SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Part of the reason for Chip Kelly’s downfall with the Philadelphia Eagles was his curious personnel moves.
And here’s the rub: Kelly, who was hired by the San Francisco 49ers to be their 20th coach in franchise history, does not figure to have as much say regarding personnel in Santa Clara. That's despite what general manager Trent Baalke said the day after the Niners fired Jim Tomsula following his one-and-done 5-11 season.
“Every coach that’s been here has had a great opportunity to have input,” Baalke said at the time. “Whether it’s the draft, whether it’s free agency, whether it’s impending trades, there’s no iron fist in this organization.”
Maybe, just maybe, this is simply about football and Baalke and CEO Jed York wanting to see what Kelly can do as a coach rather than as a self-contained football czar.
Because after he took over what could be seen as general manager duties in January of 2015, things went south in Philadelphia. Quickly.
Per ESPN Stats & Information, Kelly gave at least $5 million guaranteed to eight different players:
Cornerback Byron Maxwell ($25 million for a defense that gave up 219 receptions by receivers under Kelly, third-most in the NFL)
Running back DeMarco Murray ($21 million and played just 22 percent of snaps in last quarter of season under Kelly)
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks ($16.1 million for 86 tackles under Kelly)
Linebacker Brandon Graham ($14 million for 6.5 sacks and 51 tackles under Kelly)
Receiver Nelson Agholor ($8.8 million for 23 catches under Kelly)
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans ($6.3 million for 49 tackles under Kelly)
Quarterback Mark Sanchez ($5.5 million for two starts and two defeats)
Running back Ryan Mathews ($5 million for a team-high 5.1 yards per rush, but played only 21 percent of the team’s offensive snaps under Kelly).
Beyond all that, Kelly also traded quarterback Nick Foles, a fourth-round pick in last year’s draft and a second-rounder in this year’s draft as well as a conditional 2016 pick for quarterback Sam Bradford, who is an unrestricted free agent and was 32nd out of 34 qualified quarterbacks with a 37.5 Total QBR. The only other quarterback to have logged as much time as Bradford with a worse Total QBR since 2009 is Sanchez.
So, again, Kelly as GM was not as good as Kelly as coach. Kelly as Niners coach is a high-risk, high-reward proposition, given his proclivity for a quick-strike offense that inevitably leads to a worn-out defense.
Under Kelly, the Eagles defense’s 22 first-half sacks last year were tied for second-most in the NFL and their 6.7 percent sack percentage was eighth. But their 13 sacks in the second half were ranked 26th, and their 4.1 sack percentage after halftime was 28th.
And from Week 11 through Week 16 under Kelly, the Eagles defense ranked last in points per game (36.0), yards per game (450.2) and rushing yards per game (157.2).
With more power over personnel came worse results for Kelly's offense. The Eagles' 6.3 yards per play in his first season lead the league before the 5.6 yards per play average in 2014 ranked 11th. Last season, the Eagles' 5.2 yards per play average was 24th.
Consider: Per ESPN Stats & Info, Kelly’s Eagles averaged 28.6 points per game in his first two seasons in Philadelphia, second-best in the NFL in that time. They dropped off to an average of 22.8 points this past season, 16th in the league.
The Eagles averaged one play every 23.1 seconds of possession over the past three seasons; that was just under three seconds faster than any other team. (The Jacksonville Jaguars checked in at 26.2 seconds.) It also had the Eagles off the field quickly, too, as their average time of possession the last three seasons of 26:20 was lowest in the league. (The Jaguars were at 27:32.)
Turnovers were also a problem for Kelly. The Eagles’ 29 giveaways in 2015 were the second-most in the league a year after they lead the NFL with 36.
Under Baalke, the Niners have tried to stress the run. Kelly’s Eagles, however, averaged their fewest rushes per game (27.7), rush yards per game (102.8) and yards per rush (3.90) this past season. They led the NFL in averaging 5.1 yards per rush in his first season in Philadelphia, or before Kelly started gutting the Eagles' roster.
The Niners' personnel, meanwhile, had the league’s 31st-ranked total offense last season and the lowest-scoring team.
Perhaps it’s a good thing, then, that the Niners roster as currently constructed does not have a lot of depth and the task to fix it will be left up to Baalke, and not Kelly. Unless Baalke is not up to the task.
In any event, the coaching, and just the coaching, will be Kelly’s domain.