How Devin McCourty Changed The Face Of The Eagles

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When Devin McCourty decided to take Bill Belichick’s 11th hour phone call and re-sign with the Patriots, I believe he was inadvertently throwing a monkey wrench into Chip Kelly’s plans for the offseason. Kelly is primarily an offensive coach, but knew he had to commit resources to his defense to have a chance to seriously compete. Despite a run defense ranked 7th in the league by Football Outsider’s DVOA metric, the defense allowed 72 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Getting back to the playoffs meant rebuilding the secondary was a top priority – especially finding a safety.

After the coaching shakeup, the first piece fell into place. LeSean McCoy was traded for Kiko Alonso. The Eagles initially asked for a high pick, but took Alonso when given their choice of player. Alonso is a very good linebacker right now, and is a future star. He was the runner-up for DROY, has the necessary height/weight/#culture measurements Chip craves, and showed good instincts by picking off 4 passes in his rookie season. Despite the torn ACL he suffered last offseason, he should be 100% by training camp and cover significantly more territory than DeMeco Ryans. By completing this trade, the Eagles also cleared approximately $9 million in cap space.

The Eagles targeted Byron Maxwell from the beginning of the offseason, and there wasn’t much doubt he was going to sign here – the only question was how much. When the numbers came in, he carried a cap hit of approximately $8.7 million year one and $9.7 million year two. Essentially, the McCoy trade allowed the Eagles to get Maxwell and strengthen two defensive positions with zero impact on their salary cap.

With Maxwell in the fold, Chip turned to safety – the most visible weakness on this defense for years since Dawkins left. McCourty was the only safety in the market that fit what the Eagles were looking for. By all accounts, Philadelphia offered more than the Patriots, but McCourty chose to remain with the New England. This meant there were still 2 huge weak spots in the secondary. It also meant Philadelphia had more money to play with in free agency – McCourty carries a cap hit of $6 and $8 million in years 1 and 2, so Philly would likely have been closer to $7 and $9.

Walter Thurmond was signed for a year at $3.25 million to compete for the safety spot, but he can hardly be counted on. With nothing left in free agency, Chip turned to offense. Frank Gore turned down Philadelphia’s offer, but Chip signed Ryan Mathews to handle some of the carries.

Sproles and Mathews are an intriguing offensive backfield, but one lacking an impact player. After a recruiting frenzy, that impact player turned out to be DeMarco Murray. Murray was not linked to the Eagles at all in the beginning of free agency, but Philadelphia was not supposed to have money to spend on offensive free agents.

Plain and simple: McCourty means no Demarco Murray. Murray only carries a $5 million dollar cap charge this year, but that rises to $8 and $9 million in subsequent seasons. Murray has talent – that much can’t be denied. He has a career average of 4.8 YPC, and caught over 50 balls in each of the last 2 seasons. The Cowboys’ offensive line certainly helped him last season, but Philadelphia’s line is strong when healthy as well. Murray also turned 27 this offseason; that can be a dangerous age for a running back, especially one coming off 497 touches. Sports science may help him defy the aging curve for a year or two, but the odds are against the fountain of youth at age 30.

So what would Chip have preferred? The safety he targeted all along, or the NFL’s leading rusher falling into his lap?

My money is on McCourty. Kelly prides himself on being able to coach athletes to succeed in his offensive system, and trusts in his player identification/development philosophies. There were several one-cut running backs available in the draft, and rookie running backs are capable of making immediate impacts in the NFL today.

Signing an established veteran safety would cut down on the variables the new secondary would be dealing with as they try to gel before the season begins. Safeties also tend to last longer than running backs, making the contract more valuable and less likely to look like a bad investment.

Just like the rest of us, even Chip Kelly doesn’t get what he wants 100% of the time. He had to adjust on the fly when his original plan to fix the defense fell through, while still committing enough resources to upgrade an offense that did not live up to his demanding standards last year.

If Devin McCourty falters in New England while DeMarco Murray looks fresh after a career year, maybe Chip will finally earn that genius tag. However, If DeMarco Murray falls victim to age while McCourty wins yet another Super Bowl in New England, this may be the beginning of the end for Chip the GM.

 

[pvc_paratheme ]
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