Next Steps for NFL's Birds…

For the most part, Delawareans follow two NFL teams, the Eagles and the Ravens. There are a lot of Steelers fans around here, too, and some Giants transplants, and there are always Cowboys fans lurking in the shadows. Heck, there are even some old-timers who still pine for the days when Johnny Unitas led the Baltimore Colts to glory, but for the most part you’re either an Eagles fan or a Ravens fans.

Both teams ended their 2014 seasons on disappointing notes, as the Eagles faded down the stretch and didn’t even make the playoffs and the Ravens faded in the fourth quarter of their playoff game with New England, and now it’s the Patriots and not the Ravens who will play in Super Bowl XLIX.

But, as we all know, the NFL season never really ends and right now the Eagles and Ravens have coaches and personnel people watching Senior Bowl practices as they gear up for the 2015 draft. And both teams have off-season questions that must be answered if they’re going to compete for a championship in 2015.

Eagles fans seem to be interested in two things right now: Who will coach Chip Kelly hire as his top personnel guy, and how can Kelly possibly move up in the draft to nab Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota?

Well, the answers to both questions are pretty easy. As for No. 1 – it doesn’t really matter as long as the new personnel guy gets along with Kelly. The coach will make the final decisions on the roster and the personnel guy will simply make recommendations to the coach. That means Kelly isn’t looking for a personnel genius as much as he’s looking for somebody he’s compatible with. That was his main criteria when he hired Pat Shurmur and Bill Davis as his offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively. They clicked during the interview process and that’s what Kelly is looking for now – that click.

The answer to No. 2 is also obvious – he can’t. Mariota’s stock may have fallen after his poor performance in the NCAA championship game, but it won’t fall nearly that far, not with so many teams desperate for a franchise QB. The Eagles have the 20th overall selection and there’s no way they could put together a trade package of that magnitude without giving away half their team. And even then there would be no guarantees. The Redskins traded away a boatload of premium draft picks to move up for QB Robert Griffin III and we all know how that has turned out. Plus the Eagles have plenty of other positions that need reinforcing and it won’t matter who their quarterback is if they can’t cover an enemy pass receiver every once in a while.

Kelly isn’t that big of a gambler, despite his reputation as an innovator. Even though his no-huddle, fast-tempo approach is different than conventional offenses, Kelly is like every other NFL coach — he’ll almost always go with the safe call instead of the risky call. And tearing up his roster for one player – and an unproven one, at that — would be the riskiest call of them all. So, hope Nick Foles comes back 100 percent and plays like he did in 2013 while you watch Mariota play for the Tennessee Titans or the New York Jets or some other bad team.

Next up are the Ravens, and their big news isn’t about somebody they might acquire, but somebody they’ve already lost – offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who left to become head coach in Denver.

The Ravens have had tremendous stability at quarterback because Joe Flacco has never missed a game in seven years, making 112 straight starts. But in 2015 he’ll have his fourth offensive coordinator in as many years and that has to have an effect on him and the Ravens’ offense in general.

Of course, Flacco and the Ravens have dealt with this before. In 2012, coach John Harbaugh fired veteran coordinator Cam Cameron late in the season and replaced him with Jim Caldwell and the Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, with Flacco playing flawless football during the championship run. But then Flacco followed that with his worst NFL season and the Ravens finished 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since Harbaugh and Flacco got together in 2008.

When Caldwell left after the 2013 season to become head coach of the Detroit Lions, the Ravens were fortunate that Kubiak, former head coach of the Houston Texans, was available. Flacco thrived under Kubiak, even though he had a couple of really bad games, as he seems to do every season. But he also had a bunch of great games and 2014 was Flacco’s best NFL season statistically as the Ravens set franchise records for points (409) and yardage (5,838).

And now Flacco has to break in another new guy, even though the new guy has plenty of experience. In fact, Marc Trestman was offensive coordinator in Cleveland when Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens’ general manager, was a player for the Browns in the 1980s. Trestman and Kubiak run similar offenses, but this still means another adjustment period for Flacco and the rest of the Ravens’ offense. And in the NFL, where a team can make or miss the playoffs by a single game – as the Eagles know all too well – there is no time to waste and no room for error.

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