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Why the Philadelphia Eagles don’t need Riley Cooper anymore

Jan 9, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

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Randy Moss. Terrell Owens. Chad Johnson. These are names of players who fans suggested play wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles after Jeremy Maclin suffered a torn ACL in training camp. In 2013! That’s how desperate folks were to keep Riley Cooper off the field before he used a racial slur.

Fast forward six months, and suddenly people are acting like the Eagles can’t do without Cooper as the four-year veteran hurtles toward free agency for the first time.

As it turned out, Cooper filled the role of No. 2 receiver in Chip Kelly’s offense adequately and then some. He actually became quite the big-play threat, finishing third in the NFL with 17.8 yards per catch, sixth with six receptions of 40 yards or more and 16th with eight touchdowns.

Now he’s a hero.

The emergence of Cooper as a viable option saved the Birds’ season, that much is probably true. Looking at the big picture though, the 26-year-old simply isn’t integral to the franchise’s immediate or long-term success—he may even be detrimental to it.

First of all, what does he cost?

Likely quite a bit more than you think. On the open market, Cooper should easily fetch as much as $5-6 million per season over four or five years, a figure based on contracts similarly- or less-productive receivers have signed.

Brian Hartline earned a five-year, $30.7 million extension from the Dolphins during the 2012 campaign. The following offseason, the Patriots awarded free agent Danny Amendola a five-year, $28.5 million deal.

That seems to be the going rate these days for anything less than a star receiver—not to mention a serious commitment to somebody who figures to fall to No. 3 on the depth chart. Cooper isn’t even the Eagles’ top free-agent priority at his position, a distinction that belongs to Maclin.

If this is an and/or proposition, it’s not even close. Maclin is the choice. We’re talking about first-round talent versus fifth here. Cooper’s 47 catches and 835 yards fall short of Maclin’s totals the previous three seasons, while Cooper’s eight TDs are fewer than Maclin’s career high of 10.

You can almost understand why Maclin’s stock might’ve dipped somewhat. He just missed a full season, and for various reasons, has yet to reach “the next level”—but then he’s never played in Chip’s offense, either.

Due to his injury, Maclin may not command the number of years Cooper does, but the financials could be the same or higher. Add in the fact that DeSean Jackson is owed $30 million over the next three seasons, and it’s a lot to invest in one position.

Keep in mind, the Eagles have some young talent they’ll want to be able to extend over the next couple years, including Nick Foles, Jason Kelce, Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin to name a few. The organization would also like to maintain some flexibility to sign blue-chip free agents when appropriate.

Why tie up so many resources at wide receiver, especially when the Eagles figure to use three less frequently going forward? Jason Avant was already ceding playing time to tight end Zach Ertz toward the end of 2013, a trend that will only continue next season and beyond.

Ertz put an exclamation point on a solid rookie year in the month of December, snaring 15 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns. He scored again in Philadelphia’s first-round playoff loss to the Saints as well.

Not only does Ertz give the Birds the ability to utilize more conventional two-tight end sets, he often substitutes as a third wide receiver. Kelly didn’t think twice about lining up the 35th-overall pick in the slot or split wide, so if it’s size on the outside you’re concerned about, 6’5” Zach Ertz has got you covered.

And nobody is advocating the Eagles don’t address the receiver position at all. Avant can probably help the offense through one more year, but it’s time to start developing another target. Rather than hand over millions of dollars to Cooper, why not just take another mid-to-late-round flyer on a big-bodied receiver in the upcoming draft?

If you’re telling me Riley Coopers don’t grow on trees, I’m not buying it. The city of Philadelphia has seriously overrated the season he just had.

In games 1-5, Cooper had all of eight catches with Michael Vick under center. Once Foles took over as signal-caller for games 6-10, Coop lodged all three of his 100-yard performances and six of his eight touchdowns. In games 11-16 though, he was ordinary at best, posting a high of 74 yards and reaching the end zone just once more.

That’s not great. It’s certainly not something the offense can’t part from with Maclin back healthy, Ertz in year two and another prospect—plus Avant, Brad Smith and Arrelious Benn all still in the mix.

Cooper will most likely continue to be a productive receiver in the league for the next few years, but not to the degree where he should ever become irreplaceable. Trust me, that’s already the case in Philly.

  1. David Breslin - Jan 9, 2014 at 8:33 AM

    Your opening argument to not keep Cooper is based on overreaction of fans prior to the season beginning? While Cooper’s stats are nice (not great, very similar to what Maclin does), it’s what he does that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet that is important in this offense. A major part of the success of this offense was the ability to spread defenses out and run the ball. With guys like Cooper, you add great outside blockers that can motion inside and crack back on linebackers to help get shady to the second level. I don’t see Maclin coming in and being a factor in the run game in the same way cooper is. While you are right that Ertz is a good option as a big target in the red zone, it doesn’t negate the fact that cooper presents ANOTHER big target, which makes this offense even harder to defend. I think it’s a mistake to let him walk unless he is demanding serious money. We also do not know what Maclin is going to be able to bring to the table post injury, and he is going to cost more than cooper most likely. I’d go with the guy who has proven that he can be successful in this offense over the guessing game that comes with other options.

    Side note: If Hasean Clinton-Dix is not available at #22 on May 8th, I think the eagles should consider Kelvin Benjamin as he **should** still be available – he can fill a similar role to cooper and with a higher ceiling.

    Reply
    • 33 - Jan 9, 2014 at 9:54 AM

      You make some good points here, but I think the pressing issue is, he’s a FA WR in the NFL… He’ll be demanding (relatively) serious money. WRs always get overpaid, and the Eagles usually do well to skip that market while others pay big money for someone who doesn’t really get them closer to the dance. Cooper does all the things you mentioned, and that’s a big help in the offense, but they can’t overpay for a WR just because he blocks fairly well. He’s been here for a few quiet seasons, then has his best when the new offense arrives. It kinda screams “product of the system” to me, and there’s little chance he’ll be as good somewhere else.

      Reply
      • Gary - Jan 9, 2014 at 2:41 PM

        I’m pretty sure he had his best season because he was actually on the field this year. He was the fourth WR his first 3 years; how much of an impact can any 4th WR have? What did Damaris Johnson do this year? “Product of the system” is ridiculous.

      • tim - Jan 9, 2014 at 4:33 PM

        Exactly. He fits our system! Like you just said. And yeah blocking sounds like something anyone can do. And yeah it very well may be, but theres not many out there willing to block like cooper. In fact there are very few. Also on your comment of this year being a product of the system. That is not a strong argument. He never had playing time in other systems because andy reid only used his key guys maclin and jackson. Being a fifth round pick coop never got a chance. Which by the way brings up another point, you seem to have to suggested that his fifth round selection signifies a lack of talent. That couldnt be further from the truth. It just means he was underestimated Lots of late round receivers have done big things. Just off the top of my head i can think of donald driver, but there are alot more. Oh yeah harold carmichael!
        The point is coop was finally givin the playing time and he shined. Give him a full year with foles next year, after his development this year and you have one hell of a receiver.

      • 33 - Jan 9, 2014 at 5:02 PM

        …I never mentioned his being a 5th round pick, not sure what you’re implying I suggested about it. Certainly never implied that no WR has ever outproduced his draft day status, so, nice strawmanning.

        My concern is paying a third WR second WR money based on a small sample size. I won’t be upset if Chip and Howie decide he’s worth it; I’ll take their opinion as valid for sure. But I’d be surprised if a team in need of a WR2 isn’t willing to outbid this team in need of a WR3 (provided they do what I anticipate and sign Maclin).

      • tim - Jan 9, 2014 at 7:50 PM

        My appaologies on the fifth roundpick part. Dont know where i picked that up haha. I may have seen it in another comment

      • jernst - Jan 10, 2014 at 9:09 PM

        @Tim: you got the 5th round selection thing from the original article:
        Kulp most certainly did mention his being a 5th round selection and also made the argument that his 5th round status was an indication of talent.

        “If this is an and/or proposition, it’s not even close. Maclin is the choice. We’re talking about first-round talent versus fifth here.”

    • chuck - Jan 9, 2014 at 2:46 PM

      Over reaction. Calling a black man a nigga is a over reaction lol. You people man.

      Reply
      • willh888 - Jan 9, 2014 at 4:38 PM

        I don’t remember Stephan A Smith publicly apologizing or having to stand in front of his entire team and face his remarks with shame, humility. In fact he lied about saying it. No one cared. It’s a bad word from what I recall.

    • e king - Jan 9, 2014 at 6:38 PM

      Listen I guess Andrew kulp doesn’t understand eagles football. Cooper s the best red zone wr we have next to Jeremy Macklin. Jackson will be a huge distraction this off-season just like T. O. ,PLANTING BAD SEEDS IN THE FLOWER GARDEN . About Cooper s alcohol fueled racism ,( did anyone see him celebrating td`s with colored players? Big time. I believe it was from the heart. ///// All the praise to chip Kelly .and rightfully so but he needs to learn to use b Brown on 3rd and1 .occasionally. / Kick field goals instead of gambling early in the game and use three running backs not just one(against the saints) ( green bay lost to 49ers but man did they ever run over them! Happy New yr , nfl rocks

      Reply
    • John Procopi - Jan 10, 2014 at 5:25 PM

      What the writer is totally overlooking is that Cooper blocks in the running game whereas Maclin doesnt.I am not advocating signing Cooper to a big money contract but I would be real leary of replacing him with Maclin- would definetly let Maclin walk and consider Cooper

      Reply
  2. Andy Schreiber - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    I guarantee you that coach Kelly and Copper’s teammates disagree with pretty much everything you said here. Cooper is a valuable asset to this team. And receivers his size with hands like that do not grow on trees.

    I think the Eagles should (and will) re-sign both Maclin & Cooper, and they will probably get to do it (somewhat) on the cheap, relatively speaking.

    Just think about the array of pass catchers that Foles would have to choose from next season: Jackson, Maclin, Cooper, Celek, Ertz . . .and McCoy! Good luck stopping that offense.

    We have probably seen the last of Jason Avant, though. And that’s a real shame. Great guy & a very solid possession receiver.

    Reply
    • Chutley - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:31 PM

      Does that guarantee come from any particular basis or just hyperbole? Cuz I would really like to know what Chip thinks. I believe he thinks he can plug in anything to his system with a shred of athletic ability and a brain to follow instructions and make them respectable. I guess we will find out what in March. #belicheck

      Reply
      • weaveman38 - Jan 10, 2014 at 9:49 PM

        No, that’s not Chip. That’s Big Red you’re thinking about on that one…. “Just gimme anybody with a pulse, I can make them a star. Because I am a magician…but I gotta do a better job….”.

  3. Dan - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:18 AM

    On monday the eagles sign Ifeanyi Momah to a futures contact Id be happy to see what he could bring to the team after a full season with the team no need to waste a draft pick on another big body wr

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    • mehhhhh1 - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:04 PM

      .

      Reply
  4. 2sentz - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    “…especially when the Eagles figure to use three (wideouts) less frequently going forward”

    That’s the key phrase. Coop’s not the issue, the issue is not paying top dollar for someone to stand on the sidelines as a hedge against starting-WR injury. The team has sooo many other areas where that cash should/could be better spent.

    That said I LOVED Coop’s efforts this year. Shady absolutely owes his rushing record to the fact that every time you saw him streak towards the endzone you saw the ass-end of 14, 81 or 87 somewhere in frame.

    Reply
  5. Mike - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    I’ve seen numerous outlets comment on Cooper’s lack of production with Vick in as QB but how many times was he targeted? Foles spread the ball out a lot more (similar to McNabb) while Vick seemed to constantly look for Desean.
    I still think Maclin is better than Cooper but until seeing Maclin run routes and actually play in a game situation we don’t know how well he will come back from the injury. Also, how durable is Maclin? He missed games last year due to that mystery illness and this past year with the injury.

    Reply
    • Hit-Em-Low - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:40 PM

      Aside from Weeks 6-10, when he totally lit it up, he did not do much. That includes the last few weeks of the year when his stats were nominal at best.

      I agree on Maclin and durability….my one big worry on him. But we just dont know that until we know it. And the decision on which guy will have to be made before that.

      You have to take Maclin and hope.

      Reply
  6. Hextall - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Let the Birds make him a low ball offer — the elephant in the room is the racial slur controversy. Does Cooper want to go to a different locker room that’s probably 75-80% African American where he doesn’t have any friends and start all over? Maybe, if some team seriously overbids, but if the Eagles offer him something at the low end of the range for a white wide receiver (i mean, that’s why we’re comparing him to Amendola and Hartline, right?), my guess is he’ll take it.

    I do agree there’s value to be found in the draft, and the Eagles should look to WR after safety, especially for a guy who can play special teams as well, but I think there’s an opportunity to keep Cooper’s production for less than market value. Maclin’s, too, because of injury concerns. Fill out the rest of it with depth at the line and linebacker positions. They should consider trading up, however, for Clinton-Dix.

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    • BenE. - Jan 9, 2014 at 11:06 AM

      The racial slur is old news. No one has mentioned that for months, and it’s not suddenly going to resurface in another locker room.

      Anyway, the Eagles would do best to go defense with their first 3 picks. Sign one or both FA wide receivers depending on the money they want, and leave it at that.

      Reply
      • MJS - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:15 PM

        It’s old news for us because the entire Eagles locker room had already been interviewed plenty on the subject before the season even started. It wasn’t until he started performing well on the field that people stopped talking about it.

        If he signs anywhere else, it’s likely the first thing that’s going to come up with the local media. No one really knows how a locker room would react to him being signed. Also, none of us really know how much this will impact his decision on where to sign or another team’s decision on whether or not to sign him.

        You could very well be right with not at all.

        Agree with the 2nd part of your post.

  7. 2sentz - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    Say has anyone asked Coop if he can kick a ball into the endzone?

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    • Hit-Em-Low - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:37 PM

      Ha…..I would like some cap room to him if he could do that!

      Reply
  8. willh888 - Jan 9, 2014 at 11:53 AM

    interesting comparing Riley to Amendola and Hartline. If only I could pinpoint what they have in common

    Ol’ Riley fell into a perfect situation in a number 2 spot in a surging offense. Not only is he not a sure-fire number 2 in this offense with Maclin in the picture.. but really what team would he sign with an jump right into a starting 1-2 role? I appreciate his presence this year stepping up and not sucking like I thought he would. He doesn’t tower over anyone.. so he needs speed. He’s not super fast like DeSean, so what does he bring? He’s a run your route and catch the ball kinda player and that’s actually pretty good. Not sure what kind of contract he deserves though, maybe it’s a harder decision than we realize

    Reply
    • Hit-Em-Low - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:42 PM

      “He’s a run your route and catch the ball kinda player and that’s actually pretty good.”

      You asked the question what Cooper has to do with Amendola and Hartline, and than you answered it yourself in the second paragraph.

      Welcome

      Reply
      • willh888 - Jan 9, 2014 at 1:04 PM

        alwhite fine, ya got me

      • erzug - Jan 9, 2014 at 3:33 PM

        and he’s shown the ability to muscle the ball away from defenders when the opportunity (jump ball) has presented itself. Anquan Boldin makes a living ripping balls out of defenders’ hands.

  9. 2sentz - Jan 9, 2014 at 1:12 PM

    There’s another point to be made here that’s bugged me for a while, and Mike & Hit-em-low touched on it.

    Properly evaluating any receiver’s skill or impact is much harder than folks think. Sure there’s TD’s, total yds, YAC, drops and blocking. But how many times does that guy get open and not get the ball due to QB or pass-rush or whatever? Last Saturday Foles didn’t see a LOT of open guys, fans were screaming with hands on head all night. Receivers got no credit for that. And how many plays are called where his job is to draw defenders away from passes to others, or a run…then start blocking? Did he do all that well? And what type of defensive schemes & formations was the receiver facing, and how did he adjust to them?

    Unless you’re at the game taking copious notes or poring over wide-22 film, most fans are in no position to evaluate how Cooper really did compared to our other receivers.

    And there’s the larger picture: That gm #11-16 stretch where everyone laments his “lack of production”, how do we know Chip didn’t leverage Coop’s big success in games 6-10 to intentionally call plays not involving him, much like NO did with Graham and their running game? Doesn’t that happen to Desean as well, all the time?

    All this stuff must be taken into account. Any blanket observation concluding, “Well his TD production dropped in gms 10-16 so he stinks or underperformed” is really short-sighted. I saw the dude get wide open many times last Saturday (before the drop), and he didn’t get thrown to many times.

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  10. Loke1988 - Jan 9, 2014 at 3:25 PM

    I stopped reading at Maclin being a more important player. Maclin is soft, Jackson is a punk who just stirred the pot. There is a lot of work to be done WR wise. I’d trade Jackson to somebody willing to negotiated with him, let Maclin walk and reign cooper. Trade a pick for a WR and draft a few more. New era.

    Reply
    • erzug - Jan 9, 2014 at 3:36 PM

      Maclin’s a huge question mark at this point with the injury and it seemed to me he was shying away from contact a bit in his last full season. Probably just my imagination…of course.

      Reply
  11. Harry Eagle - Jan 9, 2014 at 3:47 PM

    R u sure Maclin makes it back from injury & is COMPLETELY healthy and back to 2012 level. Many players DO NOT return w/ that injury. Plus I agree w/ erzug that Mac didn’t like crossing the middle and was real quick to step out of bounds. Give Mac a 1 year deal, see what he can do & then trade or release Cooper or Mac or keep both. Coop is now a proven receiver and should stay. Philly type of guy!!!

    Reply
  12. josh - Jan 9, 2014 at 4:39 PM

    If cooper is producing similar numbers to Maclin, then why keep both? especially if cooper is going to want more$$. Keep one and sign a safety, or a pass rusher. I think A.Benn could be a great receiver.

    Reply
  13. Sonya - Jan 9, 2014 at 4:55 PM

    I’m not so sure you watched the same games I did but I’m pretty sure Chip Kelly is a fan of Cooper’s as am I. The guy is big he can block down field! Why would’nt Philly want a receiver like that? I find Maclin lazy and confrontational. I’d trade him and keep Coooooooooooop! FLY EAGLES FLY!!!!!

    Reply
    • willh888 - Jan 9, 2014 at 5:14 PM

      If you find Maclin lazy and confrontational, maybe you need to keep lookin’

      Reply
      • weaveman38 - Jan 10, 2014 at 9:57 PM

        No. Maclin’s not lazy. Lazy, confrontational, never finishes his plays unless he’s thrown to = DeSean “Whiner” Jackson. Trying his best to be the new and improved TO. My advice, STFU kid and do you job with your total game, not your yappin……….Just sayin……

  14. Mark Busch - Jan 9, 2014 at 6:58 PM

    This team has lacked a big receiver that can out jump someone for a ball for so long. Jackson, Maclin, or Ertz don’t make that catch in the end zone that Cooper did against the Saints.

    Reply
    • Andrew Kulp - Jan 9, 2014 at 8:30 PM

      The Eagles will never be able to find another wide receiver who’s tall and can jump! Whatever will they do?

      Reply
      • death from above - Jan 9, 2014 at 9:11 PM

        Kulp

        Whatever will they do?

        Answer Re-sign him.

        Hope I helped you out of your maelstrom of distress

  15. Dan - Jan 9, 2014 at 7:37 PM

    Except, Michael Vick barely threw to Riley Cooper. In the 10 games Cooper and Foles played in (approximately), Cooper had 729 yards and 7 TDs. That is a season average of 1100 yards and 11 TDs. Now, I am not saying that he is replaceable or he isn’t replaceable, however I think that as one of Foles go to receivers, the chemistry between Foles and Cooper outweigh potential that a similar receiver with a slightly higher ceiling offers. So unless we can get a receiving core of Jackson, Fitzgerald, Julio Jones, Johnson, and A.J. Green, I would stick with one we got. Between him and Maclin, we can force mismatches down the depth chart.

    Reply
  16. death from above - Jan 9, 2014 at 7:59 PM

    Kulp Kulp, Kulp

    It’s easy to see why Cooper is a priority over Maclin…He has two knees that are working..

    Reply
  17. duffman - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:00 PM

    some good points, kulp, but you glossed over the most important factor: michael vick. let’s not blame the first five games of Cooper’s season on Cooper. Michael Vick couldn’t read a #2 WR if he had hooked on phonics. his inability to learn an offense as a passer is what has held him back his entire career, and in this case it manifested in Cooper never seeing any targets.

    cooper is a pretty good talent, at least worth throwing something at. maybe give him an incentive heavy contract or not a lot of guarantees, but you shouldn’t just let him walk. he’s deceptively fast, will fight for the ball, and uses good body position.

    Reply
  18. henri - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:18 PM

    Cooper is a beast.I was at the game against lions section 124 row 18 and when he made that catch 40-50 yards on the snow I was shocked and I couldn’t belive my eyes(that ball wasn’t that close to him he had to extend his hands to make that catch possible) and after that catch we made a td with Jackson.We should keep him big time go cooper go eagles

    Reply
  19. Kuharich - Jan 10, 2014 at 4:34 AM

    Foles and Cooper have great chemistry. I assure you Riley’s racial comment will keep other teams from signing him. The Eagles have a tight locker room. This isn’t the case in other locker rooms. With Maclin a question mark and Jackson a headache in the making the Eagles will sign Riley. They want to keep Foles happy. Letting his favorite target walk isn’t the way to do it.

    Reply
  20. Mack - Jan 10, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    Know who we can really do without? Kulp and his consistently lousy commentary. He’s like the Wheels of blogging.

    Reply
  21. dave r - Jan 10, 2014 at 8:09 AM

    While most sports writers are writing to sell their opinion, this player like many others has good potential. Lets not forget Chris carter who was run out by Buddy Ryan who famously stated all he does is catch touch downs, now Chris turns out to be a hall of fame player. While you made good points, don’t forget that this is his first time in the spot light and did well. He may be a diamond in the rough, as he showed he is not afraid (no gator arms) to catch the ball over the middle. I would like the Birds to keep him for the best deal they can make for both concerned.

    Reply
    • Trotter54 - Jan 10, 2014 at 10:02 PM

      Buddy Ryan did that for a reason, and Chris Carter has stated that Ryan basically saved his career by doing it. You need to learn your Eagles history.

      Reply
  22. phillymike72 - Jan 10, 2014 at 1:10 PM

    TRY to resign him without breaking the bank. I’m worried about Macklin AND dejac’s attitude. However we don’t know what fool will pay him some outlandish salary

    Reply
  23. saxonj - Jan 10, 2014 at 6:08 PM

    horrible arguments to the issue. you could apply all of your before season thoughts onto Foles. Coopers don’t grow on trees and he’s had time to develop with starting qb foles.. there is a severe importance on timing and chemistry in this league. you are so right…we should find someone new to start the whole process. of course it comes down to money…it does everywhere, at every position. sign him if they can…

    Reply
  24. Mungman - Jan 12, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    The Eagles could use several tall receivers to catch those Red Zone passes.

    Reply

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