You have no doubt heard the arguments suggesting that the Philadelphia Eagles should re-sign Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, regardless of the fact that doing so would likely prove fiscally irresponsible.
Let’s just say the Birds can afford new contracts for both Maclin and Cooper under the salary cap along with DeSean Jackson and two more wide receivers. Sounds like a fairy tale to me, but let's allow the hypothetical for the sake of the article.
If everybody can stay healthy, there aren’t enough footballs to go around anyway. Not if LeSean McCoy is going to lead the league in rushing attempts again. Not with tight end Zach Ertz emerging as a weapon in the passing game. Not with the potential for another draft pick to enter the mix in 2014.
The reality is the NFL’s No. 2 offense only needs one of its free-agent wide receivers. If it isn’t Maclin who is retained, the organization and its fanbase might live to regret the decision.
He’s too good. There’s too much invested.
Maybe we’ve all forgotten how good Maclin really is. After all, he just missed an entire season because of a torn ACL. Many would say he’s never quite lived up to the expectations bestowed on the 19th overall pick of the 2009 draft.
True, Maclin has yet to break the 1,000-yard receiving barrier in a single season in his pro career. He’s never been invited to a Pro Bowl. At this point, he may never develop into an ideal No. 1 receiver.
For all his apparent faults, however, Maclin has been one of the steadiest, most reliable set of hands in the league since becoming a fixture in the Eagles’ lineup. Only 34 active players—32 wide receivers and two tight ends—have averaged more than Maclin’s 60.9 receiving yards per game, while 26 have caught more than his 22 touchdown passes.
34 is admittedly a large number, but still puts Maclin in very good company. The fact that only 22 pass-catchers have reached the end zone more frequently is pretty impressive, though, considering he just missed an entire season.
He may not have achieved elite status, but Maclin is one of the better all-around receivers in the league. His 4.4 speed makes for one of the more consistent deep threats in the league with finishes of 23rd, 21st and 29th in receptions of 20-plus yards over his past three seasons, respectively.
Combined with his route-running ability, Maclin backs off defenders and has space to work underneath, resulting in finishes of 23rd, 39th and 28th in receptions.
The fact is Maclin has been the recipient of some unfortunate breaks as well. It looked like he was poised for a breakout year after the ’10 campaign, finishing with 70 receptions, 964 yards—exactly 1,000 from scrimmage—and 10 touchdowns.
Health issues marred his follow-up effort. A mysterious illness caused Maclin to lose weight during the offseason and miss training camp. He also missed three games later in the year, yet despite everything, still managed to post 63 receptions for 859 yards and five TDs.
He was on pace to eclipse 1,000 over a full 16-game season.
Philadelphia’s offense went into a deep decline in 2012 behind an injury-ravaged offensive line and the club finished with a 4-12 record. Maclin managed to produce anyway, putting up an almost identical line as that of the previous year with 69 receptions, 857 yards and seven touchdowns in 15 games.
Maclin was already on the cusp of becoming a much more dynamic player than he is. He’s teased taking the next step, but for various reasons, it hasn’t happened.
If it’s ever going to happen, it would be under head coach Chip Kelly. McCoy and Jackson were already established stars, but each set new career highs in their first season under Kelly. If a reserve receiver like Cooper can come in and perform as a viable No. 2 in Kelly’s offense, imagine the numbers a player with Maclin’s ability could rack up.
As much as Philly fans have fallen in love with Cooper after he filled in successfully for an injured Maclin last year, there’s no denying he is limited.
Cooper struggles to beat press coverage, which is why so many of his targets are down the field. Nearly half of his 47 receptions were on passes that traveled 11 or more yards through the air, including all eight of his touchdowns.
Maclin brings far more balance to the offense, as he’s every bit the deep threat Cooper is, but can also move the chains. Over the previous three seasons, Maclin hauled in 46, 39 and 46 passes thrown 1-10 yards or behind the line of scrimmage to Coop’s 19 last year.
When the deep ball wasn’t there, Cooper’s footprint wasn’t as big on the offense. Over the final seven games of the season, including the playoffs, the fourth-year receiver averaged 3.5 receptions for 49.7 yards per game with two touchdowns.
For those who say Cooper’s numbers would have been better if he had worked with Nick Foles under center the entire year rather than Michael Vick, Maclin has played the majority of his career with Vick as the starting quarterback.
Maybe it’s Maclin’s numbers that would be better if he had been paired with Foles.
Maclin may not be flashy. He isn’t the biggest or fastest receiver in the league. He isn’t a perennial Pro Bowler. He just gets the job done and will only turn 26 this year, which means there’s still plenty of upside.
Plus, the Birds need an insurance policy in case Jackson’s contract becomes an issue. Jackson made it no secret he’d prefer to be paid more. Who would take over as the club’s No. 1 receiver in 2015 if the fallout from that dispute results in his eventual departure?
Despite the fact that his recovery from ACL surgery is a bit of an unknown, the Eagles should do everything in their power to bring back Maclin on a short-term contract.
He still has the opportunity to be a major focus in the offense, which needs more consistency out of its No. 2 receiver spot than it was getting out of Cooper—not to mention a viable alternative to Jackson in case he becomes a problem.
Most of all, if the Eagles don't re-sign Maclin, they risk him realizing his full potential on another team. They already invested the pick in Maclin in '09. It's time to give him one more chance to stay healthy and participate in an exciting offense—and hopefully find out once and for all just how good he can be.