Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Veterans Who Have Been Put on Notice This Offseason
Chip Kelly did a masterful job in his first season as head coach, coaxing 10 wins and a division title out of a 2012 club that went 4-12.
Kelly turned third-round quarterback Nick Foles into a Pro Bowl quarterback, and his health and fitness regime led to the healthiest offensive line in the National Football League. Even the defense overachieved under coordinator Billy Davis’ new 3-4 scheme.
What Kelly did, though, was send an offseason message by releasing three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, DeSean Jackson, even after Jackson’s most productive campaign. This should be a wake-up call to the other highly-paid veterans on the team, namely the following five players.
Whether it be declining performance, high cap hits or the emergence of younger players, five Eagles veterans may be entering their final season with the club in 2014.
For years, Trent Cole was among the most underrated 4-3 defensive ends in the league, frequently rating among the highest-ranked players at his position by Pro Football Focus' standards.
He even transitioned well to a 3-4 outside linebacker role in 2013, finishing as the seventh-best player at that position (subscription required). He rated higher than notable edge-rushers such as Terrell Suggs, John Abraham, Junior Galette and Mario Williams.
But the simple fact that Trent Cole is due to make $11.6 million in base salary in 2015 suggests this coming year will be his final season with the club. Factor in that the Philadelphia Eagles just drafted Marcus Smith in the first round, and the only way Cole returns is likely as a rotational player on a reduced salary.
After last August’s viral incident, Riley Cooper was seemingly left for dead as an NFL player. Fortunately for Cooper, Chip Kelly stuck with him, and Cooper rewarded the Philadelphia Eagles with a breakout campaign.
Cooper’s 47 catches won’t impress anyone, but he emerged as a deep threat, finishing with eight touchdowns. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), five of Cooper’s seven deep catches (20+ yards) resulted in scores, the highest conversion rate in the league.
Jeremy Maclin is back in 2014, but DeSean Jackson is not, which should logically keep Cooper in the role he assumed last year. Kelly heavily utilized his No. 2 receiver, making Cooper one of just 13 NFL wideouts with at least 1,000 snaps played (subscription required). If Cooper can keep the No. 2 spot this year, he will see a lot of snaps again. After all, he showed an impressive rapport with quarterback Nick Foles.
The problem is that Kelly drafted Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews in the second round and Oregon’s Josh Huff in the third round. Matthews could easily take over Cooper’s role by the conclusion of next season, and he’s the future No. 1 wide receiver on this team.
Cooper’s contract also allows for a fairly easy release after the 2015 campaign. For him to remain on the roster long-term, he’s going to need to continue his penchant for making long touchdown grabs.
Following an up-and-down five-year career, the Philadelphia Eagles brought back Jeremy Maclin. He’s rehabilitating a torn ACL but the release of DeSean Jackson will give Maclin the opportunity to be the offense’s No. 1 wide receiver.
But Maclin is back on just a one-year deal. He will need to play well to cash in as a free agent. Now he will have to fight off second-round rookie Jordan Matthews, who will begin as a slot receiver but will undoubtedly push for snaps on the outside.
The ideal scenario for Maclin is that he cashes in after a productive 2014. Chip Kelly’s system has a way of bringing out the best in players. Riley Cooper and Jackson each put up personal bests. So did Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy. If Maclin can play at close to 100 percent—no certainty at all considering the injury he suffered a year ago—he could put up 1,000 to 1,200 yards.
If Maclin falters, though, Matthews will be there and waiting. He’s the future No. 1 wideout for this franchise, and he will push for starting snaps immediately.
Alex Henery certainly isn’t a fan favorite, especially after last year’s NFC Wild Card game. In that contest, Henery missed a field goal in the Philadelphia Eagles' two-point loss.
For the 2013 campaign, Henery posted a career-low 82.1 field goal percentage. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he rated 27th among regular kickers in average distance per kickoff (64.7 yards). Henery’s lack of leg strength literally led Chip Kelly to change the way he coached the games, as Kelly called for frequent short kicks in the December loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Henery will have to face an undrafted rookie free agent for the starting kicker job next season, but this rookie kicker will assuredly be a fan favorite. Carey Spear of Vanderbilt earned the nickname “Murderleg” for the devastating hits he lays on opposing kick returners. As a kicker, Spear was just 15-of-19 on field goals a year ago, which likely gives the edge to Henery.
But Henery is a free agent after the 2014 season, and there have been no reports of extension talks.
When the Philadelphia Eagles initially signed Connor Barwin, it looked like he would be around for many years. But a breakdown of the contract reveals Barwin can easily be released after 2014 at very little cap penalty.
Barwin is set to make $6.1 million in 2015 and $6.6 million in 2016. The Eagles also drafted his likely replacement in first-rounder Marcus Smith.
Barwin is a good player, as is Trent Cole. It’s logical to assume Philadelphia will bring back one of the two, because, otherwise, the starters are Smith and Brandon Graham, and Graham may not even be on the 2014 roster. But Barwin may have to battle Cole for a spot on the '15 team.