Can't win playing race card in Cooper vs. Jackson

usa-riley-cooper-desean-jackson-eagles.jpg

Can't win playing race card in Cooper vs. Jackson

Almost a week after the Eagles dropped the hammer on the NFL’s most prolific deep threat, people are still scratching their heads, still trying to make sense of why Chip Kelly abruptly cut the cord with Pro Bowl wideout DeSean Jackson.

The franchise’s continued silence outside of a cursory statement that explained, well, nothing has only fueled some out-there theories about the hidden intentions behind coach Chip Kelly’s decision to nix Jackson from the roster.

One widespread opinion that grows louder by the day is that the Eagles are somehow guilty of racial preference, having severed ties with Jackson just a few weeks after handing wide receiver Riley Cooper a five-year deal with $10 million in guaranteed money.

Cooper, if you didn’t know, is white. Until this past summer, when the world learned via social media that he flung a racial slur at a black security officer while attending a country music concert, Cooper was barely a household name in the Delaware Valley.

Jackson, who is black, has also encountered off-field issues. Some of them were detailed in an NJ.com story last week that outlined the receiver’s association with friends who are alleged gang members, but Jackson had already cultivated a reputation for irking management with immaturity and an ugly contract dispute.

Now that Jackson has freely walked to the division-rival Redskins, fingers are pointing at the Eagles’ braintrust -- Kelly, general manager Howie Roseman and owner Jeff Lurie -- accompanied by accusations of racial bias.

Seahawks corner Richard Sherman, who grew up with Jackson in Los Angeles, seemed to echo the sentiment when he suggested, in a piece for MMQB, that the Eagles showed less tolerance for a punk receiver than a known racist.

“What did they do to Riley Cooper, who, if he’s not a racist, at least has 'ties' to racist activity?” Sherman wrote. “They fined him and sent him to counseling. Commit certain crimes in this league and be a certain color, and you get help, not scorn.”

It’s a convenient argument for those still struggling to come to grips with Jackson’s departure and subsequent signing with the rival ’Skins. But it’s not a rational debate. It’s baseless and groundless, mainly because it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison more rooted in resentment and anger than actual logic.

Instead of comparing Jackson’s situation to Cooper’s, shouldn’t the current regime’s history of dealing with troubled players come under the microscope?

If the Eagles are more tolerant of transgressions of white players, why were they the first team to reach out to Michael Vick and then sign the tarnished superstar out of prison, and then re-sign him to a $100 million contract just three years later?

If the Eagles treat black players with legal issues more harshly than white ones, why didn’t they punish Jason Peters for his drag racing arrest last offseason? Charges were eventually reduced and Peters paid a fine. Why was Peters -- who has been arrested twice since joining the team -- given a monster extension last month, making him the team’s highest-paid player?

LeSean McCoy intentionally sought to embarrass and humiliate the mother of his child on Twitter last offseason, inviting his followers to chastise her while Kelly was still decorating his office. All Kelly did was give McCoy the most carries of his career and repeatedly express his admiration for his Pro Bowl halfback.

Last I checked, McCoy’s not on the trading or cutting block.

Juqua Parker, Akeem Jordan, Mike Patterson, Stacy Andrews, King Dunlap -- just a few former Eagles who were involved in minor legal trouble during their careers, each one black and each having their paychecks authorized by Lurie. None was disciplined or abruptly kicked off the team without explanation.

If you want to bury the Eagles for their awkward handling of the situation and mysterious silence since Friday, go ahead. It’s fair and justifiable. The charade Kelly staged last Wednesday in Orlando at the owners meetings warranted every roll of the eyes it drew.

But to suggest that race played a part in Kelly’s decision to keep Cooper and remove Jackson is to ignore the basic fact that Cooper is a one-time offender who was welcomed back into the locker room by several of his teammates and Jackson showed a repeated pattern of bothersome behavior.

Jackson gave former coach Andy Reid one migraine after another and the team still rewarded him in 2011 with an extension that paid out $18 million in guaranteed money. How many teammates have publicly rallied against the decision to jettison Jackson? Still waiting for one.

If another racial slur ever drips from Cooper’s mouth, the organization should kick him to the curb immediately. If they don’t, it’s fair to play the race card.

Until then, the dots don’t connect.

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

The Eagles need cornerbacks. Plural. 

It's not a secret that the team's biggest weakness heading into next week's draft is at the cornerback position. So it would stand to reason that their best bet might be to simply take the best one off the board when they're on the clock at 14.

But NFL Network's Mike Mayock, on his annual pre-draft conference call marathon extravaganza Friday, said he thinks they should take a different approach. 

Looking at the top corners in the draft, Mayock is convinced Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore will be off the board well before the Eagles are on the clock at 14. His next rated corner is Gareon Conley. After that, Mayock has Marlon Humphrey but pointed out his major flaw of struggling to find the football in the air. 

So if Conley makes it to 14, the Eagles should pick him, right? 

Not so fast. 

"So I look at it this way, if Conley's on the board at 14, you have to compare him to the best playmaker on offense on your board," Mayock said. "Because I'm not convinced the Eagles should go defense, to be honest with you. 

"If Conley's not there, I think you want to go get your corner in the second or third round and I think they need two corners. But my perspective is, you drafted Carson Wentz. You better support him. You signed two wideouts in free agency (Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith) who are both effectively one-year contracts. Your slot receiver, (Jordan) Matthews is in the final year of his deal. (Brent) Celek, the tight end, is 32 years old. 

"So you might sit there and go, 'This year looks OK,' but get a running back. Get a (Christian) McCaffrey or a Dalvin Cook. Get a tight end, O.J. Howard. Get weapons. Get one of those wideouts you like. So I would be comparing Conley to the highest playmaker you have on the board offensively. And I might be leaning towards offense if it was me." 

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. Cam Newton and Greg Olsen. 

When Zach Ertz looks at the recent history of great quarterback-tight end duos in the NFL, he can't help but notice one thing stands out. 

"Those guys have been together for a long time," Ertz said Thursday afternoon. 

Brady and Gronk have been together for seven seasons. Cam and Olsen have been together for six. And Brees and Graham were together for five. 

"And I think just having that, where you're on the same page regardless of the coverage," Ertz continued. "If they give you this coverage, you know exactly what you're going to do. If they give you that coverage, he knows exactly what I'm going to do. When to expect the ball vs. certain coverages, it might be a little earlier, it might be a little later. So it's just that constant camaraderie where we're able to know what the other person is thinking without thinking about it."

Ertz hopes that's the kind of relationship he can forge with Carson Wentz, who will enter his second NFL season in 2017. 

Ertz and Wentz spend a lot of time together in the facility and away from it. A group of Eagles went to Ertz's wedding earlier this offseason, and of course, Wentz was present. If it seems like Ertz is going to great lengths to build a rapport with his quarterback, he is. 

After going through Mike Vick and Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford, the Eagles' starting tight end finally has a quarterback that isn't going anywhere for a while.  

"It's going to be huge," Ertz said about playing with Wentz for a second straight year. "I think when Carson was drafted, from the receivers and tight ends, that was the one thing we were really excited about. That we knew for the next five, 10, 20 years, hopefully, in Philadelphia, we knew who our quarterback was going to be."

Since he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Stanford, Ertz has been an extremely productive player. But that has set up huge expectations as fans wait for a "breakout year." Zach Ertz might never be Rob Gronkowski, but the numbers are hard to argue. 

In the first four years of his career, Ertz has 247 catches for 2,840 yards and 13 touchdowns. Since 2013, here's the list of tight ends who have more catches and yards than Ertz: Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Delanie Walker, Antonio Gates. 

Ertz and Jeremy Maclin are the only two players in Eagles history to put up those numbers in their first four seasons. 

The argument often heard about Ertz's numbers is that they come in garbage time. Ertz has historically been an absolute beast in December. In the last few years, that hasn't meant much to a struggling Eagles franchise, but if they're in the playoff hunt in upcoming years, they'll probably want that trend to continue. 

The one statistic that doesn't seem to match the others: touchdowns. While Ertz has been among top tight ends in the league in receptions and yards, his 13 touchdowns rank 17th among tight ends since 2013. (It's not a stat, but for what it's worth, Ertz would likely be among the league leaders in touchdowns called back for penalties in the last few years.)

"I want to be the guy in the red zone, believe me," Ertz said. "For the first four years in my career, I think the most touchdowns I had in a year was four. So this year, we didn't have a lot of red zone touchdowns and that falls on us as players to get it down when we get down there, make plays when the ball's in the air. That's something I do pride myself on, making those tough and contested catches, whether it be in the red zone or third down. I want to be more of a go-to guy in the red zone, but I've got to earn that this spring and summer, earn that trust of the quarterback as well as Doug (Pederson). It's going to be a process, but when you look at the great tight ends in the league, the first thing that stands out is touchdowns."