This is a business, and Cooper is still a valuable asset in Philly. Jeremy Maclin, who was the team's leading receiver in 2012, has been placed on injured reserve and is expected to miss the entire 2013 season. Keeping Cooper around to compete for a spot among a thin receiving corps wouldn't be tantamount to letting him off the hook.
In addition to losing part of his salary and most of his dignity, the reality is that Cooper probably just lost the benefit of the doubt if he's on the roster bubble come late August. Jason Avant, Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson and Ifeanyi Momah are jockeying for position in the Philly receiving corps, and Cooper certainly won't win any tiebreakers.
Cooper might have dug his own football grave, but he hasn't fallen in yet. His teammates haven't allowed that to take place. Veteran leader Michael Vick, who's had plenty of his own off-field troubles, has forgiven Cooper for his moment of stupidity, and the rest of his teammates have followed suit.
Riley came to us as a man and apologized for what he did. As a team, we understood because we all make mistakes in life and we all do and say things that maybe we do mean or we don’t mean. But as a teammate, I forgave him. As a team, we forgave him. We understand the magnitude of the situation. We understand that a lot of people may be hurt and offended, but I know Riley Cooper. I know him as a man. I’ve been with him for the last three years and I know what type of person he is. And that’s what makes it easy, at the same time hard, to understand the situation, but easy to forgive him. I forgave him.
If the Eagles were going to be able to keep Cooper around, that was requirement No. 1. There couldn't be any friction in the dressing room and in the meeting rooms and on the practice field. Thus far, it seems there won't be.
But there's also what happens on the field.
Fair or not, the better you are at football, the longer your rope is. Superstars get away with more than reserve receivers, and Cooper might learn that the hard way.
However, he's the only receiver on the roster with NFL experience who is over 6'1". The Eagles know the mismatches he can create, and all for only $630,000. If he can use this incident as fuel and make himself a better player, that should be enough for him to salvage his job, his career and maybe even his reputation.
What should the Eagles do/have done with Riley Cooper?
The Eagles could have released him outright, but they're better off seeing how he and his teammates react. If there's a renewed fire in Cooper's belly and the locker room doesn't suffer as a result of his continued presence, then the Eagles move forward and give him a second chance. If he fails to stand out on the field and/or is received poorly by his coworkers, then they can move on before the season starts.
If they cut Cooper in a month, they'll look noble. If they keep him after a month of on-field productivity and off-field harmony, they'll look savvy.
Some of you may feel as though Cooper doesn't deserve a chance to save his career, but that's not how this business usually works. In fact, that's not how our culture usually operates. Second chances have resulted in some incredible accomplishments and feel-good stories, so you can't fault the Eagles for giving a longtime employee a chance to right a wrong, regardless of their motivation.
Let's see how this plays out, because we already know Cooper isn't easily getting off the hook regardless.