INDIANAPOLIS – Chad Kelly seems like a nice kid. I’ll give him that. Looks you in the eye when he talks. Speaks softly, says the right things, all stuff he’s done before. Now he’s doing them for the Indianapolis Colts.
We all know why. For nine years Colts coach Frank Reich backed up Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly in Buffalo, and the two remain close. Jim Kelly is Chad Kelly’s uncle. Those dots are easy enough to connect.
Where the line gets crooked is when you take a close look at Chad Kelly’s background. Not just the big headlines, which are bad – if explainable, apparently – enough, but the smaller words buried within some of those stories. By now you probably know: The Denver Broncos released Kelly in October after he was arrested on charges of trespassing inside a woman’s home near a Halloween party thrown by teammate Von Miller. And you probably know: Clemson released him in 2014 for what coach Dabo Swinney called “a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program."
Kicked off an NFL team. Kicked off a college team. You probably knew that.
Did you know he was kicked off a high school team, too? Or that he was invited to the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine here in Indianapolis, only to have the invitation rescinded for reasons never made public? Kelly was one of two 2017 prospects whose character issues rose to that level. The other was Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon.
Did you know that?
Or did you know that, when Clemson gave him the boot, campus police literally escorted him from the stadium?
You might know: Kelly was arrested in December 2014 – eight months after being dismissed from Clemson, and less than two weeks after signing with Ole Miss – after allegedly fighting with a bouncer.
Did you know that, according to the police report obtained by the Buffalo News, Kelly “kicked and tried to swing at officers as they removed him from the vehicle”? Or that the police report goes on to quote Kelly as telling bouncers: "I'm going to go to my car and get my AK-47 and spray this place”?
Did you know that?
Whatever Jim Kelly told the Colts this spring to vouch for his nephew, it must have been good. Maybe it was as good as what Jim Kelly had said in 2017 to Denver Broncos president John Elway, who told ESPN after the 2017 NFL Draft that he’d used the Broncos’ seventh-round pick on Kelly after speaking to Uncle Jim.
"I called his uncle, and he said, 'He's a good kid,'" Elway told ESPN. "I said, 'OK, that's all I need.'”
That’s all I need …
How’d that work out for the Broncos?
Look, I know what some of you are thinking. Why is this IndyStar idiot being so hard on Chad Kelly? And granted, it does look like I’m being hard on Kelly. I’d submit that I’m merely using facts, not hyperbole. And I’d agree with you: The facts are awfully hard on Chad Kelly.
But here’s where I’d disagree: I’m not being hard on Kelly.
I’m being hard on the Colts.
Why sign this guy? Beyond the obvious. Beyond Frank Reich doing a solid for Jim Kelly. Beyond that, why is Chad Kelly here?
Under Reich and general manager Chris Ballard, the Colts have done a fabulous job of reinventing a lousy locker room, taking the mistakes acquired by Ryan Grigson and enabled by Chuck Pagano and getting rid of them. The Colts’ culture, led by the humility of Andrew Luck and the passion of Quenton Nelson and the quiet class of Darius Leonard and Clayton Geathers and Kenny Moore, is among the best in the NFL. If you’re going to risk that culture, rock that boat, you don’t do it lightly.
And ideally, you don’t do it for a guy who will never play. And make no mistake: Chad Kelly will never play for this team. Not this season, for sure.
Kelly is behind third-stringer Phillip Walker right now, getting barely half of Walker's snaps according to eyewitnesses at the Colts’ organized team activities. Even with Luck out with a strained calf, Walker and backup Jacoby Brissett are getting almost all the snaps. Kelly is just here as an extra arm, near as anyone can tell. And that’s before Luck comes back and starts siphoning off as many reps as he can.
Ballard and Reich love Brissett, turning down trade overtures this offseason, but Brissett is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Perhaps the Colts see Chad Kelly as the heir in 2020 to Brissett, a young and reasonably priced backup several years removed from his rookie year.
That’s the guy the franchise is giving its highest-profiled second chance in years? The possible backup quarterback next season?
Doesn’t make sense to me, though again, Kelly said the right things on Wednesday, things like:
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity, and to have these coaches and these players and the support staff making me a better person on and off the field.”
“At the end of the day you’ve got to put in the work for these guys to trust you. … I know it’s going to take some time, but I’m up to the challenge.”
“In order to change your ways you’ve got to cut some things out. You can’t be hanging around the same people, be doing the things you thought you could get away with. So I’m thankful for this opportunity, and I know that in order to gain the trust of others, I know I have to show over time that this is who I am, this is who I truly am.”
Kelly spoke frequently Wednesday of his faith, making eight such references in his 7½ minutes with local reporters. That will play in the locker room, and in this community, and to a coach who is an ordained minister.
Just as it played at Ole Miss in December 2014, after Kelly was arrested outside a nightclub in Buffalo – I’m going to go to my car and get my AK-47 and spray this place – and he told a reporter he had been attending church and Bible study with Rebels coach Hugh Freeze, and went on Freeze’s mission trip to Haiti.
Make no mistake: Chad Kelly knows what to say, and most of the time he knows what to do. But then, he’s had a lot of practice. After Clemson kicked him off the team for his “pattern of behavior” that included arguing with coaches about a play call in the spring game, he spent the 2014 season at East Mississippi Community College,the JUCO powerhouse featured in the Netflix documentary Last Chance U.
By then, Chad Kelly had been kicked off a high school team and a college team, but as it turns out, East Mississippi wasn’t his last chance. Ole Miss wasn’t his last chance, either. Neither were the Denver Broncos.
Maybe, finally, the Colts are his last chance.
Let’s see what he does with it. Looks like a nice kid, as I was saying.
But looks can be deceiving. We’ll find out if anyone was deceived this time around.
Find Star columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at www.facebook.com/gregg.doyel.
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