In his first season as the Philadelphia Eagles head coach, Chip Kelly took his team from 4-12 to 10-6 and the top of the NFC East. The former Oregon offensive mastermind did so primarily with the players he had inherited from the Andy Reid administration, but the way things look at this point, he'll be going forward without at least one of his most prominent offensive players -- and possibly two.
Rumors have been flying since the end of the season that relations between the team and receiver DeSean Jackson have been frosty at best -- the Eagles are looking to duck the $10.7 million Jackson is owed in 2014 as part of the five-year, $47 million contract he signed in March -- and word is that a trade or release is not out of the question. This despite the fact that in Kelly's offense, Jackson set career-highs in catches (82) and yards (1,332) and tied his career-high in touchdowns with nine.
At the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Wednesday, Kelly talked about Jackson's value to the team, and about team-building in general.
"We had a good conversation. We're always going to do what's best for the football team," Kelly said. "I think he knows where we are, and I know where he is. I feel very comfortable about it ... I like DeSean. DeSean did a really nice job for us. But we're always going to do what's best for the organization."
Kelly also said that he had spoken to Jackson a couple of days ago, and refuted any talk that coach and player have a problem. That said, some of Kelly's comments regarding what he wants out of a primary receiver were more general to the position than specific to Jackson.
"We got along well. DeSean did a good job. I mean, he played 16 games for us and practiced every day. I had no issues with him ... what he does -- his speed and ability to make plays is key. People want to play a lot of man-to-man coverage, and I think we saw more of that than a lot of people. Getting guys who can get open versus man coverage is a key deal, whether it's Coop [Riley Cooper] or Mac [Jeremy Maclin] or DeSean. That's the one thing we know as a group going in -- one-on-one coverage is a big deal for us. We're always looking for guys who can exploit those matchups."
As far as salary versus performance, Kelly fobbed that one off.
"I don't deal with the numbers. That's not my job. ... [M]y decisions are based on how the guys play and fit scheme-wise and all those things. I don't look at it and say, 'That guy should make that much money; this guy should make this much money.' That doesn't fall into my demands ... I think it's the nature of what the league is like, and professional sports -- there's a short amount of time that guys have to play this game, and they're trying to get what they can. I certainly understand where they're coming from, and that's part of the thing. And that's part of being the general manager, and the cap people, is fitting all that together. As I tell all our players, I'd love to re-sign everybody and keep everybody and have everybody be the highest-paid at their positions. But the reality is, it doesn't work that way."
And then, NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that the Eagles are looking to put guard Evan Mathis on the trading block as well. The source of this possible move isn't performance -- Mathis is rightly thought of by most in the know as either the best guard in football, or near the top of a very short list. But Drew Rosenhaus, Mathis' agent, talked with the Eagles about a new contract in February, per Philly.com, and the team responded by suggesting a trade. That could be simple hardball, or it could be another example of the idea that if you're not brought in by the current administration in Philly, you'd best watch your head. That remains to be seen.
Though Kelly did say that he'd like to have quarterback Nick Foles in the building for "another 999 years," after that, it seems that all bets are off. Foles, of course, took the starting job away from Michael Vick and never gave it back next season. Vick has now signed with the Jets. "You're going to try to ask me these questions, and I'm going to answer them all the same way," Kelly concluded. "When we show up on April 21, we'll have our first [voluntary] team meeting, and we'll go from there. Who's in that room is entirely up to them at that point."