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December 28, 2015

Chip Kelly needs to relinquish personnel powers, fire Billy Davis

The 2015 Eagles are a bad football team conceived by an incompetent GM and coached by a man who has forgotten how to win. It is a club that cannot catch a football, can neither run nor stop the run effectively, and cannot tackle. It is a losing team comprised of losing players.

If anyone would like to challenge the above statement, please consult the tape of the 38-24 loss to Washington on Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field, a fiasco that included nine dropped passes and one dropped pitch that proved fatal.

What no stat sheet will reveal, however, is the biggest drop of all – the squandered opportunity to win the NFC East in its worst season ever. The TV shot of Washington owner Daniel Snyder smiling in his luxury box was the final indignation, a terrible owner gloating over the triumph of his mediocre team.

That horrific Eagles defeat – one that clinched the first losing season in head coach Chip Kelly’s career – revealed something many fans, me included, refused to accept throughout this maddening season. Under Kelly the coach, the Eagles have lost their creativity. Under Kelly the GM, they have lost their talent.

And when owner Jeff Lurie analyzes this lost season, he will have no choice but to start right there, at the current state of a roster in serious disarray. It is clear that the owner was right to strip away the power of GM Howie Roseman, but wrong to hand it to Kelly. Based on the first year, Kelly may actually be worse than Roseman.

For example, the signing of DeMarco Murray, who couldn’t even hold onto a simple pitch with the season at stake, was a $40-million mistake. Add another $63 million wasted on cornerback Byron Maxwell. The trade for linebacker Kiko Alonso was disastrous. Allowing Jeremy Maclin to leave for Kansas City was insane, especially after the performance of the wide receivers on Saturday night.

Kelly took all of the responsibility for this mess after the loss, and he sounded sincere when he said he wasn’t worried about being fired, even though he is 7-12 since winning 19 of his first 28 NFL games. Unless he’s made more enemies than we know about inside the organization, Lurie won’t let him go with two years (and $13 million) left on his contract.

But the owner has to make a powerful statement right now, in the immediate aftermath of this nightmare season. He has to call Kelly in and tell him two major changes must be made immediately. The coach will not like either one.

The first is that Kelly will no longer have final say over personnel. The Eagles need someone with a proven track record – no, most certainly not Roseman, nor Kelly crony Ed Marynowitz – to build the kind of team that can exploit the coach’s unique philosophy, not derail it. Kelly needs a boss.

And the second is that Billy Davis should be told to find yet another job in his 10-stop odyssey through the NFL. The defensive coordinator had no idea what to do about Washington’s best weapon, Jordan Reed, just as he was ill-prepared for Julio Jones, Calvin Johnson, Doug Martin and countless others. Davis was awful this season. He has to go.

If Kelly balks at either of these demands, then he can pack his bags and head back to college. After a 6-9 season (so far), he is in no position to win another power play, nor can he expect another job offer in the NFL should he choose to leave now.

Every season has its own theme, its own lasting impression. This year, it was, what if. What if Maclin were there to catch the ball on key third downs? What if the Eagles had paid more attention in the draft to the offensive line? What if rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks didn’t get hurt? What if Maxwell was actually worth the money?

Nine passes and one fatal pitch bounced off the hands of the Eagles on Saturday night, a perfect metaphor for an entire season that slipped right through their fingers.


The verdict is finally in, at least for me. Sam Bradford is the franchise quarterback of the Eagles. He won the distinction, the new contract, and the commitment of the fans with his excellent work in the second half of the 2015 season.

Bradford threw for 380 yards in Saturday night’s loss to Washington, with no interceptions. If his teammates didn’t drop nine balls – most of them perfect throws – he might have set an Eagles’ single-game record for passing yardage in the mist that night. He was not the reason they lost that game, or any game this season, really.

Now granted, he overthrew a wide-open Zach Ertz for a certain touchdown, and he took a couple of sacks that more agile quarterbacks might have avoided. But the No. 1 draft pick of 2010, now healthy, proved there was a reason he was so highly regarded after his brilliant college career at Oklahoma. The guy can throw.

Of course, if there were a Cam Newton or even a Marcus Mariota available, I wouldn’t be so quick to ordain Bradford as the next big thing in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the Eagles have no such luxury – not with so many other, far greater needs.

When the season began, the biggest concern about the new quarterback was whether he would survive a year of abuse. Back then, no one imagined how pitiful the Eagles’ offensive line would be, and yet Bradford absorbed blow after blow without complaint, and without serious injury.

The best sign for his immediate future is the way Bradford improved as the season went along. The more comfortable he became in a brand-new system, the more accurate were his throws. The 43-yard pass to Jordan Matthews early in the Washington loss was exquisite, displaying the touch Bradford has developed this year on deep balls.

Look, Sam Bradford is not the best quarterback in the NFL, but he is capable of making it into the top 10 if he is protected by better linemen and has receivers who can actually get open and catch the football. He is better than Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez or anybody else who might become available in the off-season.

It’s hard to believe right now, but someday we may all look back on 2015 as the year when the Eagles finally found their next franchise quarterback.


The most amazing thing about the new movie "Concussion" is the fact that it exists at all, a two-hour assault against the NFL and the ruthless businessmen who run it. How could such a powerful group of people allow such a damning indictment against their sport?

The film itself is brilliant for the first hour – star Will Smith is terrific as whistleblower Dr. Bennet Omalu – but then it dissolves into a series of self-righteous speeches that oversell the basic idea that the NFL doesn’t care about the health of its players, past or present. It’s worth seeing for the performance by Smith and for its depiction of the NFL.

And the thorough thrashing of the NFL brand is what sets the project apart from almost everything in recent American culture – from the disinterest in the epidemic of concussions in the 1970s and 80s, to the cover-up in later years of scientific evidence proving the game has devastating consequences for many of its most noble performers.

In the past, the NFL has squashed all attempts to soil its reputation – for example, the excellent ESPN show Playmakers in 2003 – by wielding its business heft. So many corporations, in so many industries, rely on the appeal of the NFL, they simply wouldn’t engage in a battle with the most powerful sport in America.

Until now. Earlier this year, HBO rolled out Ballers, a series highlighting the bad behavior of NFL players. That show didn’t just soil the image of the modern player, it used the actual logos of NFL teams. It was the ultimate in-your-face move, and it resulted in no lawsuits over copyright infringement or any other strong-arm legal tactics.

"Concussion" is equally bold, and far more damaging. The movie uses actual names of former NFL players, including footage of some of the victims – Steeler great Mike Webster and former Eagle Andre Watters among them – while damning current commissioner Roger Goodell.

Why didn’t the NFL stop these projects the way it has so effectively in the past? The best guess is that the recent outbreak of controversies, including the Ray Rice domestic-abuse case and Deflategate – have weakened the commissioner and his league. Goodell and the billionaires have lost the power to bully their critics.

One this is certain: The NFL has not suddenly found its soul by permitting a project like Concussion. The movie proves, conclusively, that it has never had one.

And finally …

• DeSean Jackson had very little impact on Washington’s win on Saturday night, but that didn’t stop him from flashing “loser” hand gestures to Eagles fans near the end of the game. Of course, those are the same fans that have made Jackson wealthy, but let’s get to the real point here. If you still root for that jerk, congratulations. You are officially an idiot.

• One of the biggest mysteries of the 2015 season will be what happened to Kiko Alonso, a young linebacker so revered that he was traded, even up, for the most prolific running back in Eagles history, LeSean McCoy. Alonso played poorly after returning from an injury in October, and was really, really awful against Washington. Is he still hurt? Was he overrated? What went wrong?

• Jason Peters may still be a Pro Bowler, but only by reputation. The tackle gave up two sacks against the Redskins, and was never the force he had been in previous seasons. At 33, he may not be done yet, but this is a good time to move him to guard, where his lack of mobility won’t be so obvious. The fact that he is still the best lineman on the Eagles says more about his teammates than him.

• Wait a minute. The Sixers traded two second-round picks for point guard Ish Smith last week? This can’t be true. GM Sam Hinkie doesn’t trade second-rounders; he acquires them. Unless ... no. It can’t be that he has lost his power over personnel to chairman of basketball operations Jerry Colangelo, can it? Naw.

Mike D’Antoni is 1-0 as an assistant coach of the Sixers. OK, just one question: Can he work for all four of our pro franchises? If he can win a game with the worst club in NBA history, there’s no telling what he could accomplish with our slightly less terrible teams.