Chip Explains: Plan Was Always To Add Two Backs

According to Chip Kelly, this was always part of the plan.

When the Eagles dealt LeSean McCoy to the Bills for Kiko Alonso, they determined their best approach to replace his production was to add multiple ball-carriers. The names at the top of their list? Frank GoreDeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews.

“We obviously lost a tremendous running back in LeSean,” Kelly said Thursday at the NovaCare Complex. “So how do you replace that productivity? What’s available out there? And obviously we thought the three best guys were Frank and DeMarco and Ryan. And we wanted to target two of them. And we ended up with two of them.

“Did we have a master plan that it was always gonna work out like this? No, but we went into it with an idea that if we lose LeSean, we better get two guys.”

The Eagles lost out on Gore, and that’s when Kelly made a call to Murray. He said initially he thought Murray would be out of the Birds’ price range, but the reigning rushing champion had yet to find a home.

Kelly sees Murray as an excellent scheme fit for what the Eagles are trying to do.

“A physical, downhill runner,” he said. “Zone scheme, what we’re looking for, downhill, one-cut runner. Both him and Ryan I think possess those qualities. When you have a physical, downhill runner, you better have two of them because they’re gonna carry the ball, but they’re also gonna take a lot of physical shots, so we want to be able to spread out the carries.

“We were fortunate, and a real credit to LeSean, that we had for the last two years had your fingers crossed the whole time that he never got injured. And it’s a real credit to him in terms of his durability. But knowing the style that those guys have, I think being able to distribute the carries to two guys is what we’re looking to do.”

Per ESPN, Murray’s contract is five years, $40 million with $18 million guaranteed, and it certainly comes with risk. Murray carried the ball 392 times last year and has only played 16 games once in his career.

Asked specifically about the amount of guaranteed money, Kelly said: “I would hope DeMarco’s here for a long time. I would hope that we get an opportunity to sign him to a third contract.”

He added that the plan is to divvy up the carries and lighten Murray’s workload.

“Part of also having Ryan here, I would hope that DeMarco does not have to carry the ball 392 times this year,” he said. “If he does, then we’re running it 692 times.

“And we also have Darren Sproles. So I don’t think we have to give that running back that many carries. I think we want to make sure we have enough carries. And I think part of what we’re gonna do in terms of running the football, we have to be able to distribute those carries.”

When the Eagles let McCoy go, many (including yours truly) thought the plan was to invest less in the running back spot and let Kelly’s scheme work its magic. Instead, with Murray and Mathews, the team has poured $23 million in guaranteed money into the position.

During free agency planning, the team outlined how much money it wanted to allocate to each position, but Kelly said there always has to be flexibility built-in, depending on the market.

“It’s like Pirates of the Caribbeans,” he said. “It wasn’t rules, but yeah we had guidelines. You have to have some flexibility. With a lot of players, there’s gotta be a dropoff. We’re not going over that. If it gets into a bidding war, we’re not going over that. We lost a couple from our own players that went and signed with other teams that got paid some really good money. We would love to have ‘em back, but it just got too rich for us in terms of trying to put everything together.”

The plan has always been to be a run-first spread under Kelly, and that will continue in 2015. It’s just that the ball-carriers will be different.

Of course, the roster still has plenty of holes that need to be filled. Most notably, right guard, wide receiver and safety. Kelly said he’s comfortable with where the Eagles are from a financial perspective, and he’s confident that they’ll be able to effectively fill out the rest of the roster.

“We’re not done,” he said. “We have the draft coming up, and there’s other opportunities. …We feel very comfortable where we are. It’s March. We still have the draft. We still have a lot of other opportunities to add to this football team. So this isn’t the final product in terms of putting 90 guys together.”