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The NFC East Landscape: Eagles About To Make A Big Splash In Free Agency?

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The Eagles look to be loading up on cap space to challenge the Cowboys for supremacy in the division.

Two coaches. Two very different approaches. Who is on the right track?
Two coaches. Two very different approaches. Who is on the right track?
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Shades of the Philadelphia Eagles "Dream Team"! The NFC East rival for the Dallas Cowboys have made some huge moves to free up a ton of cap space in recent days. They cut ties with cornerback Cary Williams, which gave them $6.5 million in space. They will also dump Trent Cole ($8.5 million). And now they have completed arrangements for a one-for-one trade that sends LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso, which will net them around $7 million more in cap space. That is about $24 million in additional cap space, which, based on figures at Over The Cap, will give them around $50 million to play with in free agency.

I don't think Chip Kelly, who has almost total control over roster moves now, is planning on banking much of that for next year.

Suddenly the Eagles are poised to be one of the biggest players in free agency, which is always a "win now" approach for teams. And Kelly will get the credit or the blame for however this turns out.

No free agent is now out of the question for the Eagles. Ndamukong Suh could be a target. Devin McCourty is almost certainly high on their radar. They could even make a run at a certain Dez Bryant. With that much money, they could get multiple big names, or a boatload of more reasonably priced parts to try and build a winner. Kelly has not exactly thrown caution to the wind. He has taken a couple of tons of C4 and blown it to smithereens.

Will it work? Fans of the Cowboys certainly hope not, and remember the somewhat spectacular failure of that much derided "Dream Team". But if Kelly can manage to get this right, the Eagles might become very scary indeed.

When the first reports of the McCoy/Alonso trade came out, the initial reaction was that it was likely a good thing for the Cowboys, since the loss of McCoy seemed to subtract more from the offense than Alonso, coming off an ACL injury, was likely to add to the defense, even if he is completely healthy. But that discounts the possibility of replacing McCoys' production, which was not as great in 2014 as it had been the previous couple of years. With the depth of the running back class in this year's draft, that may not be such a large task, and there are certainly other, less expensive options in the free agent group this year as well. The extra cap space means that the Eagles will gain not one but two or three players, which makes the trade make a lot more sense. The consensus seems to be that this is actually a good move by Kelly, although the "genius" factor that seems to shade perceptions of the less-than-shy coach may be coloring perceptions a bit. Our "friends" over at Bleeding Green Nation are in favor of the deal by a two to one margin.

There is also the Marcus Mariota factor. For months, there has been speculation that Kelly is prepared to package a whole bunch of current and future draft picks to trade up for the Oregon quarterback, who is assumed to be able to step into Kelly's offense with little or no trouble at all. Now that he has the cap space to get basically whoever he wants in free agency, he could see making that trade as far less damaging to the future of the team than it used to appear. But even if he does not pull the trigger on that kind of blockbuster draft move, he can now stock his team up with some proven NFL talent.

But is going heavy in free agency to win now a wise move by the coach widely acknowledged to be the smartest guy ever to work in any capacity whatsoever in the NFL? Strangely, this seems to fly in the face of the belief that the correct way to build a winner in the NFL is through the draft, not through signing players that are no longer considered worth keeping by their old teams. And since Kelly was also the smartest guy to ever coach at the college level, he should have some insight into acquiring talent through the draft.

However, Kelly seems to be taking a new approach to bringing college talent to his pro team (he is, after all, the greatest innovator professional sports has ever even thought of).

There is even a new team logo out to represent this daring and obviously brilliant strategy.

In all seriousness, this may point to a serious flaw in what Kelly is doing. I happened to catch a bit of the Sedano and Stink program on ESPN radio when they were discussing a mistake that is fairly common in the NFL. They termed it "overvaluing your own scheme". What they meant was that coaches develop an inflated view of their own ability to utilize players, believing that their system and coaching can be successful with material that other coaches couldn't use as well. The stockpiling of players that Kelly knew from his days at Oregon makes this look very likely a factor in what he is doing now in Philly.

That does not mean he can't make this all work, just that it is not something that can be taken for granted. Kelly is definitely going against the grain. The large number of players from one school is something that has no track record of giving an advantage, at least that I am aware of. It seems to be illogical on the face of it, since the rest of the league is trying to find the cream of the college crop by looking for the best players on the roster, not trying to find one good college team to provide a large portion of the roster. And for all the noise Oregon has made in recent years, they have never won a national championship. In essence, Kelly may be making the same mistake twice about his own system, overrating it at both the college and pro level.

But there could be a path that does make some sense. He might be trying to both win now and build for the future, which would be a smart move if the free agent signings this year do improve the team significantly. That would mean that who you sign in brings better value than who you cut loose. It is not a surefire approach, but Kelly does have the ability to go with numbers to tilt things in his favor with all that cap space.

If he does turn this bounty of cap space into a winner, then he will deserve at least a great deal of the awe that so many in the media and even the league have for him. But that remains to be seen. He is taking an approach to the game that seems to be diametrically opposed to that Jason Garrett and the Cowboys are, at least as far as taking an abrupt approach rather than going steadily and incrementally. After last season, Garrett's process has gained a lot of credibility. It is going to be very interesting to see how the two teams fare as they contend for the NFC East and beyond.

But the division is certainly being shaken up. We will find out on the field if this is a brilliant move or just another in the long series of failed attempts by the Eagles to finally get something to put in their Super Bowl era trophy case besides the cobwebs already there.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB