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.
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.
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.
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.
Doubted me once...played 2 years 2 time All-American...doubt me again shame on yall...love y'all twitter fam #18
— Jeremy Maclin (@jmac_18) February 7, 2014
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.
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.
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.