In a perfect world, the Philadelphia Eagles will find a way to bring back impending free-agent wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. Both are starting-caliber players at what should be the outset of their prime, and the Eagles need as many weapons as possible to keep building momentum atop the NFC East.
Of course, the world is far from perfect. The Eagles have salary-cap constraints to deal with. Michael Vick is also an unrestricted free agent, while Cedric Thornton is an RFA. They could get creative and squeeze both Maclin and Cooper under contract, but it won't be an easy task.
Earlier this month, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman admitted to CSN Philly's Reuben Frank that the effort to re-sign both players could present complications.
According to Spotrac, the team has about $23 million in cap space, but that means about 10 teams are on track to enter the open market with more money to spend than Philly.
Potential poachers will emerge. Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio believes the physically imposing Cooper will be "getting plenty of attention" in free agency. And another report from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News linked Maclin to the Jets.
So what happens if the Eagles are at one point forced to choose between the two?
Size and style notwithstanding, there are quite a few similarities between the two. Cooper is 26, Maclin will be 26 in May. In their last full seasons, each had between 830 and 860 receiving yards. Cooper had eight touchdowns, Maclin had seven.
|Maclin, 2012||Cooper, 2013|
|Red-zone reception %||47||64|
Pro Football Focus
Maclin comes with injury concerns based on the fact he missed the entire 2013 season due to a torn ACL, but he proved himself as a consistent starter for four years prior to that.
Cooper is coming off a breakout season, but he had done jack squat before that, so he's forced to prove that 2013 wasn't an aberration.
Nothing like a pro/con list to gain some clarity.
Maclin: Pros and cons
Pro: He was super-consistent to start his career, posting over 750 yards in four consecutive seasons.
Pro: He's a little faster and a half-year younger.
Con: He's coming back from a second torn ACL in his right knee, and he's had problems with his left knee in the past.
Con: He dropped nine of 77 catchable passes in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which was the ninth-worst rate in the league among wide receivers who played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps.
Cooper: Pros and cons
Pro: He's three inches taller and thus a much more ideal red-zone target.
Pro: He dropped only four of 51 catchable passes in 2013, according to PFF, which was a much healthier rate than Maclin had in 2012 and was better than the league average.
Pro: He averaged 5.1 yards after the catch per reception in 2013, per PFF, which ranked 35th among 111 qualifying wideouts.
Maclin has never averaged more than 4.5 YAC per reception. Cooper also ranked in the top 10 in the league with 17.8 yards per catch, but that might have been a byproduct of Chip Kelly's offensive system, at least to a degree. Still, Maclin averaged just 12.7 yards per reception in 2012.
Con: Prior to this season, Cooper never had more than 23 catches, 315 yards or three touchdowns in a single season.
The Foles factor
If you couldn't keep both, which receiver would you go with?
Cooper wins the battle, which is probably why he'll cost more than Maclin. Neither is a strong blocker, but Cooper has less to prove and might generally be a better complement to DeSean Jackson, rather than a slightly bigger version of Jackson.
Plus, fair or not, he had the chance to develop a hell of a rapport with Nick Foles, who is the presumed quarterback of the future in Philly.
Foles threw 59 passes to Maclin during his time under center in 2012, but only 56 percent of those were complete. He completed 59 percent of his 57 passes to Cooper in 2013, posting a 136.5 passer rating when throwing his way, per PFF.
Red-zone productivity isn't close
In 2013, Cooper caught seven of the 11 passes Foles and Vick threw his way in the red zone, scoring on four of those occasions. He uses that big frame to his advantage and certainly knows how to outmuscle defenders in tight space.
Here's an example from the San Diego game:
And another from the Oakland game:
He can also do this, which resulted in a 24-yard gain to set up 1st-and-goal:
In 2012, Maclin managed to score three touchdowns in the red zone, but he just wasn't as formidable a target in those scenarios. He caught eight of 17 passes thrown his way inside the 20-yard line. He just doesn't have the same presence where it matters most.
Here's an example against Cleveland:
And another against Carolina:
You have to wonder if Cooper would have hauled this one in:
It's a good problem to have
The reality is that a lot of teams would love to have three receivers like Jackson, Maclin and Cooper. The fact that the Eagles may have to pick between two players like them for 2014 is frustrating for many fans, but it could be a lot worse.
At least they have plenty of options.
Ultimately, though, I think the better option is Cooper, who is less of an injury risk and can seemingly do everything Maclin can, and then some.