“Does Kelly remind you of you, 25 years ago?” I asked Johnson the other day.
“Well, in some ways,” Johnson said. “I really like what I have seen out of Chip Kelly. Chip called me and we visited a couple times, and what I heard from him, I liked. No one can say from the outside—right moves, wrong moves. You gotta let ’em play out. You won’t know until you see the results. I felt I was right when I did the things I did, but who knew? I traded away my starting quarterback, Steve Pelluer, to Kansas City. The leading receiver, I don’t remember his name [it was Ray Alexander] we got rid of. I talked to Danny White, and he retired. Then I traded Herschel Walker. You can’t be afraid to make moves. Chip’s not. So some of it is similar. But there is one big difference: We were the worst team in the league two years in a row [1988, 1989]. People were ready for a big change.
“The similarities? We’re both confident, both competent, both know how to win. We talked after he got the new responsibilities this year. I just said, ‘Go with people you believe in, and go with players who fit your personality and fit your system.’ I have talked to Bill Belichick about this too. Certain players are going to be successful in his system and not in others.”
“Well, with Bradford, the biggest concern I have, and the thing that concerned me with some players that I got burned on, is the injury factor. I remember I traded for [former University of Miami running back] Alonzo Highsmith, because I had great memories, and I did it against my doctor’s recommendations, and he wasn’t the same. So that’s my biggest concern, the health. I love Bradford, but is he gonna be on the field? But if he plays, I like him. Foles, his accuracy was a question. Bradford’s better at that, and it’s not even a questions if he’s healthy. I think Chip looked at Foles as not his guy.”
I asked Johnson if he got a sense in his talks with Kelly that he was going to be active in remaking his roster this off-season.
“Oh yeah,” Johnson said. “The last conversation was over an hour, going over everything. He was loading his guns.”
As much as I hate Jimmy from the Cowboys days, I am glad Chip talked to him. Johnson did a phenomenal job at taking over a team and building them the way he wanted. He took a ton of criticism for many of his moves and had to fight a constant battle for a couple of years with the notion that he was in over his head.
Johnson’s ideas worked and helped shape the game of football in the 1990’s.
Kelly’s ideas have worked to a certain extent, but he has yet to get the team just the way he wants it. One of the problems with inheriting talent is that it can cause you to change your ideas. Had Kelly taken over a bad team, he’d have built it his way from Day One. He saw the talent the Eagles had and tried to build the group to “win now”. After a couple of solid years, Kelly decided solid isn’t good enough and decided to build the team the way he wants it. That meant anything was possible and just about every player was available.
This offseason has been pretty wild so far. And it sounds like Kelly has more moves to make.
What we’re unclear on is whether the offer was made to the Rams or Eagles. Why would the Rams turn down such an offer? Jeff Fisher must believe Nick Foles can be the right guy for that team.
I know some people think Bradford is still trade material, but everything I’ve heard is that he’s here to stay. The Eagles would like to sign him to an extension, but that’s tricky. There isn’t much incentive for Bradford to do an extension right now. Play out the season and hit the market as a free agent next March. A good showing could make him a lot of money.
If he gets hurt or struggles, he can sign cheap for a year with someone and try again in March 2017.
* * * * *
Sources with the Eagles say they are trying to trade Matt Barkley. If he is traded, I'm told there's an "80% chance" they'll sign Tim Tebow
This doesn’t make much sense. As Sheil Kapadia and Jeff McLane already pointed out on Twitter today, the roster limit is 90. If the Eagles want Tebow, they can sign him. Has nothing to do with Barkley…for now. They could be connected in September when there is a roster limit. For now, the Eagles could keep both if they wanted.
We’ll see what happens.
As for trading Barkley, it would be great to get anything for him. I’m guessing he gets released eventually. Barkley hasn’t panned out. I think teams know the Eagles will have to cut him so why trade anything, even a 7th round pick, for him?
All it takes is one team to either like him or to be desperate enough to take a chance. I doubt that happens, but I’ll certainly be hoping it does.
Enough Tebow talk. Let’s get back to Sam Bradford.
Trying to assess just what kind of a player Bradford is…well that’s a difficult task. On the one hand, he was the #1 overall pick in 2010. You don’t go that high by accident. At the same time, Bradford has never been anything special in the NFL. He hasn’t been anything close to a Top 10 QB.
So what is he?
Just because you go #1 overall doesn’t mean you are an elite, franchise player. Let’s rate the last 10 QBs to go #1 overall. Forget NFL performance. We’re basing this on how they looked coming out of college. Here they are by year.
2012 – Andrew Luck
2011 – Cam Newton
2010 – Sam Bradford
2009 – Matt Stafford
2007 – JaMarcus Russell
2005 – Alex Smith
2004 – Eli Manning
2003 – Carson Palmer
2002 – David Carr
2001 – Michael Vick
Now let’s rank them.
1 – Andrew Luck
2 – Cam Newton
3 – Michael Vick
4 – Carson Palmer
5 – Eli Manning
6 – JaMarcus Russell
7 – Sam Bradford
8 – Matt Stafford
9 – Alex Smith
10- David Carr
I’ve broken the players down into groupings.
Bradford was a great player at OU, but he wasn’t on the same level as the guys ahead of him. Luck is as close to a perfect QB prospect as you’re going to get. Newton put Auburn on his back and carried them to a national title. He dominated the SEC in a way I’ve never seen. Vick was the freakiest freak I’ve ever seen in college. These guys could carry a team on their own.
Bradford led a dynamic offense, but he needed the right pieces around him. He had a strong OL. He had a terrific run game. He had a trio of outstanding college WRs. He had a great TE. Bradford also had a system that took advantage of his skills and the players around him. In the right situation, he was a great player.
With the Rams, Bradford never had the right pieces around him. That limited how good he could be. Steve Young began his career in Tampa. Not many people remember that. Technically he began in the USFL, but his first NFL team was the Bucs. The bad Bucs. Young went 3-16 as a starter. He threw 11 TDs and 21 INTs. He completed 53 percent of his passes. Not good. Bill Walsh acquired him and Young became an elite player for SF.
I do not think Bradford is magically going to become an elite player. I would love for that to happen, but it is extremely unlikely. A more realistic goal, although still not with great odds, would be for Bradford to become a good NFL starter (performance + durability).
I do think Bradford’s best chance for NFL success is playing for the Eagles. He’ll have Chip Kelly’s scheme to help him. He’ll have a good OL. The Eagles will run the ball early and often. While one WR spot remains a mystery, Bradford will have Matthews, Huff, Cooper, Celek, Ertz and Sproles to throw the ball to. For a bit of perspective, Rams WRs last year had 9 TD catches…one more than Matthews in his rookie year. Bradford wasn’t the QB, but that should give you an idea of the talent around him.
Why Bradford over Foles? Bradford at his best is better than Foles at his best. Forget about the 2013 stats, we’re talking about actual performance. Foles doesn’t have the same kind of arm or accuracy. He doesn’t throw as well from the pocket or on the move. We do know Foles can thrive in this offense with the right guys around him. Kelly obviously thinks Bradford can do even better, but that is a projection. That’s the risk.
We talk a lot about durability in regard to Bradford and that’s a legitimate concern. But Foles has gotten hurt and missed at least one start in each of his 3 years. One of my concerns with committing to Foles long term was going to be his durability. Bradford has missed more time, but neither guy stays on the field enough. No matter who you went with, it was going to be critical to have a reliable backup.
Some of you are still stuck on what you think of this move…what I think of this move. I’m more interested in trying to understand the thinking. Chip Kelly spent a lot of time checking Bradford out and then made the decision to deal for him. We all have questions and/or doubts in regard to Bradford, but Kelly making this choice has to mean something…right? We’re talking about an offensive guru. This is the guy Jon Gruden went to go see to learn offense. This is the guy Urban Meyer went to go see to learn offense.
You and I can look at Bradford’s stats. We might have watched a game or two. But Chip freakin’ Kelly studied him at length and said “Let’s get him”. That doesn’t mean the move will work, but it should lessen your doubt/anger and make you wonder how Kelly came to this decision.
Fran’s piece breaks down QB play and shows the key traits that Bradford displayed as QB for the Rams. He also shows some plays the Eagles run and how Bradford ran similar or the same plays successfully with the Rams.
You should come away from that piece thinking Bradford is a more talented QB than you realized, that he fits what the Eagles do and that we’re lucky to have Fran put things like this together for us.
Bradford isn’t going to come here and turn into Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers or whoever, but he can become a good starting QB. He can thrive in this offense. He can be an upgrade at the most important position on the team. There is risk with this move, but there is also more potential than some want to realize.
This would make the notion of working Tebow out highly confusing. But there is a difference in building your team around Tebow and having him as the #3 QB. Maybe Kelly feels it would be worth it to have him on the roster in a limited role.
Kelly could turn around and cut Tebow if the Eagles were to find a QB they like in the draft, whether that is Marcus Mariota early or a developmental player late. I can’t imagine Tebow would get anything above the minimum and there wouldn’t be any bonus money. The minute you found a better option, you could cut him.
Of course all of this discussion is moot if the Eagles keep Barkley or if Tebow had a bad workout. Either one would be fine with me.
Just when you think a strange offseason can’t get any stranger…
I can only assume the Eagles will be signing Reno Mahe to help with RB depth and Sean Considine will be starting alongside Malcolm Jenkins.
Or maybe…just maybe…the ultimate fantasy will come true and Brian Urlacher will become an Eagle.
In my PE.com column, I focused on Bradford’s intelligence. I think that is the number one thing Chip Kelly wants in a QB…brains. For the up-tempo offense to be at its best, you need a good decision-maker and someone that thinks very quickly. The sooner the ball gets out, the better. Hurry, hurry, hurry.
From the beginning, Bradford was an eager student.
“He wants to learn, so he’s very willing to listen,” Curl said. “This is important to Sam; he’s a proud individual. And because of that he spends the time and does what’s necessary in order to, down the road, become the player that he wants to be.”
Curl started at the bottom, literally. Because Bradford played mostly in the shotgun formation at OU, his footwork needed to be refined so that he could take snaps from under center, drop back smoothly and deliver passes using the proper technique.
“You start from his feet and work up,” Curl said. “It was all about getting the feet in the proper position, the idea of shuffling forward — is it two shuffles, is it one shuffle, or do you slide sideways? And then through your hips all the way up.”
Curl continually preaches fundamentals.
“I know he gets tired of me saying it all the time, some of the stuff,” Curl said. “But I just constantly talk to him about his balance, get your feet in position, where’s your toe, where’s your knee, where’s your belly button going, is your back hip coming through?
“It’s just all those little things. And he’s pretty good. … The kid is just a worker.”
That’s the easy part, Curl stressed.
“The mental part in the NFL for a young quarterback is the toughest thing, because there are so many things being thrown at you,” he said. “Every week it’s something different: a different blitz, a different look, all of sudden they want to do this, they want to do that.”
Curl and Bradford spend hours at Rams Park dissecting film together. During games, they huddle between possessions, reviewing the previous series and preparing for the next.
“He gets it; he understands what has to be done to get to where he wants to get to,” said Curl, adding that Bradford’s comprehension is aided by a healthy skepticism.
“I call it ‘the Bradford look,'” Curl said. “Every once in a while I’ll say something and he’ll give me that look. I’ll say, ‘Sam, no, no, no. Don’t give me that look.’ He’s going to test you a little bit, in a good way, to make sure it makes sense. He’s very smart that way.”
Doesn’t that sound just like someone Chip Kelly would love?
The December morning after Sam Bradford returned to campus from New York, a Heisman Trophy in tow, he stopped by to chat with associate athletic director Gerald Gurney, who runs OU’s student life center and academic services.
Bradford’s first question was how his offensive line did academically. Did Bradford need to talk to anyone?
A picture of leadership. Yes, a quarterback is expected to command the huddle and walk tall in the locker room and keep his nose clean. But a quarterback who plays truant officer and academic monitor is working overtime.
“He’ll go and drag ’em in here,” Gurney said. “His teammates, if they’re not doing something correctly, he’ll personally make sure they’re handling their responsibilities.”
Teams that self-police are priceless to their coaches. More than 30 years after the Selmons’ era at OU, stories of their leadership still ring around the program. Lucious standing up on a rowdy bus and ordering his teammates to put on their game faces. Lee Roy and Dewey quietly taking a malcontent to the bus station, letting him know his services no longer were needed.
Bradford has taken on such a role, a guy who not only takes care of his own business but looks out for his teammates.
“I just kind of try to lead by example,” Bradford said, downplaying his actions. “I value my education. When guys see that, they may take their schoolwork more seriously.”
Bradford values his education all right. He’s scheduled to graduate in 3 1/2 years with a finance degree; he’s made one grade less than an A, a B in Calculus II.
That is the kind of leadership any coach would love, but it fits in perfectly with Kelly and his desire to establish the right culture. Not only does Bradford do the right thing, he wants to make sure everyone else does the right thing.
Sam was a great player at Oklahoma. He won the Heisman Trophy. He led them to the national title game. He helped them set an NCAA record by scoring 60 or more points in 4 straight games. That is one of the greatest offenses that I’ve ever seen in college.
Watch these OU highlights and you can see what a good fit Bradford is for Kelly’s offense.
He is at home playing from the shotgun. Bradford can make quick throws. He is very good at getting the ball out to receivers close to the line of scrimmage. Those quick routes can require unique footwork and arm angles. Bradford can throw from a variety of platforms.
Onto the NFL.
Here is an interesting video of Bradford wired for a game.
He comes off to me as a natural leader. I think that is hugely important for a QB.
And now a video a few of you have already likely seen. Some Rams fan put together all of Bradford’s throws over 15 yards from a certain period.
The number one thing that jumps out at me is pocket presence. Bradford stays locked in on his receivers, even when rushers get near him. One of Nick Foles issues was dealing with pressure. He would do that well at times, but other times drifted backward, which led to problems. Bradford’s instinct is to move up in the pocket. You can tell he’s been well-coached and he listened.
The other thing that stood out to me…Chip Kelly must be one phenomenal play-caller. We’re used to seeing Eagles players wide open at least a few times a game. Guys are covered for this entire video. Even play-action passes aren’t freeing anyone up.
And Bradford’s skill players were very unimpressive. A couple of WRs made circus catches, but there were also drops and guys falling down while running routes. You don’t see anything special.
Bradford does make some bad throws, but I think you can see his talent. He has a good arm. He can make some really impressive throws.
If you don’t want to watch that whole video, check out this one highlight from it.
I'm watching some Sam Bradford today, and came across a gorgeous throw and catch over Cary Williams: https://t.co/gGsYBOwx27
Jeff Lurie hired Chip Kelly in January of 2013 to bring his ideas to the NFL. Kelly was a visionary coach at Oregon and led that school to the forefront of college football. Lurie didn’t want to hire just any coach. He wanted somebody unique. He wanted to take a chance on greatness.
Chip delivered good results in 2013 and 2014. His coaching methods and ideas are slowly spreading around the NFL. But the Eagles were still lacking something. Lurie decided that in order for Chip to fulfill his vision, Kelly would need complete control of the team.
Out went Howie Roseman.
And with Howie, out went a conventional way of doing things. We certainly learned that in the past 10 days. Chip does not look at a roster the same as us. He doesn’t look at a wish list the same as us. He is willing to take risks and do what on the surface seems like an insane move.
Chip wasn’t interested in the Eagles getting better. He wants them to be great. That meant rolling the dice on some moves. If too many fail, this won’t work and Chip will be headed back to college football in the future. But if some of the moves work, the Eagles could have something special.
I’m glad Chip is working his magic. He wasn’t hired to be conventional. He wasn’t hired to be safe.
VRENTAS: How is Kelly’s mindset different from other coaches and GMs in the NFL?
BANNER: There is a tremendous emphasis put on continuity in the NFL. There is a tremendous emphasis put on people who know how to do what you want them to do. And that is important, but it can become overrated, and then teams become afraid of making moves. I know Chip believes [continuity] matters, too. Anybody in the NFL who has knowledge believes that. But you can take the point too far, and then you get paralyzed. I think Chip saw an opportunity here, with him being relatively still new in his tenure, with a system he is still implementing, to not feel like he was unable to radically change the roster to be more conforming to what he wants he do, and not overrate the importance of continuity. That’s what’s refreshing here. That’s good. It’s smart. More teams should have been doing this sooner. I think maybe you’ll see it become more common now. Not to this degree; this is very significant. But to see more aggressive moves made that still value continuity, but not overvalue it.
VRENTAS: Do you think that stems from his college coaching experience, where you have to retool your roster every year?
BANNER: I think it’s that, but you also hear Chip talk openly about his belief that the only reason you continue to do something the way you’ve been doing it is because there’s a good reason, not just because it’s the way you’ve been doing it. My interactions with him, and my observations of him, are that he tends to look at everything with a new eye, and with a fresh outlook, as opposed to bringing too much conventional wisdom to it. When you are looking at the team with less of an absolute need to have continuity, then you really are open-minded to any move that can possibly make you better. And I think that is a big advantage if they are doing that. Because most teams are very hesitant to do that, and they’ll be able to kind of pick their spots and keep their eyes open for any opportunity.
The fact Chip is making the right kind of moves does not mean they are the right moves. Only time will tell on that front. The Sam Bradford deal has grown on me, but it could still end up not working out. Then you’ve got Mark Sanchez starting and you’re out a 2016 pick.
I think you can really see where there would have been issues between Howie and Chip as you think about these moves. Howie was an aggressive GM, but was also pretty conventional. He also was value-oriented. Chip is not focused on getting maximum return from his deals. He wants his players.
You can certainly fault him for not taking more time and trying to hammer out a better deal. At the very least, couldn’t he have gotten a straight swap of Foles for Bradford? Maybe. It sounds like other teams did have interest in Bradford. We don’t know how many teams had interest in Foles.
Chip didn’t want to take a chance. He made the deal.
Maybe Chip pulled the trigger because he felt QB was too important to take a chance on not working out. Maybe he coveted Bradford so much he legitimately thought it was a good deal. Or maybe Chip lacks the patience to negotiate trades for maximum value and that’s something he’s going to have to work on.
One thing Kelly is doing that will be very interesting to track is adding players with injury issues. He is taking a huge risk on the Sports Science group being able to keep these players on the field. This may prove to give the Eagles an advantage. Or it could be misplaced hope on the part of Kelly.
I don’t think he is seeking damaged goods, but the reason some good players hit the market is that they have issues, and one of them is injuries. If the Eagles can cut down on the injury factor, that allows the team to acquire talent at a reasonable cost.
I’m glad Chip isn’t playing it safe. The whole point in hiring a coach like him is to have someone that will do things differently. Be aggressive. Take risks. Don’t be afraid of the unknown.
If Kelly does fall flat on his face…so what. The Eagles weren’t a player away from winning the Super Bowl. I’d rather be a team trying to do things creatively than to be one of 25 teams all trying to do things the same way. It is that much harder to get to the top when you use the same ideas and strategies as your competition. Go for greatness.
Besides, if things don’t work out we can always give Howie back his GM job and go hire Gus Bradley after the Jaguars fire him.
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