Just in case you weren’t sure if Chip Kelly is in lock step with Howie Roseman’s free-agent philosophy, or if you figured an ultra-competitive guy like Kelly would express his dissatisfaction with the moderate additions to his team, he eliminated any doubt about where he stood.
Kelly, in Atlantic City on Friday night to receive a coaching honor from the Maxwell Club, said he didn’t harbor any visions of the team shopping at Tiffany’s in free agency, doling out millions on guys like Jairus Byrd or Lamarr Houston.
“Nah, I think you have to look at what the market is,” he said. “There’s no (spending) objective I would say. You know you could have pie in the sky, ‘We want this this, this and this,’ but these [guys] are available and do those guys want to come to your team? So I felt like, free agency, I think, is just additions to your team.”
Kelly said the Eagles actually spent heavily in free agency, retaining potential free-agent receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, along with rewarding left tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce with extensions.
Echoing Roseman’s offseason-long sentiment, Kelly downplayed the strategy of filling roster holes with overpriced name value.
“I think the best thing we do is, as an organization we signed Jason Peters, we signed Jason Kelce, we signed Coop, we signed Mac, we signed Donnie Jones, we signed our good players back before they got an opportunity to go to free agency,” he said. “You look at free agency as a way to kind of complement. We’ve been here a year now. You know we still have some holes in terms of being a complete football team, and you can fill some of them in free agency, but it’s, you know, we still have a ways to go.”
So far, the biggest ripple made by the Eagles in the free-agent pool was a three-year, $16.5 million contract for safety Malcolm Jenkins.
Along with signing Jenkins, the Eagles spruced up the secondary with cornerback Nolan Carroll and safety Chris Maragos and added to the front seven with outside linebacker Bryan Braman. Only Jenkins is a lock to start, but Kelly couldn’t drop any hints yet about roles for the others.
“I have no idea,” he said. “We’ve never got those guys on the field. I don’t know what Bryan Braman is. Is he just a special teams player or is he really going to get an opportunity to compete? We liked him on film. How does Chris Maragos fit in? I don’t know.
“Let’s get them out on the field. We’ve got a ways to go. The good thing is we don’t have to play now. It's, [let’s] get those guys on the field that we added, get back on the field, get going.”
It’s no coincidence that Jenkins, Carroll, Braman, Maragos and Darren Sproles have been regulars on special teams throughout their careers. Special teams is one of Kelly’s biggest points of emphasis. Maragos and Braman, in particular, have made their resumes more on special teams than on defense.
That’s another reason Kelly is fond of the team’s free-agent haul. He knows his program requires a certain type of player.
“There were certain guys, I think, that what we do it appeals to, but you’ve got to find the right guys,” he said, “and that’s probably what this process is about, is making sure you find the right fit. Guys like Malcolm, Chris, Byran, Darren -- those guys we felt fit. Part of the process is identifying the right guys, too, so we know we believe they fit what we’re running offensively and defensively, and they were all real intelligent guys, and fortunately for us they felt the same way.”
The Eagles attacked last year’s market with the same mentality, reeling in mid-level free agents who didn’t strangle the team’s cap space. Then, in Kelly’s first season, they went from a 4-12 team to 10-6 and NFC East champions.
With almost everyone back, and some upgrades sprinkled in, Kelly’s team should be positioned to make the postseason again. But the coach cautioned against using history as precedent.
“It means absolutely nothing,” he said. “It’s a year-to-year league. The Atlanta Falcons were 13-3 and on the 10-yard line, I think, in the NFC championship game against the 49ers a year ago, and where most people talked about them being the team you were picking to win the NFC to go to the Super Bowl, and I think they won four games [last year].
“And the year before, in the same season, the Eagles were a four-win team and now they’re a 10-win team. So you know there’s a ton of teams that were in the playoffs one year that were out of the playoffs the next year. So it’s still about playing fundamental football, it’s still about not turning the ball over, It’s still about creating turnovers, it’s about being good in the kicking game. All those things haven’t changed.”