If you're following the proper blueprint, you draft your Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
You don't force it and blow multiple years' worth of draft picks to move up to get him a la Washington and Robert Griffin III. You don't back up the Brinks truck for end-of-the-road Hall of Famers like the Broncos did with Peyton Manning or the Vikings/Jets with Brett Favre. No. You grab him in the draft, like the Patriots with sixth-round Tom Brady, Seahawks with third-round Russell Wilson, or any number of first-overall Lombardi trophy winners out there. That's the way it has been drawn up for decades.
Thing is, Chip Kelly doesn't use anyone else's blueprints.
To say the Philadelphia Eagles—now totally under the control of Kelly after he wrestled all player personnel power from incumbent GM Howie Roseman this offseason—have been busy lately would be a gross understatement. They traded the team's all-time leading rusher LeSean McCoy to Buffalo in exchange for Kiko Alonso, a high-ceiling ILB coming off an ACL injury. They cut 10-year Eagle and fan favorite OLB Trent Cole. They cut 10-year Eagle and starting RG Todd Herremans. They let Pro Bowl WR Jeremy Maclin sign with Kansas City. They paid top-dollar for Seattle's former No. 2 corner Byron Maxwell. They used the money saved from the LeSean McCoy trade to sign two running backs: Ryan Mathews from San Diego and last year's offensive MVP DeMarco Murray from the rival Dallas Cowboys.
Yet of all the turnover since Chip first took command two years ago, despite cutting three-time Pro Bowl WR DeSean Jackson, despite the backlash from moving your team's all-time greatest running back without blinking, no deal has been as controversial as the Sam Bradford/Nick Foles trade. On March 11, Chip Kelly traded current staring quarterback Nick Foles, a 2015 fourth-round pick, and a conditional 2016 second-round pick to the Rams for quarterback Sam Bradford and a fifth-round pick. When rumors of the Eagles landing the No. 10 overall pick in the deal were finally killed and the reality of Sam Bradford behind center started to sink in, you would've been hard-pressed to find a fan in Philly who didn't look like this:
Truth is, as a result of moving Foles for Bradford, the Philadelphia Eagles have taken a tremendous step forward in their goal of winning a Super Bowl. However, if you speak to anyone in the media, or in Philadelphia, or the vast majority of breathing homo sapiens who have any knowledge of the National Football League, they'll tell you the exact opposite.
Why is this? What makes Chip Kelly's decision to napalm Andy Reid's former roster the shit and not complete doo doo? Sam Bradford.
Truth is, As a result of moving Foles for Bradford, the Philadelphia Eagles have taken a tremendous step forward in their goal of winning a Super Bowl.
While the majority of people are looking at this situation through a paper towel roll, Chip Kelly is looking down on everything like a bird with fucking binoculars. The pinhole view of the Eagles' recent decision is that they traded their pretty-solid starting quarterback Nick Foles for a bag of injuries in Sam Bradford, and that they also stupidly gave up a valuable 2016 second-round pick while doing so. On the surface, completely valid. Nick Foles had an unbelievable season in 2013 and an okay season in 2014 (before going down with an injury himself), while Bradford is known mostly for his injuries, sitting out all of 2014 with a torn ACL, the second in two years on that same knee.
With back-to-back ACL tears, it's clear to see why fans are wary of Bradford.
Here's the thing: Sam Bradford has more talent than Nick Foles. A LOT more. And it's the type of thing that's harder to see on television but very obvious in person. I remember going to an Eagles training camp when I was younger when Andy Reid was in charge. You didn't even have to look at the quarterback to know who was throwing the ball. McNabb could fire the crap out of a pigskin, and the other guys on the field simply didn't have that in them.
This isn't to just highlight that Sam Bradford is a stronger-armed QB than Nick Foles. This is about levels of talent. If you've ever played any sport—football, basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey—with anyone who was good enough to play Division I in college, you know the difference between that guy and the other players in high school. Turns out that guy knows the difference between he and the star on the team. And the star on the team knows the difference between he and the star of the conference. And the star of the conference knows the difference between he and the guy who will get picked No. 1 overall in the draft.
Sam Bradford was picked No. 1 overall in the draft. Nick Foles wasn't even the best guy on his team. Rob Gronkowski was.
This is why Chip Kelly is willing to give up next year's second-round pick. Because injuries happen in the NFL. To everyone. Chip said it himself in his first press conference following the deals:
"The injury rate in the NFL is 100%. It just matters what the severity is of it. Jason Kelce himself has come off an ACL and sports hernia surgery and made a Pro Bowl. Jeremy Maclin had an unbelievable year for us, had 85-catches, he’s coming off of two ACL’s. Tom Brady has torn an ACL before. Drew Brees has missed a season. Peyton Manning has missed a season. ... If he didn’t tear his ACL we wouldn’t be talking about trading for him."
With ongoing medical advancements, treatment for these kinds of injuries is better than it was even just a decade ago. The examples Chip gave in the press conference are a testament to that. Quarterbacks of Bradford's caliber don't hit the market often, and greatly improving the game's most pivotal position was worth whatever reservations the Eagles had concerning Bradford's inherent fragility.
Call him cold, but after years of watching him day after day Chip Kelly understood he wasn't going to win a Super Bowl with Nick Foles. He wanted a quarterback with more talent, and recognized "rolling the dice" and trusting his sports science-heavy medical staff to ensure Sam Bradford is (and stays) healthy was his best bet. Many may argue Chip gave up too much in the trade, but for a player with legit and proven No. 1 pick skills it was worth the health risks. This isn't a Ryan Leaf/JaMarcus Russell bust situation. This is a guy who was trapped his entire career behind a shoddy offensive line (ranked 26th or worse by PFF three out of four years he was in St. Louis) and with crappy receivers (top-six in drops three of the four years). Sam Bradford didn't stand a chance.
Chip saw this, just like every coach did. But the fact that he acted upon it, that he took the risk to get his organization a quarterback with the talent Sam possesses is brilliant in its ballsiness. It's the same testicular fortitude shown by Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton when they decided to sign Drew Brees in 2006. Brees had suffered a serious dislocation in his shoulder joint and a 360 degree tear of his labrum and rotator cuff. Teams like the Dolphins were told the former San Diego QB only had a 25% chance of playing again. Brees would lead the Saints to a victory in Super Bowl XLIV three years later.
Sam Bradford can make every throw, has a powerful arm, and all the intangibles sans being able to physically stay on the field. And if he continues to get hurt and can't start more than half of the games, because of the conditions of the trade, the Eagles get a conditional third or fourth-round pick back anyway. With backup QB Mark Sanchez on the team again, the trade was as low risk/high reward as the NFL gets.
Maybe fans don't get it because they have a hard time understanding more nuanced parts of play like footwork, decision making, and field vision. Even accuracy—which most people think they can tell simply by watching a game—can be difficult to understand without studying film since we have no idea what route the receivers were instructed to run. Sam Bradford is considerably more talented than Nick Foles, yet it seems only NFL insiders are aware of this fact. Fans at home can easily tell who's fast and who's slow, and who has a cannon arm and who throws like a drunk Chad Pennington, but they can't tell much more than that. People in the coaching rooms understand Bradford's value a lot more than those at home or in ESPN's studios. Chip Kelly said himself that he was offered a first round pick for Bradford the day following the deal.
The Nick Foles-for-Sam Bradford trade shouldn't be this difficult of a sell to a fan base with a total of zero Super Bowl victory parades. Injuries can happen continuously or never happen again. Some guys are never the same and some guys don't even need an ACL. No coach or GM can control any of that. What they can control, though, is the culture and talent level of their team. If those are qualities you value, it's hard to argue with an extremely-talented QB/RB duo who are also best friends.
They say the best ability is durability, sure, but why settle for mediocrity just because it's durable?