Free Agent Duel: Maclin vs. Cooper
Today our Free Agent Duel series switches focus to the NFC East Champion Philadelphia Eagles, who enjoyed success in their first season under new head coach Chip Kelly, but still have a way to go to make themselves genuine championship contenders. A talented roster that features the best left side of the offensive line in the league (and it’s not even close) still has a couple of holes to fill and they have their own free agents to re-sign too.
They face an interesting decision at wide receiver, where both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are free agents, with Cooper coming off the best season of his career and Maclin missing all of 2013 through injury. So, taking that into consideration, which wide receiver should they bring back? Pete Damilatis and Gordon McGuinness give you their thoughts in another Free Agent Duel.
The Case for Maclin
By Gordon McGuinness
Heading into his sixth season out of Missouri, Maclin has yet to crack 1,000 yards in a regular season, yet he seems like a perfect wide receiver for what the Eagles did offensively last year. Highly rated when he entered the league, he hasn’t quite been able to put it all together. However, is it still too soon to give up hope?
The Eagles ran “11” personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) on 70.5% of their plays in 2013, well above the league average of 49.6%. That highlights the importance of wide receivers on the offense and it was Maclin’s injury that allowed Cooper to see much more playing time than expected, with the top three expected to have been DeSean Jackson, Maclin, and Jason Avant.
Much of the Eagles’ offense featured wide receiver screens and quick outs, getting the ball into the hands of the receivers as soon as possible and allowing them the opportunity to make plays. That allows them to take advantage of Maclin’s speed and put him in position to produce big plays for them.
For all of Maclin’s flaws, and there’s no denying he has some, he has the physical attributes to break out under Chip Kelly. He has shown the ability to beat defenses in a variety of ways and impressed as a deep threat in 2010, when he was 14th among wide receivers with 340 yards on passes traveling 20 yards or more in the air. That’s important because, for as much as they ran screens and quick outs, their top pass catcher in 2013, Jackson, caught more passes on go routes than any other route. He may have missed all of last season, but Maclin has been the Eagles’ No. 2 receiver for all of his career for good reason and, with teams likely to be wary considering he is coming off a serious injury, there should be an opportunity for the Eagles to bring him back without breaking the bank.
The Case Against Maclin
By Pete Damilatis
Like most former first-round picks, Maclin has always held the allure of hidden talent. I myself thought that the Eagles had stolen him at the 19th pick of the 2009 draft. But there comes a point where the “potential” well runs dry. Gordon already mentioned that Maclin has never surpassed the 1,000-yard barrier. Now players like Golden Tate are examples of receivers who can have a big impact without massive surface stats. But Maclin has never finished a season with a receiving grade higher than +3.0, and he earned a -7.2 in his 2012 thanks to a litter of dropped passes. Whether you look at the stat sheet or the film, he just has never lived up to his initial draft stock.
Gordon notes how Maclin could see a big boost in Kelly’s offense, but I don’t see the skills for that kind of leap. In 2012, he averaged 4.2 yards after catch per reception, and 6.2 yards per catch on screen passes; both unexceptional rates for a wide receiver. Jackson had a big year under Kelly, but he at least he had a track record (albeit an inconsistent one) of being dangerous after the catch. Maclin has not shown the same ability to take advantage of the open space that he’d find in Kelly’s offense. If he stays in Philadelphia, a leap in production requires a lot of wishful thinking.
The Case For Cooper
By Pete Damilatis
Depending on the reports you believe, Cooper’s offseason drama last summer nearly forced the Eagles to cut him. Given that he earned 284 receiving yards the previous season as a backup, it hardly would’ve seemed like a big on-field loss. Some speculated that Maclin’s injury may have been the only factor that saved Cooper’s job. If that was the case, he took full advantage of his reprieve. In a true breakout campaign, Cooper’s 47 receptions, 835 yards, and eight touchdowns were all more than his previous three NFL season totals combined. As our eighth-Best Sub of 2013, Cooper was a significant part of Philadelphia’s surprising run to the playoffs.
Kelly’s offense emphasized deep passes, and that is where Cooper excelled most. His 17.8 yards per reception was the eighth-highest rate among receivers with 20 targets, and surpassed even Jackson’s average. He caught 43.8% of his deep targets, again one of the top marks for a starting receiver. He showed an ability to track long balls and outmuscle his competition, exemplified in his 47-yard touchdown over Buccaneers’ cornerback Jonathan Banks in Week 6. He also had a knack for highlight-reel catches, none prettier than his one-handed grab with 6:20 left in the second quarter of his Week 13 game against the Cardinals.
Nick Foles’ ascension to the starting quarterback role was a huge boom to the entire Eagles offense, but no target benefitted more than Cooper. He gained 81% of his yards and seven of his eight touchdowns from Foles, and the two combined for a 136.5 passer rating on their targets. And with just four drops on 47 catchable targets, Cooper proved himselfquite reliable.
Don’t get me wrong, Cooper isn’t a top-tier receiver. Despite all the above, his 1.59 yards per route run this season was pedestrian. But, much like Julian Edelman, his price tag will be reasonable because many teams will perceive him as a product of his system. At the same time, Maclin’s first-round pedigree will still likely fool someone into overpaying for him. If you’re choosing between two solid No. 2 receivers, why wouldn’t you select the player who already fits into your system, has chemistry with your quarterback, isn’t coming off an injury, and is cheaper? If Kelly is going to carry his offensive momentum into next season, keeping Cooper is a no-brainer.
The Case Against Cooper
By Gordon McGuinness
There’s no denying that Cooper had a solid fourth season in the league, but his reputation as a deep receiver is slightly skewed. He did indeed average 17.0 yards per reception, but he was targeted just 16 times on deep passes in the regular season. That was tied for 36th among receivers with enough qualifying snaps, with seven big receptions helping to push that number up, with Cooper averaging just 10.8 yards per catch in 2012. Add to that a Drop Rate of 7.84, bad enough to be tied for 41st among all receivers in 2013, and it’s tough to justify paying him as a No. 2 receiver based on just one year.
If we’re accepting what Cooper did as solid for a No. 2 in 2013, it’s hard to suggest that Maclin hasn’t shown himself to be as competent as Cooper over a longer period of time. Kelly’s system gets the most out of his wide receivers and, if they bring Maclin back, I’d expect an increase in production beyond what Cooper can provide.
If you were the Eagles’ general manager and could keep only one, would you opt for, Maclin or Cooper? Make your case in the comments section.