Jan 9, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
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.
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