The dust has settled on at least one part of Chip Kelly’s chaotic offseason rebuilding plan — the running back position.
Kelly baffled the NFL world when he traded LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for former defensive rookie of the year Kiko Alonso. A week later, he replaced McCoy by signing two high-profile running backs in free agency, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews.
It’s useful to think of this as one big transaction. Ultimately, here’s what Kelly swapped:
- Out: LeSean McCoy (cost: $US1 million guaranteed, $US25.3 million maximum)
- In: DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Kiko Alonso (cost: $US27.7 million guaranteed, $US53.2 million maximum)
You can see what Kelly did here. He basically took the unguaranteed money he was scheduled (but not required) to pay McCoy through 2017 and gave it to Murray/Mathews in the form of guaranteed cash. He got Alonso — a very talented, but recently-injured linebacker — out of it, but he had to sacrifice significant financial flexibility to do so.
Initially Kelly said the McCoy trade was all about the money. McCoy was scheduled to make $US10.25 million in 2015, and $US25.3 million total through 2017. It’s important to note though, that only $US1 million of that remaining money was guaranteed. At a press conference on Wednesday, Kelly said that he traded McCoy to get Alonso and free up the cash he needed sign cornerback Byron Maxwell, who the team gave $US25 million guaranteed.
“The way we looked at it is we got Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell for LeSean McCoy and the bottom line is almost every decision that you have to make is governed by money,” he said.
A day later, he gave Murray/Mathews the same sort of money that McCoy was scheduled to make under his old Eagles deal (he signed a new contract with Buffalo right after getting traded that’s worth $US26.5 million guaranteed, for what it’s worth). Despite what Kelly said at his press conference on Wednesday, the Murray and Mathews signings show that he has zero qualms about investing heavily in the running back position.
The swap is risky. It looks like a genius move until you see the disparity in guaranteed money. The beauty of McCoy’s deal was that you could cut him at any time and not be on the hook for major money. That’s not the case now. The guaranteed money going to Murray ($US21 million) and Mathews ($US5 million) is locked in.
Maybe Kelly figured he was going to pay McCoy that remaining $US25.3 million anyway, so he wasn’t hesitant about giving Murray/Mathews $US26 million guaranteed if he knew he could get Alonso out of it. But it’s still a gamble.
You also have to consider the opportunity cost. Could the $US26 million the Eagles invested in Murray and Mathews have been better spent elsewhere on the roster? Teams across the NFL have stopped valuing the running back position, believing they can get average production out of cheap players. Kelly is regarded as an offensive genius. Couldn’t a cheaper option still excelled in his system? Is the difference between investing $US8 million in running backs and $US26 million in running backs really all that dramatic?
All offseason people have been trying to figure out Chip Kelly’s plan. At running back, at least, we have some clarity. His plan appears to be: swap elite running backs with similar levels of production while also getting a potential All-Pro linebacker, even if it means taking a major financial risk.
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