Chip Kelly has a vision for the Philadelphia Eagles that is unfolding, seemingly by the minute as the March 10 free agency period nears. He is making moves, wheeling and dealing, shaping the roster into what he desires for Year 3 of his time here and far, far beyond.
Some of the things he has planned we know about and can discuss: Already the Eagles released veteran tight end James Casey and staple offensive guard Todd Herremans, trusting in some young players on the roster and, at the same time, freeing up some dollars within the salary cap.
On Tuesday, the release of cornerback Cary Williams sets in motion the opportunity for the Eagles to revamp their starting look on the defensive island, what with Bradley Fletcher scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in a matter of days. Williams' release also opens up salary cap money, which is, clearly, going to be part of the extremely aggressive approach Kelly is taking.
On the heels of the Williams news is the Wednesday release of linebacker Trent Cole, one of the all-time greats to play on that side of the ball for the Eagles. An all-time competitor, Cole made the transition to linebacker after a Pro Bowl career at defensive end and remained relentless for every one of his snaps during a 10-year career in Philadelphia. Nobody plays the game harder. The perspective here is that the Eagles will give Cole a chance to shop his talents to the other 31 teams in the NFL and see what the market bears. There is a chance that Cole returns to the Eagles, but we don't know how much other teams might value Cole and whether they see him as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Brandon Graham is set to be an unrestricted free agent, and the departure of both Graham and Cole would leave another starting hole – the "predator linebacker" to be filled on defense. Is Marcus Smith II being counted on to step up? Would the Eagles make a move in the draft at a position that the analysts say is exceedingly deep? What else might Kelly have in mind?
A lot more is going to go down, clearly. The Eagles are suddenly flush with room under the salary cap. They have obvious positions that need to be addressed and Kelly and vice president of player personnel Ed Marynowitz are going forward, very aggressively, with their plan to do so.
Anything is in play here, clearly. The message is this: Kelly isn't satisfied after back-to-back 10-win seasons. How much he takes the roster and makes it over is something to watch as the Eagles have the opportunity, should they choose, to be major players in free agency. Draft weekend could be a wild ride.
In Chip We Trust. He was hired by the Eagles to win it all, and with the double-digit victories in 2013 and 2014 with a blend of players who were holdovers from the previous Eagles teams and the new players acquired in trades, free agency and the draft, Kelly established a strong base in Philadelphia.
Now it's time to shift into a higher gear. The highest gear. So much has already changed since the Eagles ended 2014 with a win over the New York Giants and a lot more remains to be done. What Kelly is thinking and what blueprint is in place is, obviously, something he has planned and strategized for many weeks. I don't pretend to have access to his vision, but it's fascinating right off the jump and it's creative and aggressive and very, very bold. In a very short time, the Eagles have given themselves remarkable flexibility within the salary cap and on the roster, so we'll see what direction Kelly and Marynowitz take in the days and months to come.
Kelly, we know, moves quickly. He loves tempo and energy. He demands execution and excellence and he certainly isn't afraid to work against the established NFL grain. There's no telling, honestly, what's next and I couldn't even predict how this roster will look when the Eagles open the 2015 regular season in September.
Know this about Kelly, please: He has a reason for every move made. He understands the "why" part of things. He thinks two and three moves ahead and for everything we see now there are plans made far beyond anything we can imagine.
In the week before free agency begins, the Eagles have set themselves up as the team to watch in the NFL. What are they going to do? What is Kelly's vision to take this team from "good" to "great" and return the Eagles to the elite level in this league?
Hang on tight, because this is shaping up to be quite a ride.