Birds will soon need to focus on Shady's contract

Birds will soon need to focus on Shady's contract
March 2, 2012, 10:00 pm
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Its looming out there. Nobodys talking about it yet, nobodys worried about it yet. There are more pressing matters at the moment.

Still, at some point in the coming months, LeSean McCoys contract will become an issue, and it might be even a more complex and more difficult issue than DeSean Jacksons.

Shady is in exactly the same spot DeSean was in a year ago. Hes going into the final year of a four-year rookie contract, hes already established himself as one of the very best in the business, everybody agrees hes outperformed his contract, and hes drastically underpaid.

McCoy is scheduled to earn 615,000 in 2012 on the final year of a four-year, 3,936,403 deal. Sound familiar? Jackson last year earned 685,000 on the final year of a four-year, 3,514,975 deal.

At the moment, McCoy projects as the 66th-highest-paid tailback in the NFL in 2012, although hell be even lower once free agents and draft picks start signing.

What are the Eagles getting for the 2012 minimum wage? Yes, the NFL leader in touchdowns last year and a Pro Bowl pick at 23 years old. But more than that, McCoy is the only player in NFL history with 3,000 rushing yards, 150 catches and a 4.8 rushing average in his first three seasons.

Hes that good.

By any definition, McCoy is already one of the half dozen best running backs in football. Last year, the Panthers paid DeAngelo Williams 43 million over five years, with 16 million up front. If DeAngelo Williams is worth 8.5 million a year? Yeah. McCoy is worth more.

Lets take a quick step back. One of the reasons the Eagles need Jackson signed to a long-term deal instead of the one-year, 9.4 million tender is because a long-term deal, even though ultimately more lucrative, could be far easier to work into the Eagles 2012 salary cap than that whopping 9.4 million figure.

For instance, Brandon Marshall is the NFLs highest-paid receiver right now at 11.19475 million per year, but his cap figure in the first year of that deal was a relatively palatable 5.1 million.

Can the Eagles get McCoy signed with Jackson playing under the franchise tender? Its possible, but it wouldnt be easy. They would likely have to start fiddling with other contracts and asking players to take pay cuts to pull it off. So talks continue between the Eagles and Jackson toward a long-term contract.

Of course, the irony of McCoys contract quite possibly depending on Jacksons is that the two share an agent. Like it or not, the Eagles future depends a great deal on Drew Rosenhaus. Scary thought.

But next question. Heres why Shadys contract could be more difficult than DeSeans. Generally speaking, the lifetime of tailbacks is far shorter than the lifetime of receivers. Thats why nearly twice as many players in NFL history have 7,500 receiving yards (90) as 7,500 rushing yards (46).

Now, McCoy is only 23 and turns 24 in July. You can give him a five-year deal by next March, and hell still only be 28 or 29 when its up. Running back contracts are just more risky than receiver deals, because running backs always get hurt, rarely string together several big seasons in a row and seem to start trending downward when theyre about 27 or 28. You sign a receiver to a big deal, you know you have a better chance that youll be paying a guy at the top of his game.

McCoy does have the 14th-most carries by a player before his 23rd birthday 635 but thats not a crazy number, and guys like Emmit Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders had more. And they did OK. McCoy does all the things he has to as a young back to take care of himself. He wants to extend his career. He wants to play into his 30s at a high level and seems to have great instincts about when to take on contact and try for some extra yards and when to cut his losses and hit the deck.

Theres never any guarantee on this stuff, but you would hope McCoy has at least five more really productive years ahead of him.

So the Eagles need to approach McCoy as just as crucial a negotiation as Jackson. The Eagles have an unprecedented young running backreceiver tandem. And they need to keep both these guys for life.

No team in NFL history has ever had what the Eagles have right now. Jackson is one of only three receivers in NFL history with 4,000 yards before his 25th birthday, and McCoy is one of only eight backs in NFL history with 4,000 yards from scrimmage before his 24th birthday.

And for all the fretting we do about the Eagles linebackers and safeties, lets face it, they have world-class talent on offense. And if this team is going to win a Super Bowl in the next few years, its going to be with Michael Vick throwing the ball, DeSean Jackson catching the ball and LeSean McCoy running the ball.

It wont be easy, but contract negotiations never are. So lets get DeSean done, take a deep breath, and then get Shady done.

Can they afford to? They cant afford not to.

E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com