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Philadelphia Eagles and Offensive Turnover

The Eagles 2015 offense isn’t going to look very much like the team’s 2014 offense. The starting quarterback duties were split between Mark Sanchez and Nick Foles last year, but Sam Bradford is expected to be the team’s top quarterback this year.1 The top running back was LeSean McCoy, but he’s been replaced by DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. And the team’s top wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, is also gone.

Already, this is pretty freakin’ rare. For purposes of this post, I am going to assume that Mark Sanchez isn’t on the 2015 Eagles roster, because that meet the spirit of the question.2 If that’s the case — or if Sanchez doesn’t take a single snap all year — Philadelphia would be the first team since 2008 to have turned over their top quarterback, top running back, and top receiver.

That team was the 2008 Bears. The prior year, the team went 7-9 with an ugly offense, led by Brian Griese, Cedric Benson, and Bernard Berrian. A year later, those three were in Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, and Minnesota.

The only other team since 2002 to meet these standards were the ’06 Saints. You might recall that the 2006 Saints were a very good team that reached the championship game with Drew Brees, Deuce McAllister, and Marques Colston. But Brees and Colston joined New Orleans in ’06, while McAlister missed most of ’05 with an injury; as a result, it was Aaron Brooks, Antowain Smith, and Donte’ Stallworth that were the statistical leaders on the Katrina Saints, a team that ranked 31st in points.

Remember that both McCoy and Maclin each topped the 1300 yard mark in rushing and receiving yards, respectively. And the Eagles ranked in the top five in both points and yards. That makes this sort of turnover pretty much unheard of. Let’s start with this: getting rid of a 1200 yard rusher is pretty rare, although both the Eagles and Cowboys did it this year. Before that, though, the last team to do it was the 2010 Jets, who let Thomas Jones move on to Kansas City after rushing for 1,402 yards in 2009. Before that you have to go back to 2006, when Jones (Chicago to the Jets) again qualifies, Tiki Barber retired, and Travis Henry was cut by the Titans despite rushing for 1,211 yards.

The ’06 Titans are one of just two teams to have a 1200-yard rusher leave and the top receiver (regardless of production) leave. That’s because Drew Bennett moved on to St. Louis after the season. The only other team only qualifies on a technicality: the ’98 Colts, who traded leading rusher Marshall Faulk and leading receiver Marshall Faulk.

Now remember: the above ignores any change at quarterback and quality of receiver. What if we look at losing a star receiver (say, over 1,000 yards) and any change at running back? That brings up just four teams since 1950: the ’01 Ravens (Qadry Ismail, Terry Allen), ’97 Ravens (Derrick Alexander, Bam Morris), ’94 Jets (Rob Moore, Johnny Johnson), and ’94 Chargers (Anthony Miller, Marion Butts). The two Ravens teams also had changes at quarterback, with Elvis Grbac (in ’02) and Vinny Testaverde (in ’98) not returning to Baltimore.

But neither Ravens team could match what the ’14 Eagles did on offense. So while it’s rare to see turnover at the top of a team’s quarterback, running back, and receiver depth chart, it’s unprecedented when it comes from a good team. Only one team in the last 20 years even ranked in the top 10 in points scored and then turned over their top running back and wide receiver: the 2007 Patriots, who did not have Corey Dillon or Reche Caldwell on the roster after those players were team leaders in ’06. And, as you probably know, there was no change at quarterback there, either. There are zero examples since 1950 of a team ranking in the top 10 in points scored and then failing to have its top quarterback, running back, and wide receiver on the roster the next year.

Philadelphia, which ranked 3rd in points scored in 2014, is already an outlier just by the quarterback change. Since 2000, only three teams — the ’05 Chargers (Brees to Philip Rivers), ’07 Packers (Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers), and ’09 Eagles (Donovan McNabb to … Kevin Kolb/Michael Vick) — ranked in the top five in points scored and then did not have that team’s top quarterback back.

Something tells me Chip Kelly isn’t too bothered by any of this history stuff. And in a vacuum, it’s hard to disagree with upgrading from McCoy to Murray or Foles to Bradford, if you want to ignore the salary cap. And given the salary cap, moving on from Maclin makes sense, too. But with all these aggressive and unusual changes to a very productive offense, Kelly has opened himself up to a lot of criticism if things don’t run smoothly in Philadelphia in 2015.

  1. If he falters, Sanchez is still around, but then of course there’s also Tim Tebow. []
  2. Or, you could call Foles the team’s top quarterback if you like. But the way I’m defining top quarterback in this post — the player with the most passing yards — Sanchez would get marked down as the ’14 Eagles top passer. []
  • Richie

    I guess the next question is how often do those huge changes lead to success? It did for the 2006 Saints and 2007 Patriots. It sure seems like more often than not, bringing in the expensive free agents just doesn’t work out. (Daunte Culpepper, Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbee, Phillip Wheeler.)