Cooper signs to stay with Eagles

Posted: February 28, 2014

THE QUESTION never quite got answered head-on, but it was addressed obliquely, well enough to make the people crowded around Riley Cooper yesterday at NovaCare pretty sure of one thing: Cooper had no interest whatsoever in standing in a new NFL locker room this spring, in front of a bunch of guys he didn't know, saying, "Now, about that business with me at the concert last summer . . . "

Cooper talked over and over yesterday about players, coaches and the Eagles organization standing by him and believing in him.

"I didn't test free agency because I wanted to be here," Cooper said, when asked if he'd thought his options might be limited, a little less than 7 months after Cooper made national headlines for being caught on video using the N-word in a dispute with a security guard at a Kenny Chesney concert. "I wanted to be here with Chip Kelly, Nick Foles, [wide-receivers] coach [Bob] Bicknell - all the core guys that are here. I got great teammates. Why would somebody want to leave that? . . . I'm glad I didn't have to deal with free agency . . . It's like a weight lifted off my shoulders."

Of course, Cooper not wanting to leave wasn't why the Eagles were willing to sign their fifth-round wideout from 2010 to a 5-year, $25 million contract yesterday, with $10 million guaranteed, according to a source close to the situation ($8 million is completely guaranteed, meaning he doesn't have to be on the roster at a certain date, etc.). The team felt Cooper rose to the occasion with skill and grit, in the wake of Jeremy Maclin's ACL tear early in training camp.

"People like Riley, because he brings some physical toughness to your football team, he can go up and get the football. Even when you talk about the wide-receiver group in free agency and the draft, he's got some unique skill set at the position," general manager Howie Roseman said, when asked if the Eagles had thought there'd be a market in free agency, had they let Cooper test it.

"Riley is one of the toughest and hardest-working guys in our locker room," Kelly, the Eagles' coach, said in a statement released by the team. "We talk a lot about how players have to make the most of their opportunities, and he did just that last year. He used his size, strength and speed to make a lot of big plays for our team, and I'm excited to watch him build upon his success."

In Kelly's system, Cooper furthered his reputation as an excellent downfield blocker, both in the screen game and on LeSean McCoy runs, and he more than doubled his previous career highs, with 47 catches for 835 yards and eight touchdowns. His 17.8 yards per catch ranked third in the NFL. Cooper was particularly effective after Nick Foles replaced Michael Vick at quarterback. Cooper had 10 catches for 86 yards and one TD in the six games started by Vick, 37 for 749 and seven in the 10 games started by Foles.

"What a tremendous player and a tremendous guy," Cooper said of Foles. "He believes in me, he likes throwing me the ball . . . Without him, I wouldn't be here, to be honest with you. We definitely have good chemistry, and that weighed a lot into the decision."

He also wouldn't have been there if Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie, Roseman and Kelly hadn't been willing to weather the storm when the video surfaced last August.

"They showed tremendous loyalty," Cooper said. "I'm glad I'm back. The city, the fans, the team, the system - everything in Philadelphia, I like . . . I felt like this was where I needed to be."

Listening to Jason Peters, Cooper and Jason Kelce talk about their new long-term contracts over the last couple of days was a strong reminder of how much this team has bought into Kelly. Players clearly believe something special is coming, and they want to be here for it.

"We have the chips," Cooper, 26, said, with no apparent pun intended. "We definitely have the chips in place."

"I think the players see what we're trying to accomplish and they want to be part of it," Roseman said.

Toward that end, Cooper said he is "hoping we get Jeremy Maclin back here as soon as possible," even though Cooper acknowledged that might mean pending free agent Maclin reclaiming the spot alongside DeSean Jackson and Cooper moving to the slot, where Jason Avant is going to have a hard time holding on, if he makes it to training camp as an Eagle.

When the season ended, it seemed a 1-year deal might suit both Maclin and the Eagles, limiting their risk and giving Maclin a stronger platform for free agency in a year. But the Birds seem pretty sold on Maclin's recovery - which they oversaw - and they don't have a long history of letting players gain the upper hand on them. The Eagles apparently now are pressing for a longer-term deal. It still seems very likely they will reach agreement, but it won't be as simple as it might have seemed a month or so ago.

Roseman reiterated yesterday that Maclin is the kind of player the team wants to keep, but he offered no update on the talks.

As was the case with offensive tackles after Jason Peters signed on Wednesday, Howie Roseman said yesterday that the Eagles' draft strategy, in a deep year for wideouts, won't change with the signing of Riley Cooper, or even the prospective signing of Jeremy Maclin . . . The trio of signings apparently only added about $1 million to the Birds' 2014 cap figure; they're still at least $20 million under, though the cap hasn't been set yet . . . Since punter Donnie Jones played here under the veteran minimum, on a 1-year deal in 2013, the Eagles can only sign him to another vet minimum deal until free agency starts March 11, Roseman confirmed. Look for them to get a better-than-minimum deal done then . . . Roseman said a high-priced free-agent signing this spring wouldn't be a problem for this year's cap, but it would affect some decisions next season, when the Eagles presumably will have to rework Nick Foles' deal. The Pro Bowl QB will play this season for $615,000. The franchise-tag figure for a QB is roughly 26 times that.


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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