Gripping choices await Eagles

Posted: February 21, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS - Asked where he sees the strongest array of talent in an NFL draft pool that's drawing raves for its overall depth, Howie Roseman talked about wide receiver.

That assessment could have implications for the Eagles' 22nd overall first-round draft pick, and for pending free agents Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper.

"I think it goes without saying that the wide-receiver class is unique," the Eagles' general manager said yesterday as the NFL Scouting Combine kicked off at Lucas Oil Stadium. "There are 19 underclassmen, and when you add them to the senior class, that's a unique group of players . . . I think we're going to be sitting there in every round and there's going to be a receiver we like. It's just going to happen that way. You look around the league, there are teams that are already three or four deep at wide receiver and probably aren't going to want to take one early. Those [teams passing] are going to push guys back."

Roseman was asked how he puts together the Eagles' wideout situation, given that Maclin and Cooper are unsigned.

"I think in one of these interviews, I said it's complicated. I think it is complicated, when you look at it, because you have guys on our roster that we drafted, and that we like as players, that certainly fit into the chemistry of our football team, and then we have some guys on our roster as well that have been on our team a long time. We're trying to figure out the whole dynamics of it, because you can only put a limited number of resources into a position before it starts taking out from other places," Roseman said.

"Then you have to factor in also the quality of the depth in the draft, and the opportunities possibly in the draft to get good players [at wide receiver].

"Perhaps it's making sure that we're making decisions during calm times. Because when you're negotiating contracts, you want to win. You want to get the player. It's natural. So we set prices for guys and we try to really kind of stick to those and have walk-away numbers. At the same time, the market's going to determine a lot of those things. It's hard to figure out the market until you're in it."

Later, addressing free agency in general, Roseman said: "You have to have a walk-away number. If you start paying $1 million more here and $1 million more there, all of a sudden you lose out on a $5 million-a-year player."

Roseman declined to address the status of talks with Maclin or Cooper, other than to assert that there was "great communication with the player and his agent" when asked about Maclin. He again noted that the Eagles' management of Maclin's rehab from last year's torn ACL is "a huge advantage" in assessing his situation going forward.

It would be a big surprise if the Eagles let both Maclin and Cooper walk, given that their roster isn't overflowing with wideout talent. It wouldn't be surprising to see one or the other leave, especially if buzz about a burgeoning market for Cooper is true.

Cooper is a fifth-round draft pick from 2010 who made the most of Maclin's absence last season, particularly after Nick Foles took over at quarterback. Cooper finished with 47 catches for 835 yards and eight touchdowns, more than doubling his previous bests. His 17.8 yards per catch was the NFL's third-ranked figure. It's hard to assess how much Foles and the Chip Kelly offense had to do with Cooper's breakthrough year.

But if you bring back Maclin - a 2009 first-rounder, whose 258 catches through his first four seasons are the most in such a span in team history - and then maybe draft a big wideout early, as seems quite possible, is there still a role for Cooper? And even if there is, is it a big-money role?

You can ask similar questions about Maclin, if Cooper is signed.

What Roseman said yesterday about having to make decisions on "guys on our roster that have been on our team a long time" might have referenced slot receiver Jason Avant, who is under contract, and is a valuable leadership voice, but who also seemed to lose a step last season. Avant turns 31 in April. Roseman also said something yesterday about a player needing to have a prominent role on the field to be an effective leader. If the Eagles draft a receiver early, and bring back either Maclin or Cooper, is Avant still the slot guy?

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. recently said he could see six to nine wide receivers being drafted in the first round this year, and both Kiper and NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock have said they think quality wide receivers will be available into the third and fourth rounds. Kiper's first mock draft had Florida State wideout Kelvin Benjamin going to the Birds with that 22nd overall pick.

This all might reinforce Roseman's point about having a "walk-away number" for both Maclin and Cooper. The Eagles are due to pay DeSean Jackson $10.25 million in 2014. (Jackson said at the end of the season he would like a raise, or to see at least some of that money guaranteed. He quickly dropped the matter when it seemed clear that the Eagles weren't interested.)

Even if the NFL salary cap expands to $130 million, as various reports yesterday indicated, giving the Eagles more than $25 million in cap room, there are limits to what you want to spend in one spot, as Roseman said. And with well-run teams, it's never just about staying under the cap this year, since unspent money now carries over. After the 2014 season, it will be time to look at extending Foles, and if he continues to develop into a franchise quarterback, well, those guys make like $20 million a year. The 2014 franchise-tag figures haven't been announced, but various projections have this year's QB number over $16 million, and that was assuming a lower total cap than yesterday's $130 million figure.

Roseman said looking at the cap beyond this year is "a big part of our planning. We have a bunch of young players on our team that we want to keep around. We don't want to be in a position a year from now where we went out and signed a bunch of guys and aren't able to re-sign the guys we want to be our core players going forward."

On Twitter: @LesBowen


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