SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Chip Kelly was hired to bring a spark to the San Francisco 49ers, both on offense (they were 31st in total offense last season and last in points scored) and in their Q Score (by season's end, fans began staying away from Levi’s Stadium in droves).
But does Kelly’s brand of high-octane offense fit the 49ers' roster as it's currently constructed?
Kelly, hired Jan. 14, is not sure yet. It turns out he has yet to adequately study the roster, something he admitted following his introductory news conference Wednesday.
But Kelly did heap praise on the 49ers for having gone to the Super Bowl three years ago, even if by the end of last season only three starters from that team were still starting: left tackle Joe Staley, inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks. Only 10 players from that NFC title team remain under contract for next season -- 11 if you count Anthony Davis, the retired right tackle who insists on Twitter he’s coming back in 2016.
No matter. Kelly, as well as CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke, were quick to point out the massive amount of salary-cap space -- the third-most in the NFL, York said -- and oodles of draft picks at the 49ers’ disposal: as many as 21 in the next two years, with 12 expected this spring.
“They’re prepared for the future,” Kelly said, “and it’s an exciting time to be here, part of that.”
Exciting. Intriguing. You make the call, because Kelly would not commit to Colin Kaepernick as his quarterback in 2016, saying only that he had a non-football, collective bargaining agreement-mandated discussion with the dual-threat QB who is currently rehabbing from three surgeries (left shoulder, right thumb, left knee).
Kelly, who beat out Mike Shanahan for this gig, did take time to praise quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who started the last eight games of the season.
And while Kelly’s success or failure might seem to hinge upon resurrecting Kaepernick, York would not comment on a national report that said Shanahan’s candidacy to replace Jim Tomsula collapsed after Shanahan wanted to move on from Kaepernick.
But back to all that cap space, expected to be upward of $60 million, to lure free agents to Silicon Valley.
Given how badly things ended for Kelly in Philadelphia, with so many red flags about his purported inability to communicate with players, and his “emotional intelligence” being questioned by Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, why is it guaranteed that players will want to play for Kelly in San Francisco?
I know all about players following the money, but is that the type of player the 49ers want in their locker room during a rebuilding job?
Baalke said that few, if any, GMs would ever use the term “rebuild” when describing their teams. “Reload” is the preferred mantra, and Kelly coaching up the 49ers' currently gutted roster is more intriguing than exciting.
“Fearless” is how Kelly said he wants his roster to be in Santa Clara.
But give Kelly, who said he is excited to just coach and not have to worry about personnel moves, some time to implement his philosophies, and this could be more than interesting.
“Chip is going to be here a long time,” York said. “Period.”
It’s high-risk, high-reward for the 49ers. They would not want it any other way.