PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly’s mission to re-create the 2009 Oklahoma football team is nearly complete. Sooners coach Bob Stoops can only wish the Philadelphia Eagles coach good luck.
With Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray in the backfield, Oklahoma finished with an 8-5 record (5-3 in the Big 12). Of course, Bradford and Murray weren’t always in the backfield. They were often in the trainer’s room.
That is the risk Kelly has taken by trading for Bradford and signing Murray to a new five-year contract. Bradford has torn his left anterior cruciate ligament twice in the past two years, and has missed 31 games over the past four seasons. Murray missed 11 games during his four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, but played in all 16 regular-season games in 2014.
Bradford and Murray will replace Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy in Kelly’s offense. Newly empowered with control of player personnel, Kelly certainly has changed the makeup of a team that has won 10 games in each of his two seasons as head coach.
The bigger question is whether Kelly actually improved the Eagles. Different isn’t exactly better.
Let's start with quarterback. Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. Foles was the No. 88 overall pick in the 2012 draft. But Foles’ 2013 season -- 27 touchdowns, two interceptions, 8-2 record as starter, offensive MVP of the Pro Bowl -- was markedly better than any similar stretch in Bradford’s St. Louis tenure. The Rams traded Bradford because they were about to pay him $13 million in 2015 and couldn’t trust that he would be available for the games.
As for Murray, he led the NFL in rushing in 2014 with 1,845 yards and a 4.7-yard average. McCoy led the NFL in rushing in 2013 with 1,607 yards and a 5.1-yard average. They are both very good running backs. It seems abundantly clear their respective offensive lines had a lot to do with their performance.
And Murray is only five months older than McCoy.
On Wednesday, Kelly explained trading McCoy by pointing out his $11.95 million salary-cap number for 2015. By moving him, the Eagles acquired linebacker Kiko Alonso and the salary-cap room to sign cornerback Byron Maxwell.
But now that he has signed Murray for $42 million over five years -- including $21 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter -- the equation changes. The determining factor is whether Murray is better than McCoy at running with a football.
That will be interesting to watch. McCoy was exceptional in 2013 when the line was healthy. In 2014, with all the injuries on the line, there was concern that McCoy’s style was part of the problem. He tended to move laterally, looking for the holes he found in 2013. Murray is more of a direct, get-through-the-hole runner. His style might prove more effective in Kelly’s offense.
Kelly tried to re-sign wide receiver Jeremy Maclin but was unable to get a deal done. Maclin left for Kansas City, and the Eagles were left with Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff at wide receiver. Surely they will look to add a receiver, likely in the draft. But for now, it’s not possible to say the Eagles are better at receiver than they were.
Defensively, they might be better. Alonso is a playmaking inside linebacker. But the real issue with the defense was the secondary. Will it be better in 2015 or just more expensive?
Maxwell and Walter Thurmond, who played together in Seattle, will be reunited. The Eagles missed out on signing safety Devin McCourty away from the Patriots, so that spot is still up for grabs. At outside linebacker, Brandon Graham will start in place of Trent Cole, who signed with the Colts. Graham couldn’t beat out Cole on the field but gets the job by default.
We know the Eagles will be very different after Kelly’s remodeling job. We have no way of knowing whether they will be any better.