In July, the Philadelphia Eagles were consumed by controversy after Riley Cooper’s now infamous rant at a Kenny Chesney concert was exposed on the Internet. Rather than feed the media leviathan that the shocking video spawned, most Eagles players banded together to defuse the controversy before it could negatively impact their season. But despite support from team leaders, led by Michael Vick, a leave of absence and team-imposed therapy, most football analysts believed that Riley Cooper would be relegated to the fringes of the league in the wake of his racist comment.
That is not how the story unfolded as Riley Cooper led the Philadelphia Eagles in receiving in last night’s 26-24 home playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints. While a critical third-down drop may have been his most memorable moment, he showed off uncommon strength and body control en route to posting six catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. The standout game capped one of the most volatile seasons for an individual player in recent memory. With the Eagles’ season over, Cooper’s next move will be entering free agency on March 11.
When the Eagles deliberate Cooper’s next contract offer, they will surely be impressed by his on-field performances, even though he lacks the long speed and ability to consistently separate that true go-to receivers possess. Regardless, as both a pass receiver and run blocker, Cooper has been one of the more productive second receivers in the NFL this year. In the regular season, he posted 47 receptions for 835 yards and eight touchdowns. He also received a top 40 wide receiver grade from profootballfocus.com, which charts all player snaps and measures both pass-catching and run-blocking effectiveness.
Off the field, most of his teammates have been publicly supportive, however, LeSean McCoy and perhaps others, may understandably still hold a grudge against the embattled wide receiver. Yet, Cooper has other intangibles working in his favor. His blocking proficiency and deep understanding of Chip Kelly’s scheme, which requires wide receivers to frequently set blocks on the perimeter, makes him uniquely valuable to the Philadelphia Eagles.
How the Eagles approach Riley Cooper’s contract negotiations will be an interesting subplot this offseason.