Counting Down the Eagles’ Needs: No. 6, Wide Receiver

Counting Down the Eagles’ Needs: No. 6, Wide Receiver

Free agency is right around the corner, and the draft will be here before you know it. With the Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason in full swing, we’re examining where the roster stands at each position, counting down based on team need. Check out the previous installments on the offensive line, quarterbacks, tight ends and  running backs.

In case you’re not convinced wide receiver is a pressing need for the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason, now might be the time to reconsider your stance.

Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are both set to hit free agency in less than a month, and even general manager Howie Roseman admitted re-signing both would be “complicated,” which might as well be code for “not happening.” The Birds were second in cap space committed to receivers in 2013 according to Spotrac, and that was with Maclin and Cooper on rookie contracts far cheaper than what they will cost going forward.

Meanwhile, only DeSean Jackson is signed beyond 2014 at the position, and while we don’t anticipate it being a hot-button issue this year, he has made his desire for a new deal known. Contract is always a delicate situation with Jackson to say the least.

Regardless what you believe the front office should do about Maclin and Cooper or how you feel they should handle Jackson going forward, the Eagles must start working on getting out in front of what appear to be inevitable changes. Spending a draft pick on a wide receiver is almost mandatory. A first-round pick is not out of the question.

Fortunately, it’s a draft loaded with talent at receiver. We’ve seen one prominent mock-drafter had Philly taking Kelvin Benjamin from Florida St. in the first round, a 6’5”, 235-pound matchup nightmare. Penn State’s Allen Robinson reminds me of a poor man’s A.J. Green the way he catches the football at its highest point and could go in rounds one or two. Jordan Matthews looks the part as well, was highly productive at Vanderbilt and is creeping up draft boards after his performance at the Senior Bowl.

There are quality prospects available later as well, but the Eagles would be wise to consider one of these top talents. For one, at 6’3” and taller, any one of them would add some much-needed size to the Birds’ receiving corps.

More importantly, those three players would likely have a chance to contribute right away in 2014, if not replace somebody’s production entirely. Given the current state of the unit, that might be out of necessity.

DeSean Jackson

Jackson is scheduled to take up $35 million in cap space over the next three seasons, which isn’t a problem in itself. After all, he is coming off a career year where he came up 77 receiving yards shy of the franchise record.

For all the grief No. 10 takes from a segment of the Philadelphia fanbase, few wideouts have been as productive as Jackson during his NFL career. Since he entered the league in ’08, Jackson is one of only 11 players with at least 300 receptions, 6,000 yards receiving and 30 touchdowns. Of the players on that list, only Vincent Jackson has more yards per catch.

The issue with Djacc is something that could present itself going forward. While he isn’t likely to raise much of a stink about his contract this year, it’s not difficult to envision a standoff coming in ‘15 when he’ll have two years remaining. All of the guaranteed money from the five-year, $51 million pact has already been collected, so Jackson—somewhat rightfully—will be looking for security.

Should the Eagles play ball? Jackson will be 28 and still owed a nice chunk of change. He’ll be 30 when the current deal expires. You couldn’t blame the team for not wanting to increase its commitment with years to go, which could cause a rift between player and organization.

The way I see it, the Birds have two more years of Jackson—this one upcoming, while he’s still relatively quiet, and the following season when he starts to make his unhappiness known. After that, it’s either extend him into his 30s or trade him to a team that will.

If the decision is made to move on, the team better have a replacement already lined up by then.

Jeremy Maclin

It would be a real shame if Maclin were to depart now. I’m not sure the Eagles really know what they have in the soon-to-be 26-year-old.

Maclin hasn’t turned into a star like you might expect of a former 19th overall selection, but he’s been about as reliable a set of hands as they come. Since 2010, only 34 active players—32 wide receivers and two tight ends—have posted higher than Maclin’ 60.9 yards per game, while 26 have reeled in more than his 22 touchdown passes.

34 is admittedly a large number, but still puts him in very good company. The fact that only 22 pass-catchers have reached the end zone more frequently is impressive though considering he just missed an entire season.

The thing is, we haven’t seen what Maclin can do under ideal circumstances since 2010, when he posted his best season with 70 receptions, 964 yards and 10 touchdowns. Health issues erased his training camp and three games in ’11. Philadelphia’s offensive line was decimated by injuries and the offense predictably declined as a whole in ’12. He still posted over 60 receptions and 800 yards both seasons.

This past year, a torn ACL prevented us from seeing what he could do in Chip Kelly’s offense, with Nick Foles tossing him the football.

The thinking was a short-term deal would be best for both sides as a result of the injury. It would protect the team in the event he’s not fully recovered, while allowing the player to rebound and cash in again one or two years down the road while he’s still in his prime.

The problem is other teams are sure to have interest if Maclin is allowed to hit the market in less than four weeks, such as the New York Jets reportedly—and in their desperate need for a receiver, who knows how much they would be willing to pay. What we know is he doesn’t have a deal with the Birds yet, and if his Twitter feed is any indication, Maclin is feeling pretty unappreciated right now.

Riley Cooper

He’s slow, he has trouble beating press coverage and he had what amounts to three good games in 2013, but Philly fans sure do love themselves some Riley Cooper.

Cooper emerged as a big-play threat once Nick Foles took over under center, going over 100 yards in three of five games and hauling in six of his eight touchdown passes for the season. Few in the Delaware Valley seemed to take notice when he didn’t have anywhere near that kind of impact over the final seven weeks though. Cooper’s high the rest of the way was 74 yards and he found the end zone just two more times.

The surprising part about Cooper was he wound up being an adept deep threat, using his 6’3”, 222-pound frame to box out smaller defensive backs. With less than ideal speed though, it’s questionable whether he could match his 13 receptions of 20-plus yards.

The thing is, a team that doesn’t have a viable deep threat may be willing to pay for Cooper’s unique talent. There are multiple teams who didn’t have a single player with 13 receptions of 20 or more yards—the Eagles had three, and Maclin is perfectly capable of doing it as well.

The Eagles should only be interested in retaining Cooper if he comes cheap. He’s a replacement-level talent who profited from being in the right place at the right time after Maclin was lost to injury. The front office should be searching for an upgrade from Cooper, not extending him long-term.

Jason Avant

Avant was going to be on the roster bubble no matter what in 2014, but few people likely realize the front office may have to make a decision on the long-time Eagle soon. As Tim McManus wrote for Birds 24/7 last month, Avant is due a $1 million roster bonus on March 15, which means the team would have to cut him before then to avoid paying him at least that much.

$1 million represents roughly a quarter of Avant’s cap hit in ’14, so it’s a pretty big deal. Not so big the Birds couldn’t pay it and cut him later if they changed their mind, but it’s certainly a deterrent.

The decision may be based on what happens with respect to Maclin and Cooper in the coming weeks. If the Eagles don’t have either player under contract by then, Avant is probably a lock to be back out of necessity. If at least one is re-signed, the organization might take its chances.

It will be a sad day in Philadelphia when Avant is let go. He’s spent eight seasons in midnight green and was a good person both inside the locker room and off the field. He will be 31 though, and production-wise, ’13 was his worst year since ’08.

Brad Smith

Smith could be a legitimate option to take over Avant’s role in the slot next season. At $1.3 million in ’13, he’s a moderately-priced, short-term solution who can also contribute on special teams both as a dangerous returnman and on the kick coverage unit.

Given the importance Chip Kelly places on special teams, and the fact that Smith looked like their best kick returner on just four attempts, his roster spot seems likely.

Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl

The expendables. Little to no shot at making the club next season. Will not be missed.

Previously:

No. 10, Running Back
No. 9, Tight End
No. 8, Quarterback
No. 7, Offensive Line

Sixers take lasting lessons from talk with Will Smith at team dinner

Sixers take lasting lessons from talk with Will Smith at team dinner

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The sprawling city skyline could have been the highlight of the Sixers' team dinner at One Liberty Place on Monday night. Instead, it was a surprise celebrity appearance that left them in awe.

Will Smith, who is part of the Sixers’ ownership, caught the players off guard when he visited with the team to offer advice and answer questions.

“Man, that’s one of my idols,” Nerlens Noel said following the first training camp session at Stockton University. “Everything he said I really took in and all the guys did too.”

Rather than entertaining the group with his acting or musical skills, Smith imparted important lessons that are applicable in sports. The 48-year-old has had decades of success across multiple platforms, and he offered pieces of wisdom that can resonate in any situation. 

“If you have bad people around you, that’s how people see you and that’s how you are,” Joel Embiid said. “He said to have good people around. That’s the main thing I got from that.”

The Sixers had differing memorable moments the morning after Smith’s visit, which demonstrated how many topics he addressed with the team. 

“He’s a good guy,” Ben Simmons said. “I definitely learned a lot from hearing him talk … You’ve got to look at things from a positive and negative with every situation.”

Jahlil Okafor was especially caught up in Smith’s appearance. Smith is Okafor’s favorite actor, most notably for his role in I Am Legend, and impressed Okafor with his character. 

“We already know about his accolades and how smart he is and obviously he’s an entertaining person,” Okafor said. “But it just seemed like he really wanted to be there to help us out. I just took away that he was a great person.”

Okafor also added, “It just helps [to hear from him] because the road to success is pretty much the same. It’s about being focused, it’s about knowing that you’re going to be knocked down, you’re going to fail. That was one of the messages that Will Smith shared, was expect failure but the main thing is to get back up.”

Noel previously had seen Smith courtside at Sixers games, and this was his first opportunity to hear directly from him. Noel listened to everything Smith had to say, from how to deal with the media to ranking his best and worst movies. 

“Never get caught up in too much of the negativity,” Noel recounted. 

While people view professional athletes as celebrities, the Sixers were on the opposite side Monday evening. 

“It’s hard to get starstruck nowadays,” Noel said. “But when you see Will Smith, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

If healthy, Ryan Howard is expected to start all three games in the Phillies' final series of the season Sept. 2-4 at home against the Mets.

He might also start the entire Braves series.

The Phillies' final six games are all against right-handed starting pitchers: Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Josh Collmenter in Atlanta; Robert Gsellman, Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard with the Mets. That could mean six starts for Howard before his time with the Phillies expires.

Howard's batting average has been below .200 for practically the entire season, but he's been much better since the All-Star break, hitting .259/.325/.598 with 11 homers, five doubles and 25 RBIs in 123 plate appearances (see game notes). He went 0 for 6 in his last two starts but homered in each of his two previous starts to reach 23 for the third year in a row.

Here's the Phillies' full lineup Tuesday against Teheran:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

Matt Kemp is out of the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Nick Markakis, RF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Jace Peterson, 2B
7. Dansby Swanson, SS
8. Mallex Smith, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

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