Maxwell, Bradford and Murray, oh my! What is Chip Kelly doing?

Posted: 03/17/2015 by levcohen in Football

A lot has happened to the Eagles since the last time I wrote about them, which was when they traded LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso. Remember that trade? Yeah, it feels like it was ages ago now, and it’s been overshadowed by the moves that followed in Philadelphia. But before I get into all those others moves, I want to re-discuss the McCoy trade after the Bills extended the running back’s contract, making it a five year, $40 million deal with $26 million guaranteed. I said I liked the trade for the Eagles when it happened, but only slightly. Now that the Bills have lost all of the flexibility they had with McCoy by extending him and guaranteeing him tons of money, I like it even more for the Eagles. Now into the other deals.

Byron Maxwell: Everyone knew that the Eagles wanted Byron Maxwell, a cornerback who previously played with the Seattle Seahawks. He has the height and length the Eagles covet at the cornerback position and played in a scheme that is similar to the one that Chip Kelly and Billy Davis run. Perhaps that knowledge around the league hurt the Eagles, because it certainly seems like they overpaid for the corner. They gave him a six year, $63 million deal – with $25 million guaranteed – that immediately vaults him near the top of the list of corners in terms of contracts. That by itself doesn’t look so good. But look at the contracts some other free agent cornerbacks got. I’ll ignore Darrelle Revis, because he’s in another class skill and production-wise. But Chris Culliver got $32 million, $16 million of which are guaranteed. 30-year old Antonio Cromartie got $20 million guaranteed from the Jets. Buster Skrine, who also signed with the Jets (they signed three of the five priciest CBs for $72 million guaranteed combined), had one decent year with the Browns but is probably not much better than average. He got $25 million, half of which is guaranteed. Even Davon House, a backup in Green Bay, got eight figures of guaranteed money. Cornerbacks are just really coveted and pricey in today’s NFL, which puts Maxwell’s deal in perspective. And while I doubt that Byron Maxwell is a top-10 corner or will transform the Eagles’ secondary into a top-five unit by himself, he’s certainly a big upgrade over Bradley Fletcher. He’ll also be rejoined by former Seahawk teammate Walter Thurmond, who, although he is currently listed as a starter, will probably end up as a dime corner or injury replacement. In signing Byron Maxwell, the Eagles used some of what was a boatload of cap room in order to get a clear upgrade at a position of need. They might have overpaid slightly, but this deal made sense.

Sam Bradford-Nick Foles: Talk about a bizarre trade. Put aside, for a moment, the fact that two starting quarterbacks were traded for each other (which never happens). Let’s start with what happened the day of the trade. First, we heard that it was Bradford for Foles with “draft pick compensation” heading each way. Were the Eagles going to get an extra second rounder? Would the teams swap first rounders? Either way, most of the conversation implied that the Eagles would be getting the better of the picks. With the benefit of hindsight, that was probably foolish. Bradford is probably a better quarterback than Foles, whose numbers were inflated by the fact that he played in a very quarterback-friendly offense. Bradford was the #1 overall pick once a upon a time and the Rookie of the Year, and it can be argued that he’d be the Rams’ franchise quarterback had he not torn his ACL twice. It also bears mentioning that Bradford won his ROY with Pat Shurmur, now the Eagles’ Offensive Coordinator, at Offensive Coordinator. But the final details of the trade – a second rounder going to St. Louis with a late round swap thrown in – seem to skew the trade in favor of the Rams. I think this deal was a very good one for the Rams to take. They could well have cut Bradford if they hadn’t found a trade partner, although the news that they were offered a first rounder for him makes that less likely. And they have a QB in Foles who has a lot of promise. The Eagles didn’t get great value, but all will be forgiven if Bradford turns into a keeper at quarterback. His contract (as well as Foles’s) expires after next season, so both teams will have flexibility at the quarterback position. The deal was also notable because it all-but-ruled out Marcus Mariota for the Eagles after it had been rumored for months that they would move up in the draft to snag Chip Kelly’s ex-college quarterback.

DeMarco Murray: The reaction to the DeMarco Murray signing was the opposite of the one to the Shady McCoy trade. The fans who go on gut-feel were saddened by the McCoy trade and thrilled by the Murray signing, while the analytics crew scoffed at the Murray signing and applauded the McCoy trade. Again, I’m going to end up in the middle here. When you look at it as trading McCoy for Murray and Alonso, it looks pretty darn good, because, depending on how you feel about the two running backs, it’s just picking up a young and promising linebacker for free. But when you look at this Murray signing and compare it to the other contracts running backs get, it’s hard to be as on board. Murray was given $21 million guaranteed over five years. Meanwhile, Justin Forsett, who was so good last year, got $3 million guaranteed. Shane Vereen got less than $5 million guaranteed. In fact, Murray got more than twice as much money, both total and guaranteed, as any other running back. Given the trend away from giving RBs big contracts, it’s worrying, especially after Murray carried the ball way too many times last year and has an injury history. It’s even more puzzling that the Eagles made this move after explaining the McCoy trade as a cap-shedding move. The Eagles also signed Ryan Mathews to an eight figure deal, $5 million of which is guaranteed. That’s pretty pricey for a backup running back, and the Eagles are now paying way more for their backfield (Murray, Mathews, Darren Sproles) than any other team. That backfield looks pretty good, and it’d better be, because the Murray and Mathews deals are puzzling salary-wise.

So the Eagles are left with Bradford at quarterback, the expensive backfield, and Jordan Matthews at wide receiver (with more help likely to come in the draft). The offensive line is still good (as long as Evan Mathis isn’t traded. And I really hope he isn’t traded, because he’s really good) and Zach Ertz should continue to develop at tight end. The defense is also improved, with Maxwell joining the secondary, Alonso joining the linebacker corps and Brandon Graham returning at outside linebacker. There’s still work to do (guard, safety, corner, wide receiver), which is why it might not have been the smartest idea to spend all that money on running backs. But while I don’t agree with everything the Eagles have done, I won’t bash Kelly. This team still looks pretty good, and Kelly is almost certainly not finished. Check back again come preseason and see where this team stands.

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