NFL

NFL AM: Philadelphia Eagles Fire Chip Kelly

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Chip Kelly came to the NFL with plans to revolutionize the game, but instead, after three years on the job, he joins the ranks of failed first-time NFL coaches.

The Philadelphia Eagles made that official on Tuesday, firing Kelly just a few days after Philly was eliminated from the playoff race in a 38-24 loss to the Washington Redskins on Saturday night. The loss dropped the Eagles to 6-9, clinching Kelly’s first losing season in Philadelphia after back-to-back 10-win campaigns. It was also enough for the Eagles to cut ties with Kelly a week before the season ended. Offensive coordinator will serve as interim head coach for the season finale against the Giants on Sunday.

Philadelphia Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie reportedly made the decision to release Kelly late Tuesday and informed him of it after most personnel had left the building, denying him the opportunity to address his team a final time. Lurie released a statement on Tuesday night explaining his decision.

“I have made a decision to release Chip Kelly this evening. I spent the last three seasons evaluating the many factors involved in our performance as a team. As I watched this season unfold, I determined that it was time to make a change.”

That change ends a tumultuous three-year tenure for Kelly in the City of Brotherly Love. Kelly came to the Eagles with much acclaim after four wildly successful years as the head coach at the University of Oregon. The start to his NFL coaching career delivered on the hype, as the Eagles won the NFC East in his rookie season. However they coughed up a late lead in their first round game against New Orleans and were ousted from the postseason by the Saints.

Still, after a successful first season, Kelly had some momentum behind him entering his second season as coach and began to leave his imprints on the roster that offseason. Most notably, he was a key piece in the team’s decision to release star wide receiver Desean Jackson. It was the first sign that Kelly was truly planning to build the team in his own image and would part ways with any player who did not see things the way he did.

Despite being dealt key injuries all over their roster in Kelly’s second season, including a broken collarbone suffered by quarterback Nick Foles that forced the team to turn or reserve quarterback Mark Sanchez, the Eagles marched out to a 9-3 mark in 2014. The ninth win was a Thanksgiving Day throttling of the Dallas Cowboys that seemed to set Philly on course for a second straight NFC East title.

However, a December downturn saw Philadelphia lose three of their final four games, including a home loss to Dallas that gave the Cowboys control of the division right back. A Week 16 loss to Washington on Saturday night, not unlike the one they suffered this year, spelled the end of Philadelphia’s hopes for a second straight playoff appearance.

The disappointing end to that season caused Kelly to lobby for more player personnel power, which he was given. He then massively overhauled the roster first by trading Foles to St. Louis for quarterback Sam Bradford and sending star running back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso. Then he opted to let star wide receiver Jeremy Maclin walk, replacing him with first round pick Nelson Agholor. Kelly also went on a free agent spending spree, signing cornerback Byron Maxwell and running backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews.

Those moves did not pay off as expected. The trade for Bradford was probably Kelly’s best move, as Foles has lost his starting job to Case Keenum in St. Louis and Bradford has been good with flashes of great when healthy. Alonso, one of the league’s best linebackers as a rookie in 2013, has struggled after missing all of 2014 with a knee injury. Agholor’s transition to the NFL has been a rough one while Maclin has starred for the playoff-bound Chiefs. Maxwell has been a bust away from the comforts of Seattle’s Legion of Boom, ranking in the bottom half of cornerbacks in the league. Murray, the NFL’s reigning rushing champion, didn’t fit in Kelly’s offense from the start, and it’s become clear the Eagles signed him merely to keep him from re-signing in Dallas. Mathews has been the most effective of the bunch but injuries, as they often do with Mathews, have limited his impact.

With so many moves gone wrong and a team that couldn’t take advantage of a woeful NFC East in 2015 — because they could never put together a consistent string of good performances, ticking up one week before falling back the next, it’s no surprise that Kelly was shown the door in Philly.

The next step for both parties is a big one. Philadelphia has a roster in flux, built by a man who was trying to build a team to fit a very specific system and culture. He leaves with holes all over the roster, a mess that will likely take more than a season to clean up. The Eagles are likely to target a young coach to lead that charge and they don’t get much more qualified than Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who is likely to be the hottest head coaching candidate on the market this winter. Perhaps getting a head start on the rest of the teams that will have openings was the impetus behind Lurie’s decision to cut bait on Kelly a week early. This upcoming decision is a big one for the franchise and the Eagles will have plenty of options on the market.

Kelly is expected to have plenty of suitors too and has expressed interest in continuing to coach at the NFL level instead of returning to the college ranks. The seemingly perfect fit is Tennessee, where the Titans used the No. 2 overall pick last year to select Marcus Mariota, Kelly’s quarterback at Oregon. The question in Tennessee, or anywhere else, will be how much control Kelly seeks and how much he will be afforded. Because Chip having the reins in Philly didn’t work out for him or for the Eagles and other teams should be wary of giving him too much power.

GUS BRADLEY TO STAY ON IN JACKSONVILLE

One place where it appears there won’t be a head coach opening for Kelly, or anyone else for that matter, is Jacksonville.

Jaguars owner Shad Khan released a statement on Tuesday giving Bradley his full support.

“I spoke to Gus Bradley today to confirm to him that he will continue as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016. It’s evident to see how far we’ve come in many aspects of our game, and Gus deserves a lot of credit for that progress,” Khan said. “It’s also evident the considerable work that remains to be done to be where we expect to be at this time next season, which is well above where we stand today. And Gus understands that.”

Jacksonville is in the midst of their fifth straight losing season and their eighth straight season at .500 or worse since they last made the playoffs in 2007. The team hasn’t taken the leap they expected to in their third year under Bradley, who currently owns a 12-35 record as head coach.
But with a win on Sunday they can finish 6-10, which would mark their best season in five years.

More importantly, the Jaguars appear to have the building blocks in place to rise from the ashes in the near future. The Jacksonville offense is loaded with Blake Bortles taking significant steps forward this season and his receiving corps stacked with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and tight end Julius Thomas. Running back T.J. Yeldon also appears to be a key piece, so the Jags simply need to upgrade their offensive line to take the next step as an offense.

On defense, the Jags are more suspect, but there are some pieces to build around there as well, including 2015 first round pick Dante Fowler, who will be returning from injury next season. Jacksonville will need to add to that defense, particularly in the pass rush and on the backend at safety, to take the next step as a franchise, but it’s not hard to see the Jags as a much better team in 2016 with just a few tweaks to the personnel makeup of the roster. With that in mind, it makes sense for the Jags to retain Bradley for one more make-or-break season.

MCCARRON LIKELY TO PLAY DESPITE WRIST INJURY

The Cincinnati Bengals have already clinched a playoff spot, the AFC North title and a Top 3 seed in the AFC playoffs, but they still have one thing left to play for on Sunday and they might be forced to do it with their third string quarterback.

Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron suffered a left wrist injury at the end of Monday night’s loss to the Denver Broncos and a MRI on Tuesday revealed a sprain that could threaten McCarron’s status for Sunday’s game against Baltimore. Cincinnati needs to win that game and have the Broncos lose on Sunday to jump back into the No. 3 spot in the AFC and secure a first round bye. That bye is vitally important for a Bengals team hoping to get their original starting quarterback, Andy Dalton, back from the thumb injury he suffered in Week 14, which forced McCarron into action.

McCarron’s injury occurred on the final play of the game, when the snap went flying past McCarron and he tried, in vain, to fall on the loose ball and save possession for Cincinnati. Instead the Broncos recovered sealing their overtime victory. Meanwhile, McCarron was left in pain after his wrist was injured in the scramble for the loose ball.

“Diving for the football, and it just happened,” McCarron said after the game. “It’s my fault. I told the guys that. The snap caught me a little by surprise. I was looking just to see how they were adjusting to [wide receiver] A.J. [Green] coming in motion, and it just kind of slipped through my hands and hit my rib protector and bounced off. It’s my fault. Simple as that.”

Fortunately for the Bengals, the injury is to McCarron’s non-throwing wrist, so the quarterback said on Tuesday that he expects to suit up for this weekend’s regular season finale against Baltimore. However, it’s worth monitoring to see how the young quarterback makes it through practice this week while dealing with the injury. If McCarron happens to be deemed unable to go, third string quarterback Keith Wenning, who happened to be drafted by the Ravens in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, would likely start against Baltimore. The Bengals also signed quarterback Mike Kafka to their practice squad just in case.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys