The Philadelphia Eagles’ penny-stock plan has been thrust into the national spotlight this offseason. From the starting quarterback to the backup defensive backs, Chip Kelly has peppered his roster with players on the cheap for injury history. Quarterback Sam Bradford, linebacker Kiko Alonso, running back Ryan Matthews, and cornerback Walter Thurmond highlight Kelly’s damaged business investments. Down in Dallas, however, the Cowboys have been building their own house of cards.
Jerry Jones and co. have also adopted the policy of buying low on players. While the Eagles try to find players who are undervalued for injury history, the Cowboys have pushed their chips in for players with troubled pasts and off-the-field issues.
The first move the Cowboys made in this direction was signing highly-publicized pass rusher Greg Hardy. Hardy, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, was arrested due to a domestic violence case last year. With similar incidents occurring involving Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, Hardy’s infraction was so highly-publicized that Cowboys fans are now trying to buy the ten guns that were confiscated from his home during the arrest. The NFL has already suspended Hardy ten games for 2015, so his impact on the defense will be limited. Dallas only gave Hardy a one-year, incentive-laden contract in fear of the suspension, so this move seems to be financially protected.
Dallas also moved to re-sign linebacker Rolando McClain and receiver Dez Bryant. Both McClain and Bryant have had off-the-field issues in the past, but the Cowboys were willing to overlook them in rewarding two key contributors. Gary Glick of Synergy Sports told PHL Sports Nation that based on what he’s heard, Bryant “has cleaned [his off-the-field issues] up quite a bit.” Bryant went on to have a Pro Bowl season last year, and the Cowboys were forced to franchise tag him after their initial lowball offer soured long-term contract negotiations. With Bryant having stayed out of trouble for a long period of time, evidence was clearly present for the Cowboys to invest in him.
McClain was given a one-year contract similar to the one Hardy earned. The deal is based primarily off of gamely incentives, and bonuses McClain would receive if he is on the 46-man active roster for games. Only time will tell if McClain can follow the law and develop into the talented linebacker he is capable of becoming.
Most recently, Dallas took a chance on rookie offensive lineman La’el Collins, who was called back to questioning in Louisiana for the murder of his former girlfriend, and her child. Collins went from a sure first-round pick to going undrafted, with Chip Kelly stating at a press conference that Collins was “not on [the Eagles’] draft board.” The paternity test determining whether Collins was the father of the child came back negative, and the Cowboys found further evidence and reason to believe Collins was not at fault in this incident. Dallas pounced on the opportunity to sign Collins, adding a first-round pick to deepen their star-studded offensive line.
While both teams have experimented with players who pose risks, the Cowboys seem to have controlled their variables the best. Dallas has limited the contracts these players will be earning by allocating money in incentives driven by games played. Additionally, the Cowboys felt they had enough evidence to convince themselves that Bryant and Collins would remain out of the legal spotlight, and stay focused on the football team. The Cowboys feel their players can control themselves off the field, and are not gambling on issues that are out of their jurisdiction like the Eagles are.
The Eagles have, in contrast, invested about $13 million to quarterback Sam Bradford, who has missed significant time due to injury. The Bills were able to acquire Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy for the services of a linebacker with an ACL tear. Walter Thurmond looks to be the Eagles starting cornerback—with Eric Rowe playing safety—even though he missed all of last season with injury. The Giants, who signed Thurmond from Seattle las offseason, didn’t have the confidence in Thurmond to bring him back for another attempt ion 2015. Most importantly, injuries are uncontrollable events that are simply a part of football. Some players are more prone to injury than others, and Chip Kelly has no way of controlling who gets hurt at what time.
The lack of financial protection, insufficient research done on the injuries (on the surface: the moves could prove to have been well thought out), and inability to control or influence how the players hold up give Kelly’s plan low odds to succeed. It seems like Kelly may as well have gone after players with red flags, as at least the team can implement security and surveillance measures to influence the players’ recreational habits.
As we speculate how both teams will fare in the NFC East race, it’s clear the Cowboys’ renovation plan has a better chance of succeeding than the Eagles’. Unless Kelly’s sport science is capable of undoing significant structural injuries to these players, Eagles fans better cross their fingers each time Bradford goes down, as it might be his last.