sorts of dramatic interpretations. Gamble was actually fired! “My understanding is that” he was escorted out of the building by security! Roseman has gotten several Eagles executives — all “football guys” — fired! Even — and I’m not making this up — “[Owner] Jeffrey [Lurie] sees Howie as a messiah.”

Well! No surprise then that people were speculating that Chip Kelly was bound to leave the Eagles. Etc. etc. etc. Except for one little detail.

Two days later, on Friday, the Eagles announced “a structural change” that messed up all this fine media speculation. Basically, Roseman was kicked upstairs — no longer GM — and Kelly was given full control of picking players. The team’s official statement said:

Howie Roseman will be elevated to the role of Executive Vice President of Football Operations and will continue directing contract negotiations, salary cap management, and NFL strategic matters, while overseeing the team’s medical staff, equipment staff and more.

Head coach Chip Kelly will now oversee the player personnel department. He will also lead efforts to hire a new personnel executive — a process that will begin immediately.

Cue record scratch noise. The narrative is now suddenly switched. Chip’s triumphant, and Roseman may be leaving.

 

So what do we know for sure? Very little. Was Gamble fired, or did he want to get a GM job at a different team? His ailing father passed away last spring, so he no longer has a special reason to stay in Philadelphia.

Was Gamble really escorted out of the building? Lew Bowen broke the scoop, but his phrasing — “My understanding is…” — is hedged. In any case, escorting out is standard corporate practice these days, not that big a deal. And apparently Lurie doesn’t think Roseman is the Messiah after all, or he’d still be in charge of finding players.

Jeffrey Lurie was disappointed Eagles missed the playoffs

from video (philadelphiaeagles.com)

Jeffrey Lurie was disappointed Eagles missed the playoffs.

As for Chip, who knows? This is the truest thing Jeff McLane may ever have said, a lesson he learned the hard way last year when McLane reported that the Eagles would never release DeSean Jackson — just three weeks before they did:

This much is certain: Chip is in charge of the team now. He owns the process, which gives him full responsibility as well as full power.

It’s too early to be completely sure, but the 2014 draft — which Kelly controlled by his own account — does not look like a big success. Jordan Matthews was a great second round pick, and Josh Huff shows potential as well as rookie mistakes typical of a third round selection. Beau Allen was great value as a 7th rounder who rotated in at nose tackle.

But the rest have basically been worthless so far. First round pick Marcus Smith II and 4th rounder Jaylen Watkins barely played. Oregon DE Taylor Hart was inactive for all 16 games, stuck behind a surprisingly strong defensive line that included his college mentor at Oregon, 30-year-old rookie Brandon Bair. 6th rounder Ed Reynolds didn’t even make the roster. (He’s stuck on the practice squad.)

There was some ambiguity over who made those picks, but there won’t be any going forward. Chip Kelly signed a five year contract, and is free to run the team as he likes — for the three remaining seasons. But if the team doesn’t start winning playoff games, that’s all he will get.

Meanwhile, the team Kelly built in Oregon continues to play great football with the players Chip recruited. The Ducks destroyed national champion Florida State, as you know, and give Philadelphia a blueprint for future success. By this time in 2018, they’ll be a Super Bowl contender — or Chip will be looking for a new job.

Top photo: from video, courtesy of philadelphiaeagles.com

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