Eagles must decide: Re-sign Cooper and Maclin?

Posted: January 10, 2014

 Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are unrestricted free agents this offseason, but it's possible the Eagles can re-sign the two homegrown receivers.

Maclin started his first four seasons before missing the entire 2013 season because of a knee injury. Cooper replaced Maclin in the lineup and had a productive season. Both have value.

With DeSean Jackson already under contract - and potentially requiring a restructured deal - the Eagles must determine if they have enough money to pay both free-agent wide receivers and if there's enough playing time to go around.

"I wouldn't say it would be a nonstarter that we couldn't have both back," general manager Howie Roseman said. "Certainly the door is open to having both."

The issue the Eagles must consider, Rosean said, is "resource allocation." But with Nick Foles at quarterback, the Eagles have the luxury of being able to spend in other positions. Foles is due $615,000 next season at a position that often eats a greater chunk of the payroll.

The Eagles have roughly $18 million in cap space after the 2013 cap carryover and money allocated to 2014 draft picks. That number could increase after restructuring deals of veterans with hefty 2014 salaries.

In order to sign Maclin and Cooper, the Eagles must determine what to do about Jason Avant. Avant will be 31 next season and is due $2.2 million with a $1 million roster bonus. He is a reliable pass-catcher who is respected in the locker room, but he would be an expensive No. 4 receiver if both Maclin and Cooper return.

Maclin and Cooper would both prefer to stay in Philadelphia.

Maclin said his "heart's in Philly," and the organization was bullish about his prospects in coach Chip Kelly's offense. The major question with him is how he'll perform after returning from a second tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, and what kind of contract he would require. Maclin is confident that his knee will be stable enough for a team to invest in him. Roseman said that the Eagles trust their doctors and that Maclin's "future is bright."

Players have signed big deals after torn ACLs - Darrelle Revis was an example last season - so it's not out of the question that a competitive market would exist for Maclin. Some players in Maclin's situation take one-year deals to enhance their value and enter the free-agent market after a healthy season. Maclin understands both options.

"I know there's guys who do get paid coming off injury with long-term deals, I know there's guys who get a one- or two-year deal to prove they're healthy," Maclin said "It's a business. I've got to be prepared for anything that's going to be thrown at me. But I think everything happens for a reason, and I think eventually everything is going to work out."

Maclin's value is subjective. He can be viewed as a former first-round pick who has not yet recorded a 1,000-yard season and has only once played 16 games; or he can be viewed as an explosive player with good size, speed, and hands, and who might have his best years ahead of him.

"I'm going to be the guy who is there in tough situations and the guy who is going to beat guys in man-to-man coverage more times than not," Maclin said. "I am going to be a guy who is reliable for the quarterback, and I think every team needs one of those guys."

The Eagles would not know what Cooper could be if not for Maclin's injury. He was a depth player in past seasons, but Cooper took 89 percent of the Eagles' snaps this season and finished tied for third in the NFL with 17.8 yards per catch.

He also developed a clear connection with Foles, who threw Cooper eight of the receiver's nine touchdowns. Kelly raves about Cooper's blocking, and Cooper's size stands out among the receiving corps. The entire package proved that Cooper is a solid starting receiver, although the Eagles must determine whether he was a product of Kelly's system and whether a draft pick could fill the role with similar production.

"I didn't change anything in my game or do anything different," Cooper said. "It was sad to see Jeremy go down, but it was an opportunity. . . . I played hard and let things take care of themselves, and for the most part it did."

There is no telling how the offense would look if both return. Maclin has the versatility to play in the slot and outside. But if the Eagles want to play two tight ends at one time, they would not be able to have the top three receivers on the field along with LeSean McCoy.

"It's kind of, where does everybody get lined up first, and that's where the tempo comes into play," Cooper said. "It's not necessarily, are you a slot receiver? It's kind of just musical chairs."

Lazor to Miami? Quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor is interviewing for the Miami Dolphins' offensive coordinator job, a league source confirmed. ESPN first reported the story.

The Dolphins have not requested permission to speak to Eagles vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble, according to the source.

Lazor, 41, has worked for the Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins, and Seattle Seahawks. He came to the Eagles from the University of Virginia, where he was offensive coordinator. Lazor, a Cornell alumnus, helped in the development of quarterback Nick Foles this season.


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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