Cooper’s offseason fall from grace was well-documented with his racial slur at a country music concert, which led many pundits to believe Chip Kelly would cut the fourth-year receiver. Kelly stuck with his player and Cooper was elevated to a starting role due to Jeremy Maclin’s season-ending injury.
Cooper caught a grand total of eight passes in the first five weeks of the season, and he and Michael Vick seemed to have absolutely no chemistry together.
That eight-catch output placed Cooper dead last among all starting receivers in receptions—a total nearly twice as low as that of the closest receiver.
Since then, Cooper has become a weapon in the Eagles offense. Whether it’s because he worked primarily with Nick Foles during training camp or it just took some time, the Eagles are reaping the benefits of having kept Cooper.
A three-touchdown performance against the Oakland Raiders was Cooper’s highlight, but he followed that up with two more scores in a win over the Green Bay Packers. That’s five touchdowns in two weeks for Cooper, an achievement that even the great Calvin Johnson has never pulled off in his NFL career.
Over his last five contests, Cooper has caught 20 passes for 462 yards and six touchdowns. Project those numbers to a 16-game schedule, and that’s a pretty impressive 64 catches for 1,478 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Realistically, Cooper has a chance to put up a 1,000-yard campaign this season, which would be remarkable given that he had a grand total of 93 yards after Week 5.
So where does that leave Cooper in terms of the Eagles’ plans for the future? It seemed a foregone conclusion that the impending free agent would play out his rookie contract and walk after this season.
Now it looks like he may be worth bringing back.
The Eagles will have a handful of financial decisions to make regarding the wide receiver position. DeSean Jackson is turning in his finest statistical season, which makes it very likely that he will return in 2014—even at $12.5 million.
Maclin’s five-year rookie contract expires in the offseason, making him a free agent. He’s still just 25 years old and should be a weapon in the Eagles offense, but it will be a lot of money for the Eagles to pay Jackson and Maclin.
If the team can work out a financially sound deal for Maclin given his injury, that’s the ideal situation. Franchising him would lead Philly to shell out roughly $20 million to Jackson and Maclin next season.
There’s also veteran slot receiver Jason Avant, who has been a model of consistency over the last several seasons. Avant has totaled 51, 52 and 53 receptions over the previous three years and is on pace for about 50 again.
He is signed through 2014, but at nearly $4 million, that’s a lot to pay considering the Eagles could probably get close to the same production for half the price.
And there’s even Arrelious Benn, who is an afterthought given that he’s been injured all season and has never played an official down with the team. However, he can be brought back at just $1 million since he signed a two-year deal before 2013.
The key for Cooper will be playing at a consistently high level for the remainder of the season.
If he’s a flash in the pan, the Eagles will thank him for the good games but let him walk. If he really is a deep threat who happens to be 6’4”, he saves the Eagles a draft pick and is worth bringing back to be an integral part of next year’s offense.
Does that mean he's a future No. 1? It still depends. He likely doesn't have the speed to be that threat, but he has really clicked with Foles.
It’s also looking more and more like Foles will be under center for the team next year. Drafting Marcus Mariota is all but out of the picture because the Eagles won’t pick until the middle of the first round (barring a late-season collapse).
That means Kelly has to trade up, settle for a riskier quarterback like Johnny Manziel or keep a player he has now.
A playoff berth would really help Foles’ chances, and it seems inevitable that his chances to return are tied with Cooper. Their success has coincided. Vick completed just eight of his 19 throws to Cooper. Foles is 20-of-28 (71.4 percent) with six touchdowns and no interceptions when throwing to Cooper.
Why mess with that success by allowing Cooper to walk?
It doesn't necessarily mean Cooper will even be a starter in 2014—especially if Maclin returns along with Jackson—but a hefty dose of three-receiver sets with Jackson, Maclin and Cooper suggests for a high-scoring offense.
Salary information courtesy of Eagles Cap.