Pre Draft (Pre Mariota?)

Some over-excited fans and analysts liken draft morning to Christmas morning. I must have read it twenty times today.  It doesn’t hold that appeal for me. It makes me nervous. Being a long-time Eagles fan is a difficult proposition. You can hope and pray things go your way, but most likely, it won’t. Somehow, though, you try to convince yourself that this is the year, and the future starts now.
Thanksgiving day is a classic example. The Eagles smoked the Cowboys in Dallas in their showcase game, took a stranglehold of the division, and seemingly left their competitors in the dust. The Birds promptly got beaten by Seattle and Dallas in quick succession, all but ending their season.
4 months later? ”This is the year,” “I can feel it,” etc, etc. Holding on to that optimism is all we have.
This draft has plenty of reasons for optimism. For one, the Eagles can address their horrendous secondary. Or maybe they can replace Todd Herramans or Jeremy Maclin at a G or WR. Perhaps they go out of the box, and draft the fabled “Best Available Player,” which never seems to work out. But maybe, just maybe…
They trade their first round picks from this year and next, the Brown’s first round pick by way of Sam Bradford, and a combination of veteran talent (Fletcher Cox {Please no}, Mycheal Kendricks, Vinny Curry) and swing a trade with the Tennessee Titans for the opportunity to select a certain Hawaiian kid who won some silverware over the winter.  This is the single most intriguing aspect of the draft, regardless of team: will the Eagles get to #2 to draft Marcus Mariota?
Two months ago, I’d have told you you were insane, that it would take too much to get from 20 to 2. One month ago, I’d have told you it was a dream deferred, based on the fact they traded too many picks to the Rams to get Sam Bradford. Yet the same draftniks, pundits and “sources” who told the general public point blank there was no way it could happen are suddenly changing their tune. The Eagles are, as of 7:20 PM on draft night, the odds on favorite to select the former Oregon QB. The Bears have emerged as a dark horse in the race, and the Browns have seemingly dropped out (balking at the prices).  This is changing by the minute.
Who am I kidding? This is Christmas morning. Get hyped. This is the most excitement you get as a football fan until September.
Some other draft notes:

-Winston is all but confirmed to go first. But it would be tragically hilarious if the Bucs pulled a fast one and drafted Mariota. Much ado about nothing, then.

-If the Birds stay put at 20, there’s a couple names I like: Byron Jones, DB, UConn,  and Eric Rowe, DB, Utah, being first on the list. These guys will most likely still be on the board, and they fit most of Chip’s qualifications: Versatile, hard working, character guys who fit a need. The Eagles desperately need safety and corner help. I wouldn’t be upset if they went guard or WR instead.

-Where will Todd Gurley land? He’s a generational talent at RB, but has injury problems. Not only that, the value of RBs has fallen off a cliff. Drafting a running back in the first round has fallen out of favor, as the back-by-committee philosophy has become pervasive. He could go anywhere from the Jags at a 3 to falling out of the first round. If any team gets to draft him t the back end of the first, they’re getting a steal. The kid is unbelievable.

Much more draft related stuff later. And yes, I’m aware they probably won’t get Mariota. It’s nice to dream, though.


Kelly Versus Convention


Trade your starting quarterback and running back? Cut two of your longest tenured players? Why not? Chip Kelly is anything but a slave to conventional wisdom.
Is Kelly a lunatic? Maybe. Is Kelly a genius? Perhaps. There’s a good chance he’s both. Chip is the coach, GM, judge, jury and executioner, for better of for worse; and if you’re going to take a chance on a coach with a unique strategy and outlook on the game, there’s no use in going halfway. This Eagles team is going one of two places: the promised land, or the wasteland. There is no in between.
The Eagles have had a “safe,” “successful” coach and front office with Andy Reid and co., that locked up young talent, never overspent, and let go of veterans sooner rather than later. Andy Reid was a good coach.
And how many Super Bowls did being safe and successful bring to Philadelphia?
The only time that regime went out of their way to make bold moves, they overspent on the overrated Nnamdi Asomugha, traded Kevin Kolb for a dog named DRC, and loaded up on mediocre veteran talent with big names (Cullen Jenkins, Vince Young, Ronnie Brown).
Is this a repeat episode? We have no way of knowing until the finished product is on the field. After initial shock and disbelief over the flurry of roster turnover, I’ve come to some conclusions.

Byron Maxwell was overpaid, but necessary.
The Birds desperately needed corner help, and that’s putting it lightly. Cary Williams seemed physically incapable of turning his head and locating the ball. For a press corner, that’s pretty shameful. It’s akin to a point guard who can’t pass or a one-eyed goaltender. And Bradley “Flames” Fletcher? He was quite possibly the worst starting cornerback in NFL history last year, and I say that without the slightest bit of hyperbole.
Billy Davis’ scheme didn’t help, either. The definition of insanity is performing the same action repeatedly and expecting different results. Running press coverage with terrible press corners and no safety help almost every play was a textbook example. How many times did DeSean and Dez Bryant need to emasculate Bradley Fletcher before Davis finally decided give him some help?
Byron Maxwell should be better than the both of them, and he wasn’t going to leave Seattle unless someone offered him a contract well above market value, so I understand the big money being thrown at him. I’m not oblivious to the fact that he played opposite Richard Sherman and that he had the best starting safety combo in the league behind him- but this is a risk the Eagles had to take.
As for who will play over the top of Mr. Maxwell…

Losing out on Devin McCourty could be Crippling
The Eagles and Giants, according to reports, offered the Patriots Safety a boatload of cash to leave New England. He observed the offers on the table, took them back to Foxboro as leverage, and the Patriots gave him similar money to stay put. Chip Kelly was counting on pairing McCourty with Malcolm Jenkins for a formidable safety duo, but his hopes were dashed by the Hoodie.
The domino effect of this may set the Eagles back much further than anticipated. Who is left on the depth chart? Earl Wolff, who Chip seems to dislike as much as he does Brandon Boykin? Now that they didn’t shore up safety in free agency, they’ll have to spend a high draft pick on the position in lieu of addressing other glaring needs, like WR, CB and G.
The lack of depth at these positions, to me, is a self-inflicted wound.

There was No Need to Cut Todd Herremans, and Matching the Offer for Jeremy Maclin should have been a Priority
To reiterate the last sentence of the previous paragraph, cutting Herremans was done in far too much haste. Yes, Herremans is not the same player he was 4 years ago. Yes, he was making a healthy bit of money-  but he was definitely serviceable. Since some of the free agents fell through, they’re left having to shore up the roster much more than initially anticipated, and Guard was not a problem a month ago. Now it is. Factor in Evan Mathis and his dirtbag agent, and the Eagles now are paper-thin at the position.
The only position more shallow on the roster than guard is WR. The Eagles have two second year players and Riley Cooper returning, and nobody of note (Miles Austin is toast) has been added. I have faith in Jordan “Pope” Matthews, and Huff may be a good player, but he needs to learn to hold on to the ball. And I realize how fashionable it is to despise Riley Cooper, but I don’t think he’ll be as ineffective as he was last season. I’m okay with these three- as a 2nd, 3rd and 4th WR.
Which is a problem, because the Eagles no longer have a number 1. Jeremy Maclin has reunited with Big Red in KC with his hometown Chiefs. I realize Maclin was overpaid to play in KC, but I am of the belief the eagles should have sold the farm to keep him. If the Birds didn’t toss aside DeSean Jackson last year, I’d be more amenable to letting Maclin walk, but now there is nobody left. Jordan Matthews will draw a number one corner now, and there will be tons of pressure on Zach Ertz to shoulder the load. This could be a crisis. Think Todd Pinkston/Na Brown/ James Thrash.
Thee money that is now tied up in Ryan Mathews and Miles Austin could have been better spent keeping at least one of the two above.

The Running Back Situation is a Complete Mess, but Will be Incredibly Productive
Of all the intrigue and drama of the Eagles offseason, the transaction that makes the least sense out of all of them is not losing Trent Cole, or trading Shady or Foles.
It’s the Ryan Mathews signing. I cannot fathom the money they spent on Ryan Mathews. There was no reason for it. The true #1 back, Demarco Murray, was going to be signed yet, and Chris Polk and Darren Sproles would have been a wonderful compliment to him.
I just get the feeling they agreed to the Mathews deal, then Murray fell into their laps, and it was too late for Chip to back out of signing Mathews. There’s no logical reason to spend $4M on your backup RB when your new starter was just guaranteed $18M.
Make no mistake, this backfield will be stupendous. Murray will be amazing, at least when he can stay on the field, and his 1-cut style fits Chip’s offense much better than the aforementioned LeSean McCoy. I just think they’re getting far too much money when the Eagles have so many other problems.
One last salute for Shady:

I’ll miss that. There will never be another back like him.

Bradford has the Potential to be Great, but the Acquisition is Puzzling
Before I say anything negative, keep this in mind:
There is a chance Sam Bradford will be an absolute stud. He may show up and throw ropes, command the no huddle like he’s winning the Heisman again at Oklahoma, stand tall in the pocket, make all the right reads and lead the Eagles to the promised land.
Then again, he can tear his ACL and watch the Mark Sanchez/Matt Barkley USC horror show with the rest of us.
I’m not anti-Bradford; in fact, I probably have a higher opinion of him than most. I think he never had any weapons with the Rams, and he’s just scratched the surface of his potential. He was a number 1 overall pick, and personnel guys in the league seem to love him.
I just haven’t seem him on the field enough to be confident in trading away a good young quarterback in Nick Foles, who I think will play a long time in this league. Losing a second round pick is what makes this unconscionable for me. Was Bradford’s value that much higher than Foles’, especially considering his injury-plagued past?
Sam Bradford has a lot to prove, but I’m not burying him until I see the product on the field.

Chip Kelly may be burning the Eagles to the ground, with no plans to stick around if things go south. We constantly hear rumors of him returning to college if his grand experiment in Philadelphia fails. But you don’t hire a visionary and then tell him how to do his job. It would defeat the purpose to have a coach as creative and bold as Kelly and tell him specifically to not do the things that make him unique. If the Eagles wanted conventional, they would have went with another run-of-the-mill assistant coach from a successful team, like Gus Bradley or Todd Bowles. But conventional doesn’t win a lot of Super Bowls. Would you ever accuse Bill Belichick or Pete Carrol of being conventional?
If the Birds are going to roll with Chip Kelly, they may as well go all in.
Draft day is rapidly approaching. Who knows? Chip may stun us all and stay put, draft sensibly and let everyone settle down for a moment.
Just don’t hold your breath waiting for “conventional,” because it sure as hell isn’t coming.