Chip Kelly makes most of Andy Reid's leftovers

Chip Kelly makes most of Andy Reid's leftovers

Is Cedric Thornton still underrated?

March 3, 2014, 8:00 pm

Quarterback Nick Foles blossomed into a Pro Bowl MVP under head coach Chip Kelly after struggling with Andy Reid at the helm. (USA Today Images)

One of the saddest sights in recent Eagles history was watching the hapless 2012 team muddle off the field in East Rutherford after the final game of the season.
 
It was 42-7 Giants, and the only reason it was only 42-7 was because Tom Coughlin went easy that day on old friend Andy Reid.
 
We all knew Reid would be fired the next day or two, and it was impossible not to assume that the new coach would come in and blow up the roster. Gut the thing.
 
And why not? 
 
This was a lifeless team. A dead team. They had stopped fighting weeks earlier. They had stopped trying. It was tough to imagine that very many of the guys on that pathetic 2012 team would have a future in the NFL, much less on the Eagles.
 
And here we are 15 months later with the Eagles re-signing an Andy Reid holdover to a big contract seemingly every day.
 
It’s impossible to turn around a franchise overnight the way Kelly did without getting something out of the holdovers. It’s just impossible to replace 53 guys in a year.
 
The trick is identifying the guys the last guy left who can fit your scheme, who can fit your style, who can fit your locker room, and trying to add new guys and make the whole thing work.
 
Buddy Ryan won a lot of games with Marion Campbell holdovers like Reggie White, Randall Cunningham, Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters.
 
Rich Kotite won a lot of games -- at least his first couple years -- with Buddy’s holdovers, like Seth, Clyde, Jerome, Keith Jackson, Eric Allen and Keith Byars.
 
Ray Rhodes was 1995 Coach of the Year in large part because of guys Kotite had brought to Philly – William Thomas, Andy Harmon, Charlie Garner, William Fuller and Mark McMillian.
 
And Reid in turn inherited some terrific talent that Rhodes left him –- Duce Staley, Tra Thomas, Chad Lewis, Jeremiah Trotter, Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Ike Reese, Hollis Thomas, Hugh Douglas.
 
But that 2012 Eagles team was such a wreck it was tough to imagine that dynamic continuing beyond a couple guys. LeSean. DeSean. 
 
That’s why we all assumed the Eagles’ rebuild was more than a one-year project. There was so much garbage on the roster and so many people to replace.
 
How could the Eagles possibly do it by 2013?
 
Turns out there was talent on the Eagles that was either not developed, not recognized, not being used correctly or just not correct for the schemes run by Reid on offense and whoever was running the defense.
 
Turns out there was a lot of it.
 
And in the months after Chip Kelly was named head coach, Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman did a masterful job identifying guys from that 2012 team who could be part of a winning franchise.
 
Instead of gutting the roster, they kept just about everybody around for OTAs, minicamps and training camp. And why not? Why not at least take a long look at the personnel already here and figure out who could help? 
 
And as the 2013 season blossomed into a playoff year and a 3-5 start transformed into a 7-1 finish, there were the dregs of Reid's atrocious last team all over the place, contributing in a big way.
 
Riley Cooper, who averaged 15 catches in three years under Reid, became one of the NFL’s top deep threats. Cedric Thornton, a forgotten benchwarmer under Reid, made a case to be the team's defensive MVP. Nate Allen, whose play had deteriorated so badly, turned in a solid season. Nick Foles went from 1-6 as a starter to record-setting Pro Bowl MVP.
 
DeMeco Ryans and Trent Cole revived their careers. Brandon Boykin emerged as a budding star. DeSean Jackson had his best season ever. Evan Mathis went to his first Pro Bowl.
 
Lots of credit for all this goes to the coaching staff Kelly put together. Reid let his staff go his last few years here, and without a quality staff, without quality hands-on coaching, veteran players regressed and young players failed to develop.
 
Turns out there was talent here. It was just difficult to see in the wash of a pathetic last-place team whose coach had lost his way.
 
But Roseman and Kelly saw it.
 
Of all the magic we’ve seen from Kelly in the past year, maybe his most impressive accomplishment has been sifting through the wreckage of a 4-12 team and using a good chunk of it to help build a playoff team.
 
All of this has been reinforced the past few days as the Eagles have re-signed Cooper, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Kelce and Jason Peters to big-money long-term contracts and on Monday signed Thornton to a one-year deal.
 
All arrived here during Reid’s tenure and all are key pieces of Kelly’s vision of a Super Bowl contender over the next few years.
 
The heart of this Eagles team is Kelly’s record-setting offense. And as of now, the projected 2014 offense has nine guys Reid brought in and two guys Kelly brought in -- Zach Ertz and Lane Johnson.
 
A bunch of key guys on defense –- Ryans, Boykin, Thornton, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks -- are also Reid holdovers. Billy Davis even got contributions from Reid draft picks like Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham.
 
Soon after Reid was fired, the Eagles cut ties with guys like Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
 
The Eagles’ biggest acquisitions since Reid’s firing have been Johnson, Ertz, Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Connor Barwin, Bennie Logan.
 
All solid guys.
 
But, as it turns out, who the Eagles kept was even more important than who they acquired.