Chip Kelly Update: Rebuilding the Roster

Todd Herremans

This is the silly season, from the end of the Combine to the end of the official NFL “year.” On March 10 we start all over again, teams have to fit under the salary cap and free agency opens. Until that date there will be no news, aside from the release of some expensive veterans, and no one will be available for comment.

So we’ll see the annual peak of BS and bloviation, as we supposed media experts speculate and guess and desperately try to stir up controversy to hide the fact that there isn’t much to say. So I’m going to try to keep this short and factual. We’ll know more in a couple of weeks.

So far, the Eagles have released long time starting guard Todd Herremans and James Casey, the No. 3 tight end who was a big part of the special teams unit’s success. Both are great players and great teammates, high character guys who it will be sad to lose. But in both cases, moving on makes good sense.

James Casey in his Houston days

by Logan B. King

James Casey in his Houston days

The Birds signed Casey as a free agent soon after Chip Kelly took over as coach, at $4 million a year, and he was a perfect pickup, versatile, professional and great on special teams. What the Eagles didn’t know is that Stanford TE Zach Ertz would fall to them in the second round, taking away most of Casey’s snaps in the regular offense. He’s been great at everything he’s been asked to do, but $4 million is a lot of money for a special teams ace who only had three targets in the regular offense last year.

To his credit, Casey caught all three passes, netting three first downs and two TDs, which is excellent productivity. I sometimes wonder why players don’t prefer situations like this, playing sparingly for a great team while earning millions. It seems like a pretty sweet deal, extending your career and minimizing injury risk.

But after six NFL seasons playing sparingly at a high level, the 30-year-old wants to play more and make his mark. He has never had more than 330 yards receiving in a season, and totalled only 90 in two years in Philly. He is great value for another team that needs a No. 1 or No. 2 TE, and I have no doubt he’ll get his snaps somewhere this year.

He may not become the great NFL star tight end he hopes to be, but you can’t blame him for trying. Chip Kelly seems to genuinely want players to have their best shots at succeeding, even on a different team, and this early release gives Casey maximum free agent visibility. He has already set up visits with the Bengals, Broncos, Titans, Browns, and Cardinals.

Todd Herremans kicking butt

from video (SI.com)

Todd Herremans kicking butt

Herremans has played for the Eagles (and no one else) since he entered the league in 2005. He has been tough and versatile, adapting to zone blocking and Chip Kelly’s read option scheme seamlessly while playing every line position except center.

Being the weakest link on this OL is no shame, not when you’re alongside the No. 4 overall pick in 2013, Lane Johnson, and Pro Bowl-ers Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, and Evan Mathis. But Herremans is 32 and was declining the last couple of years even before he tore his biceps muscle in game eight last year.

Versatile rookie Trey Burton will replace Casey on special teams and in the offense. Allen Barbre, who missed most of 2014 after ankle surgery, would replace Herremans if they played tomorrow, but he’s 31 himself and has only started a couple games in his seven NFL seasons. The Eagles need several new offensive lineman to back up and eventually replace Peters (34) and Mathis (33) as well as the ToddFather. They’ll look for multiple OL pickups in free agency and the draft.

Allen Barbre

By Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Allen Barbre

At the combine, Oregon players did well, which is not good news for the Eagles. Marcus Mariota was great in his athletic drills and interviews, making it extremely unlikely he’ll drop to a pick where the Eagles could trade for him. And Jake Fisher was great too, with the second fastest 40-yard dash and best 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone drill. That means he probably won’t be around when the Eagles pick in the second round, and a first round slot seems like a stretch.

There’s a ton of speculation that with Chip in charge now, the Eagles will trade the farm to get Mariota and overdraft Ducks like Fisher and Hroniss Grasu. But what we know for sure is that they are stockpiling money for signing free agents like Eagle Brandon Graham and Seahawk CB Byron Maxwell, who are perfect fits for the Birds.

One of my worries about Chip Kelly taking full control over players is that he might find it hard to release hard working, good character guys like Casey and Herremans. So even though I’m sad to see them go, it’s a good sign that Chip could make those hard decisions.

Top photo from video

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Mark Saltveit

Mark Saltveit

Mark Saltveit's newest book is "Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly's Football Revolution" (Diversion Books, NY) has been recently released. He is the author of "The Tao of Chip Kelly" (2013) and writes on science, religion, wordplay and political scandals. He is also a standup comedian and the world palindrome champion.

  • MAITAIDUCK

    I just don’t think Chip will Sale the Farm to aquire Marcus! Even though he’d be the best QB in Chips system by running it’s a catch 22 because Marcus is definitely a better fit than Nic but everybody is fast on Defense as well as the risk of Marcus getting hurt running the Ball. They also HIT a lot harder in the BIG BOY’S League so I doubt Chip will move up that much to aquire Mariota. I hope Marcus goes to Tampa with the 1st pick because this will bode well for QB Recruiting and higher rated guy’s playing the position.

    • Mark Saltveit

      I think Mariota would really risk injury at Tampa Bay. The Eagles front line is the best he’s ever going to get protecting him. And he shows pretty good sense about sliding to avoid hits.

      The rumors floating around have convinced me this is actually something that might happen, and that the price can be made reasonable by including players as well as draft picks. But there’s a lot that has to go right for this to work.

      I don’t think Chip will sell the farm. And anyway, who wants a farm?

      • hokieduck

        I have heard of the Eagles trading up to four with the Raiders to get Marcus, if he is there. That seems to me to be about the only scenario (or maybe five/Washington who will not take another dual threat style QB with a first round pick, I am thinking).

        While I have never thought it a chance that Chip would trade up for Marcus (it would take too much), it is interesting to think that there is a shot, small but there. How much would I love it if I got to cheer for both Marcus and Chip on the same team!!! I would love to see Bruce Arians face when the “nice college offense” blew him the hell up with those two back together!

        Go Ducks! Go Eagles!

    • JC

      I think there is no doubt Chip Kelly will trade the proverbial farm to get Marcus. How could he not?
      — Fact #1: The NFL is a QB league. Get your guy, and you’re set. Brady, Wilson, Rogers, the Mannings, Brees….10 years worth of Superbowls, and it’s been the same guys left standing in February year after year. Meanwhile Russell Wilson has shown running QBs with smarts can win it all and have a ton of success (yes yes, legion of boom notwithstanding) and others like Kapernick, have shown promise. Whether their running or in the pocket, it’s a QB’s league.

      — Fact #2: Chip’s system works and can win in the NFL. Oregon is now a powerhouse thanks almost exclusively to Chip’s system in barely 6 years, the Ducks have gone from unknowns to perennial cfb powerhouse. And in 2 years in the NFL Chip has shown plenty of success, in spite of subpar personnel and glaring holes at key positions, including QB and the mirror position, CB.

      Put those two facts together, and the reality of Chip Kelly’s favorite-player-I-ever-coached-and-predicted-would-win-the-heisman Mariota declaring for the draft and what do you have?
      A perfect storm. Marcus can run chip’s offense in his sleep.

  • ben

    Çhip Kelly keeps his powder dry as he approaches the free agent period. All is criticism and conjecture as his silence is not breezed by talk.
    I Trust his plan is well researched and includes winning. He knows what he is about to do.