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Counting Down the Eagles’ Offseason Needs: No. 9, Tight End

Jan 22, 2014, 11:14 AM EDT

Free agency is right around the corner, and the draft will be here before you know it. With the Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason in full swing, we’re examining where the roster stands at each position, counting down based on team need. Check out the first installment on running backs.

source:  The Philadelphia Eagles could literally change nothing this offseason and they would still enter 2014 with the deepest, if not the best trio of tight ends in the NFL. What could possibly be of need here?

It’s not certain all three will be back.

CSNPhilly.com’s Geoff Mosher opened a can of worms last week when he suggested the Birds could cut ties with James Casey, the expensive third tight end whose playing time didn’t match the investment. Casey agreed to a three-year, $12 million free-agent contract last March, but wound up lining up on less than 20 percent of the offense’s snaps.

The word on Casey when he arrived from the Houston Texans was versatility. Philly.com’s Jimmy Kempski described the 29-year-old as a “Swiss army knife” who could move around the formation, block or run routes and contribute on special teams.

Two things happened.

First, Casey’s ability as a pass-catcher was greatly exaggerated. He once set an NCAA single-season record for tight ends with 111 receptions and 1,329 yards at Rice—the former still stands—but those historic numbers are more than his combined totals (69 REC, 783) after five years in the NFL. He simply is not a playmaker with the ball in his hands at this level.

Second, the Eagles selected Zach Ertz with the 35th-overall pick in the draft about a month later, which naturally ate into Casey’s playing time. Now the question is should the organization continue to pay roughly $4 million per season to somebody with such a small role in the offense?

The decision is a little more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.” Mosher says $2 million of that is guaranteed, so that slashes the savings from Casey’s release in half—not to mention whatever the club pays a replacement.

Not only that, his playing time actually increased significantly as 2013 went along. Casey saw action on eight or fewer offensive snaps in all but two of Philadelphia’s first 11 games according to Pro Football Focus. Over the final six games however, the snap counts jumped to 11, 22, 6, 30, 28 and 11—the outlier being a shootout against Minnesota.

So Casey absolutely has a role in the offense, even if more is typically expected for that kind of money. Let’s not ignore his value as a reserve and on special teams, either.

If the Eagles stood to create real cap space, it might make sense to move on, but is the extra million or so in walking-around money worth dropping Casey for?

Ertz so good

source:  I’m convinced Riley Cooper will not be an Eagle soon after free agency opens on March 11 due in large part to budgeting constraints. Assuming the club re-signs the infinitely more-talented Jeremy Maclin, they should have close to $20 million committed to Mac and DeSean Jackson in 2014 alone. How much can one team realistically spend on its wide receivers?

The other reason is Zach Ertz. As long as Ertz’s development continues into next season as anticipated, the increase in two-tight end sets will naturally lessen the need for three high-price receivers. In fact, the diminishing role of the slot receiver is already underway.

Jason Avant was ceding snaps to tight ends increasingly as the year went along. According to PFF’s snap-charting numbers, Avant was on the field for 70 percent or more in each of the Eagles’ first eight games. The same was true in only three of the final nine contests.

Ertz’s playing time rose accordingly, as did his production. In the month of December, the Stanford product posted 15 receptions for 195 yards and three touchdowns, by far his best stretch of the season.

That’s only scratching the surface. Ertz could be the next in the line of modern tight ends who can line up traditionally on the line of scrimmage, or split out wide or in the slot. When 6’5”, 249 pounds, 4.6 40 is standing outside the numbers, the defense has to cover him with a safety. It’s a matchup nightmare.

Ertz finished his rookie season with 36 receptions, 469 yards and four touchdowns. If he can make the leap in year two, he’s a potential 1,000-yard receiver.

Brent Celek isn’t going anywhere for awhile

source:  It was genuinely surprising listening to fans and analysts last offseason suggest Brent Celek might be on the roster bubble or a cap casualty. It will not be surprising when the conversation inevitably comes up again in 2014, but it will be no less baffling.

The casual observer will view Celek’s production as the worst it’s been since he took over as the fulltime starter for Philadelphia in 2009 and take it as a sign the soon-to-be 29-year-old is in decline. That sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth.

True, Celek’s volume was down—32 receptions for 502 yards—but he made the targets he had count. His 15.7 yards per catch were 15th-highest in the NFL, second only to Vernon Davis among tight ends, indicating plenty of big plays were made when the opportunity presented itself. Celek’s six touchdowns were also two short of a career high.

Furthermore, looking purely at statistics ignores where Celek’s greatest impact was felt—in the running game.

According to metrics site Pro Football Focus, Celek graded out as the No. 1 run-blocking tight end in the NFL this year among players who were in for at least 50 percent of offensive snaps. Even if were to account for all tight ends, including blocking specialists, Celek’s cumulative score ranked third.

Celek has become so adept at blocking, Chip Kelly refers to him like he’s the sixth member of the offensive line.

71, 65, 62, 79, 69, 87. We’ve got some guys that can block, and we’ve got a very, very talented running back. .…  This whole deal is a personnel‑driven thing, and we’ve got some really talented guys on the offensive line. We’ve got a really talented tight end when it comes to blocking.

Celek is set to make $4 million next season, which actually is a reduction from his cap hit in 2013. That number grows to $4.8 million in ’15 and $5M in the final year, which aren’t bad numbers as long as he continues to play at his current level.

Previously: No. 10, Running Back

  1. death from above - Jan 22, 2014 at 1:14 PM

    Riley Cooper gone? Maclin back,and immensely more talented?

    I realize that Cooper is a “hot button issue”,but try to keep it real. Wasn’t Coopers last year comparable to Maclins best?

    We are fortunate to be in good shape TE-wise. Sending Casey away this year would be foolish at best, probably more prudent to play this hand and look to draft next year.

    Reply
    • Andrew Kulp - Jan 22, 2014 at 1:27 PM

      No, his year was not comparable to any of Maclin’s at all. Cooper cannot get separation from cornerbacks within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and Maclin is every bit the threat down the field and in the red zone, if not vastly superior. He’s a better athlete and better receiver in every area of the field, period.

      Cooper blocks well (but not as good as advertised), but that becomes irrelevant when defenses such as the Saints’ take the safety from that side of the field and plug him in the box because they flat out don’t respect Cooper.

      Reply
      • NickyK - Jan 22, 2014 at 1:47 PM

        This is tougher than simply saying Maclin is better. On the surface, yeah, Maclin has better measurables. And yeah, before this season, Cooper couldn’t seem to get open. The problem with the comparison right now is that we’ve seen Cooper in Kelly’s system with Foles as QB, and we have not seen Maclin. Logic suggests Maclin would put up numbers equal to or greater than his previous seasons, but who knows for sure. Certain quarterbacks prefer different targets.

        If you look at their most recent season, though, both Maclin and Cooper caught 56% of the balls thrown to them. Cooper, surprisingly, has more big play potential, as suggested by his significantly larger average yards per catch. He also scored one more touchdown than Maclin in 38 fewer targets–perhaps because he’s such a huge redzone target. Cooper also has never fumbled the ball. Not once in his entire NFL career. Maclin doesn’t exactly have a fumbling problem, but it’s worth noting when you have a coach that harps specifically, among other things, on protecting the ball.

        I personally think Maclin is a much better weapon and athlete with a skill set that fits this offense to a greater degree, but, again, I don’t think the dismissal of Cooper is that cut and dry.

      • Andrew Kulp - Jan 22, 2014 at 1:54 PM

        “And yeah, before this season, Cooper couldn’t seem to get open. ” No, he couldn’t seem to get open in all but about five games this year.

        “Certain quarterbacks prefer different targets.” Foles has thrown to Maclin before, in 2012, and quite adequately I would add.

        “Cooper, surprisingly, has more big play potential, as suggested by his significantly larger average yards per catch.” That number is inflated because down the field is the only place he can catch the ball. Cooper had 13 receptions over 20 yards. The previous three seasons, Maclin had 12, 15 and 13.

        “He also scored one more touchdown than Maclin in 38 fewer targets–perhaps because he’s such a huge redzone target.” Half of Cooper’s touchdowns were on plays of 20 yards or more. Maclin has had better seasons than Cooper in the red zone.

      • TL - Feb 6, 2014 at 6:32 PM

        Two things…..Maclin coming off ACL surgery…..Coopers numbers were way better with Foles, then with Vick early on…..our starting QB wants him……those two things make this a lot closer then some want to admit.

    • death from above - Jan 22, 2014 at 1:35 PM

      Kulp…

      Yardswise they were comparable, I believe. Best.vs.best totals.

      Cooper has two knees…Maclin has two surgically repaired knees. If they were horses, who do you put the money on?

      Reply
      • Andrew Kulp - Jan 22, 2014 at 1:39 PM

        They’re not horses. Tell me, who is the last player whose prime was derailed by an ACL?

        Yardswise, Cooper could not match what Maclin did in any of the previous three seasons, and ignores the fact that he’s a one-trick pony. You need receivers who can move the chains.

      • death from above - Jan 22, 2014 at 1:42 PM

        answer-Nate Allen

      • Andrew Kulp - Jan 22, 2014 at 1:47 PM

        Allen’s injury wasn’t an ACL, and for all we know, scheme had more to do with his struggles than anything else.

      • death from above - Jan 22, 2014 at 4:38 PM

        So Kulp as the would be GM,you would advocate letting a healthy no.two walk for an injured no.two?

        Your arguement is close to the “all he does is catch touchdowns”

        If Cooper isn’t in this line-up we’re looking at 6-10 not 10-6

  2. death from above - Jan 22, 2014 at 1:55 PM

    Allen was never the same after the injury, scheme be damned.

    Anyway, are we in agreement that we have zero TE problems? Definitely look great there compared to Safety.

    Reply
    • will - Jan 22, 2014 at 5:39 PM

      allen was never very good to begin with and his injury was his patellar tendon not his acl. and we wouldn’t have to worry about allen or safety if they would’ve drafted earl thomas.

      Reply
      • death from above - Jan 22, 2014 at 6:23 PM

        You win…

        It’s still a friggin knee injury

  3. will - Jan 22, 2014 at 5:37 PM

    the cooper vs. maclin debate is amazing. amazingly stupid.

    Reply
    • death from above - Jan 22, 2014 at 6:25 PM

      Please explain why it’s stupid.

      Reply
      • will - Jan 23, 2014 at 9:51 AM

        it’s stupid because cooper’s best season would be maclin’s worst.

  4. SehornLives - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:14 PM

    Coopers ten game stretch once he started playing with a REAL quarterback, dwarfs any ten game stretch of any season the LESS talented Maclin ever had. Cooper is bigger , stronger, and has better long speed then Maclin. In my opinion, you do not have a clue as to what you are talking about. On another note, I’d love to hear your “expert” opinion of Jordy Nelson…lol

    Reply
    • will - Jan 23, 2014 at 9:53 AM

      this is sarcasm, right?

      Reply
      • Andrew Kulp - Jan 23, 2014 at 9:58 AM

        Has to be.

  5. SehornLives - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:35 PM

    What is sarcastic, cooper is much bigger , highpoints the ball better, and he does NOT lack any speed at all. Maclin has never had a 1000 yard season and if Foles started from day 1 Cooper would have easily surpassed that. Quite honestly, if Cooper were black Andrew, you would be screaming from the rooftops about his amazing season, we finally found our big receiver, etc. Your negative opinion is your inability to see any white white wide receiver as anything more than a secondary receiver, a slot guy, or the dreaded possession receiver. Let me throw some facts your way, Riley Cooper, according to Mike Mayock, at the Combine ran 4.48. that is faster than Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant, Michael Crabtree and Vincent Jackson. I’m sure a guy like you would never refer to any one of those real receivers lol as anything more than elite athletes. It is not my opinion it is a fact Coopers faster than all of them.I will anxiously await your response.

    Reply
    • willh888 - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:47 PM

      Cooper 4.53
      Maclin 4.45

      Just because you hold meetings in a barn doesn’t mean you’re clear on comparing receivers. I want to hear more Riley ran a 4.4 tales

      Reply
    • Andrew Kulp - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:48 PM

      From Reuben Frank: “According to data collected by NFL Combine Results, Cooper’s 4.53 was tied for 312th out of 450 wide receivers that ran the 40 from 1999 through 2013.”

      http://www.csnphilly.com/football-philadelphia-eagles/cooper-glad-his-speed-finally-being-respected

      Reply
      • SehornLives - Jan 23, 2014 at 3:38 PM

        Google Mike Mayock Riley Cooper 40, also, even if he ran a 4.53, that is still faster Then Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall….so come on Andrew, this BS about he “can’t get seperation” is just not true. He is a big, strong, fast receiver , who in his first year as a starter, put up great #’s . End of story…..

      • Andrew Kulp - Jan 23, 2014 at 4:09 PM

        So what if he ran a better 40 than Des or Marshall? Those players have more talent. Marshall catches 100 balls per year. Dez is a better target in the red zone. Riley Cooper caught 16 passes within 1-10 ya of the line of scrimmage, indicating he can’t beat press coverage. The end.

      • will - Jan 23, 2014 at 5:00 PM

        actually bryant and marshall ran faster 40 times than cooper. in fact the only person you listed who ran a slower 40 time at the combine than cooper, was crabtree. so those are some great facts you are throwing around.

    • will - Jan 23, 2014 at 2:03 PM

      who played qb for the eagles the last 6 games of the year? it couldn’t have been foles by looking at cooper’s numbers.

      Reply

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