They also removed from the roster a player who embarrassed the team terribly in 2013. Cooper was caught on video using a racial epithet at a Kenny Chesney concert. The video went viral and the Eagles had to deal with a volatile situation that could have fractured their locker room.
Coach Chip Kelly, in his first months with the team, decided to keep Cooper. After the 2013 season, the Eagles gave Cooper a five-year, $22.5 million contract. That made Cooper a player who needed to produce in order to merit his contract. It also made him a player identified as a Kelly guy.
When Kelly was fired in December, being a Kelly guy was not a positive indicator. Eagles owner Jeff Lurie and executive vice president Howie Roseman have done their best to erase Kelly’s imprint on the franchise. While Cooper’s release did create cap space, it also removed a vestige of the Kelly era.
There are other players who are linked to Kelly, either because he acquired them or he championed them. How vulnerable are they under the new/old Eagles regime?
Quarterback Sam Bradford finished the last year of his contract. He can become a free agent unless the Eagles work out a new contract or use the franchise tag to keep Bradford. Either of those choices will be expensive. Will the Eagles commit that kind of money for a guy who was the centerpiece of Kelly’s 2015 remodeling project? We’ll know soon.
Running back DeMarco Murray was signed by Kelly, but also fell out of Kelly’s good graces during a grueling 2015 season. He’s both a Kelly guy and an anti-Kelly guy. The bottom line may be that the $13 million cap hit to release Murray may make it more likely that the Eagles keep him. And Murray just may thrive in new coach Doug Pederson’s offense.
Offensive tackle Jason Peters was routinely referred to as a “future Hall of Famer” by Kelly. Does that make him a Kelly guy? Not really. Peters has been an Eagle since 2009, when he was acquired in a trade with Buffalo. The issue with Peters is his age. He is 34 and coming off a less-than-stellar season. That makes his $9.2 million cap hit for 2016 look awfully high. Pederson has said he thinks Peters has a couple good years left. We’ll know soon how much he means that.
Darren Sproles went to the Pro Bowl after each of his seasons with the Eagles. He will count $4.5 million against the salary cap in this, the third and final season on his contract. Sproles will turn 33 in June. He was acquired in a trade with New Orleans while Kelly was the coach, but he has value under any head coach.
Cornerback Byron Maxwell was the big-money defensive acquisition during Kelly’s remodeling effort. That may save him. It would cost the Eagles $13.3 million in dead money to release Maxwell. On the other hand, his $9.7 million cap hit may seem reasonable to a team that needs talent in new coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defense.
Backup quarterback Mark Sanchez is the only quarterback currently under contract. He will count $5.5 million, and the Eagles could save $3.5 million in cap space by releasing him. Sanchez’s fate will be decided by the Eagles’ overall plan at quarterback. If they keep Bradford and draft a young QB, Sanchez could go. If they let Bradford walk, Sanchez could stay.
Marcus Smith, the Eagles’ first-round draft pick in 2014, has not been much of a player through his first two seasons. If Schwartz sees a player he can use, the guess here is that Smith stays. If not, Smith is more likely to be gone.
Veteran linebacker DeMeco Ryans was called “Mufasa” by Kelly. The Lion King reference may make Ryans a Kelly favorite, but he was here before Kelly and is not a Kelly guy, by definition. However, Ryans turns 32 this summer with a $4.5 million cap hit. His future with the team will depend on how Schwartz sees him in the middle of his 4-3 defense.
Linebacker Kiko Alonso was acquired in exchange for LeSean McCoy. That makes him a Kelly guy. So does his connection to Oregon, where he played for Kelly. Alonso was not close to being himself last year, due to some combination of his knee and his fit in Bill Davis’ defense. With a cap hit under $1 million, it will be worth letting Schwartz figure out if Alonso can make an impact in his defense.
There are other Kelly guys: guards Andrew Gardner and Allen Barbre, wide receiver Josh Huff, defensive end Taylor Hart among them. But their relatively low profiles and modest salary cap numbers make their fates tied more to the new coaching staff's evaluations than any other agenda.