PHILADELPHIA – Coaching changes create big splashes, and every big splash causes ripples to spread out from the center.
The sudden departure of Chip Kelly from the Philadelphia Eagles will have ramifications for years. The most immediate, of course, will be the departure of assistant coaches and the hiring of a new staff.
The next wave will affect the roster that Kelly devoted so much manic energy to assembling. Every player will be affected by the coaching change, of course. But these five players will feel the most profound impact:
Wide receiver Riley Cooper: If the next coach wants to send a message to his team, he could choose to release Cooper as his first act upon getting the job.
The Cooper situation was thrust on Kelly. He didn’t send Cooper to that Kenny Chesney concert, didn’t buy him a drink and certainly didn’t tell him to shout racial epithets while in range of a recording device.
In his first year in the NFL, Kelly could have handled the situation in a number of ways. He chose to give Cooper a chance to redeem himself. The unintended consequence of that were far-reaching and beyond imagining. When Kelly made controversial decisions to part with star players, the presence of Cooper gave critics an obvious point of contrast: You got rid of DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, but you keep Riley Cooper?
In 2013, Cooper came in handy on the field. He caught 47 passes for 835 yards and eight touchdowns. Cooper seemed to be on the other end of a lot of the big plays that Nick Foles made in his magical half-season as Kelly’s quarterback.
After the season, the Eagles gave Cooper a five-year, $22.5-million contract. That stirred the race issue again, especially when Jackson was unceremoniously dumped. The contract also set a pretty high bar for Cooper: He was no longer a fifth-round pick who could exceed expectations. He was getting paid and expectations were raised.
In 2014, Cooper caught more passes (55) for fewer yards (577) and fewer touchdowns (three). In 2015, after McCoy and Jeremy Maclin departed, Cooper was targeted just 41 times. He caught 21 passes for 327 yards and two touchdowns.
That didn’t happen in a vacuum. New quarterback Sam Bradford showed a clear preference for inside receivers such as Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz. Kelly’s offense played a role in that, too, stressing crossing routes and short passes over deep throws.
But it also seems obvious that if Cooper and Nelson Agholor were able to get open down the field more often, the ball would have come their way.
Bottom line: Whether the new coach evaluates Cooper strictly on production or factors in his history, his conclusion might be the same.
Wide receiver Josh Huff: Really, this applies to everyone who went to Oregon. There are six former Ducks on the Eagles’ roster. It would be as ludicrous for a new coach to cut players based on their Oregon affiliation as it was for the old coach to keep them.
But Huff was drafted in the third round in 2014, ahead of wide receivers Donte Moncrief, John Brown and Martavis Bryant. In two seasons, Huff has caught 45 passes for 410 yards and three touchdowns. Those other three receivers: 285 catches. 4,190 yards, 35 touchdowns.
Huff has a chance to develop into an effective NFL wide receiver. It will be interesting to see how Huff and Nelson Agholor look in a different offense, with perhaps a different quarterback throwing to them.
But one thing’s for sure: Being from Oregon will help Huff about as much as being a Kelly draft pick will.
Cornerback Byron Maxwell: Based on what we’ve seen during the past few years, the Eagles’ defense was extremely hard on cornerbacks. So Maxwell’s 2015 season – Pro Football Focus graded him as the 85th-best cornerback in the NFL – must be viewed through that lens.
But with Kelly gone, Maxwell will not be the big free agent that the head coach invested in. He will be a man with a $9.7 million cap hit in 2016, climbing over $11 million in 2017.
We saw how Kelly handled those kinds of inherited contracts.
Guard Allen Barbre: If the new coach is as smart as Jeff Lurie will say he is, he won’t make any rash decisions with his offensive linemen. Kelly’s offense demanded a certain amount of mobility and seldom provided extra pass blockers.
So the next coach needs to evaluate each of those guards based on the way they fit in his offense. That’s fair. Sticking with them because it would be embarrassing to admit a mistake? That’s not so good.
Linebacker Kiko Alonso: Alonso is a combination of Oregon product and player Kelly invested his reputation in. Trading LeSean McCoy for Alonso could go down as the single biggest error of the Kelly era.
The new coach doesn’t care about that, and he shouldn’t. If Alonso looks better two years removed from ACL surgery, then fine. There’s a good player to fit into a new defense.
But if Alonso can’t get back to his rookie status as a playmaker, the new coach has no reason to prolong the relationship. It won’t be his mistake.