In their first season under head coach Chip Kelly, the Philadelphia Eagles surprised the NFL. Kelly’s fast-paced offense led Philadelphia to its first NFC East Championship since 2010. However, the Eagles must make one decision this offseason that may need to be made as fast as Kelly’s offense runs: which receiver should be brought back in 2014?
Of the many decisions the Eagles have to make this offseason, none may be as important as the choice between wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. Both receivers are set to be free agents this year, and Philadelphia may not be able to retain both of them. Maclin, a former first-round pick in 2009, suffered a torn ACL in last year’s training camp, and has not been seen in an Eagles uniform since the end of the 2012 campaign. During that season, Maclin caught 69 passes for 857 yards with seven touchdowns in 15 games.
If it wasn’t for the incredible season from quarterback Nick Foles, Cooper would have been Philadelphia’s breakout player. The fourth-year pro enjoyed his best season in 2013. It’s safe to say Cooper did more than just step up in his first season as the No. 2 receiver. He hauled in 47 passes for 835 yards with eight touchdowns. Foles and Cooper were quite the tag team of breakout stars for Philadelphia. For Cooper, 729 of his 835 yards came when Foles started for Phialdelphia, and the two connected seven times for scores.
Now, with all of this in mind, who will be the guy the Eagles move forward with as the future number two receiver?
Even though both of them being worthy of wearing Eagle green, if only one of them can be brought back, it should be Cooper.
It may seem wild to think that the Eagles should trust Cooper after just one solid NFL season, but there are reasons why this idea may not be a bad one. As mentioned earlier, Cooper enjoyed his best success of his young career when Foles played. With Foles being the clear-cut future quarterback for the Eagles, with a whole offseason together, the two should only get better. In addition, the Eagles have been desperate for a big, physical and fearless receiver that can not only stretch the field, but also be a possession receiver. Throughout the 2013 campaign, Cooper showed his toughness as a receiver, catching balls over the middle and not being afraid to take the hit. He also showed off his speed this past year. His ability to run deep routes has made him a more versatile weapon and a more difficult one to game plan for.
Now, Maclin has put together solid seasons for Philadelphia. With his versatility, speed and quickness, he would be a valuable asset in Kelly’s offense: if it was only 2010. Coming off a major knee injury, there may be too many questions regarding Maclin’s ability to return as the playmaker he once was. Before the injury, Maclin’s medical bill was already starting to tally up. In five seasons (including this past year), he has played in 59 games, and has only played all 16 games once. His inability to stay healthy could play a huge role in the Eagle’s decision.
Also, the slot position is one that requires a lot of cutting and pressure on the knee, and that is something Maclin might not be able to take. There are plenty of players in free agency and in this year’s NFL Draft that the Eagles could look to play this slot role. Although they may have other priorities, with the 21st pick, Philadelphia could draft USC receiver Marquis Lee to fill this void. Also, there are plenty of receivers the Eagles could look to steal later in the draft, including Oregon receiver Josh Huff, or Oregon running back\offensive weapon De’Anthony Thomas, two guys who played under Kelly when he coached the Ducks. Despite Thomas being more of a running back, thanks to his dynamic ability, he is someone Kelly could plug into the slot receiver position.
As the reigning NFC East champions, the Eagles have many steps to take to successfully defend their crown. The first of these steps should be resigning Cooper over Maclin this offseason.