Given the terrible luck that’s befallen Jeremy Maclin, it’s not surprising many fans and some in the media immediately looked to the pool of free agents or racked their brains over potential trades to unearth a solution for the sudden void that was created in the Eagles’ offense. The simple fact of the matter is that won’t be necessary.
There really is no good reason or even need at all for the front office to go outside the organization to find Maclin’s replacement. The offense was already going to be more reliant on multiple tight ends and a strong ground attack, the likely targets to replace Maclin are not very strong for the most part in the first place, and it’s not as if there is any expectation the Birds win a Super Bowl this year anyway.
The point about a more tight end/running back-centric offense is a logical place to begin. Any other season, on almost any other team in the league, Maclin’s injury would be devastating. It’s a huge blow to the Eagles for sure, and we don’t mean to minimize that, but it’s not as if the wide receiver position was building up to be the focal point of Chip Kelly’s offense.
The Eagles have a fleet of running backs and tight ends practically any general manager in the NFL would be jealous of. If Maclin’s absence means a few extra touches for LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, nobody is going to mind. If it means more two and three tight-end sets with Brent Celek, James Casey, and Zach Ertz creating mismatches down the middle of the field, it’s hard to find the flaw in that.
GM Howie Roseman spoke to how personnel-driven Kelly’s approach is prior to Sunday’s practice at the Linc, almost confirming Maclin’s absence will likely result in increased roles for backs and tight ends (transcribed by PhiladelphiaEagles.com).
"When you met with Chip originally, he's much more personnel-driven than even I thought just from observing him at Oregon," said Roseman. "It's going to be based on the guys who are producing at a high level and if that's the tight end position, they'll get more reps, if it's the receiver position, if it's the running back group. I think that's yet to be determined since we're so early in camp."
It’s not like wide receiver is a total wasteland on this roster, either. Obviously the Eagles still have DeSean Jackson, who figures to be as dangerous as ever in the new scheme. Either Damaris Johnson or Jason Avant – maybe both – will be a threat running out of the slot. Then there are in-house options to fill in on the outside opposite DeSean as well.
Arrelious Benn was a second-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2010, catching 30 passes for 440 yards and three scores in his second season there before he was derailed by injuries and shipped to Philly. Riley Cooper set career highs last year with 23-248-3 in a limited role. And the slew of bubble players is headlined by Ifeanyi Momah, the 6-7 giant who runs a lightning 4.4 40.
Granted all of Maclin’s probable replacements have either been underwhelming during their short careers, or are unproven entirely. Having said that, this unfortunate situation provides the coaching staff an opportunity to find out exactly what it has in these young players. It’s not like the kids could do a lot worse than most of what’s available to sign.
The singular free agent of intrigue is Brandon Lloyd, who hauled in 74 balls for 911 yards and four touchdowns with the Patriots just last season. Outside of that, other possibilities leave a lot to be desired – Laurent Robinson is the best of the rest. Some of the suggestions are frankly absurd – namely Chad Johnson, Randy Moss, or Terrell Owens.
Chip doesn’t want the circus coming to town when he’s trying to instill a new attitude in the Eagles’ locker room, so you can forget Johnson, Moss, and Owens – none of whom can still go at this point in their careers to begin with. And there really is no reason to add other aging veterans who were never all that good, like Robinson, or Austin Collie, or Jabar Gaffney, or… why? Give one good reason why.
The only person you can reasonably make a case for is Lloyd, and he admittedly looks like an upgrade over what the Eagles have. At the same time, bringing him in prevents guys like Benn, Cooper, and Momah from getting a serious look – why would anybody want that? Again, this season is not Super Bowl or bust.
If the team was coming off of a solid season and looking to make some noise with a deep playoff run this January, then it would be a different story. The Eagles are trying to build for the future though, a future Brandon Lloyd will have no part in. He may make them better right away, but his presence doesn’t help them beyond 2013. Instead it only serves to hinder their progress, something Roseman also seems to realize (via Reuben Frank).
“You want your young players to grow and develop, and that’s why you keep young players on your roster. You look at the good teams in this league, that’s what they do with their players. They develop them, they groom them, then they give them an opportunity.”
“So sitting here, it’s not even August, we have a lot of reps to evaluate our team, and it doesn’t mean we’re not going to look for ways to improve. But at the end of the day, you have to show confidence in the players that you brought in.”
The Eagles lost a very good receiver, one there is no clear-cut replacement for, but now is not the time to make panicky decisions. There is plenty of competition for Maclin’s spot without adding has-beens and never-weres to the mix, or even rentals that might turn out to be only a marginal upgrade.
As Roseman more or less put it, there is a reason those guys are all free agents, and the players on the Eagles’ roster are at camp.
“That's what [training camp] is for, the competition, and that's why we brought in people to compete."
Stick to the plan. There’s no good reason not to.