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Friday, February 21, 2014
Market will decide Eagles' WR plans

By Phil Sheridan

PHILADELPHIA -- In his combine press briefing Thursday, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman sounded very much like a man willing to shuffle the team's deck at wide receiver.

Of course, that's exactly how you would want to sound if you were a GM with two receivers about to test the free-agent market.

Cooper
Maclin
“We're trying to figure out the whole dynamics of it,” Roseman said Thursday. “You can only put a limited amount of resources at a particular position before it starts taking out from other places. And then you've got to factor in the quality and the depth in the draft. ... We set prices for guys and try to stick to those and have walkaways numbers. The market is going to determine a lot of those things. It's hard to figure out the market until you're in it.”

Because it's the most interesting situation for the Eagles this offseason, we saved our look at the wide receiver situation for last. Jeremy Maclin, a former first-round draft pick who missed 2013 with a torn ACL, and Riley Cooper, who started all season in Maclin's place, are about to become unrestricted free agents.

This isn't like the safety situation, where the Eagles simply need to upgrade from the guys who are about to become free agents. Maclin was a good player who hadn't gotten close to his ceiling before the injury. Cooper was a spare part who became a favorite target of Nick Foles, catching 47 passes for 835 yards and eight touchdowns.

It really seems as simple as this: If the market provides Maclin and Cooper opportunities that pay more than the Eagles think they are worth, they will be gone. If they like what the Eagles offer, in money and familiarity and the chance to win, either or both could be back.

And then there's the X factor that will help determine what Roseman called the “walkaway number” for each player. Does Kelly believe his offense would work as well or better with other wide receivers? He spoke highly of Cooper, both as a blocker and a pass-catcher. But if Kelly thinks a faster or more athletic receiver would put up even better numbers, Roseman will negotiate accordingly.

The only certainty at the position is that DeSean Jackson will be back. He is still a game-breaking deep threat who dictates the way defenses approach the Eagles offense. Jackson caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns.

Jason Avant, the eight-year veteran who won Kelly over with his unselfish attitude, could be a victim of his $2 million salary. Avant was a starter who saw his playing time decrease as the season went on.

The rest of the wide receiver corps was unremarkable. Damaris Johnson vanished when he failed to spark the return game. Brad Smith took over kickoff returns and was the focus of some of Kelly's more unfortunate trickery. Jeff Maehl played special teams and saw scant playing time on offense. Arrelious Benn, who also missed the season with a torn ACL, has another year on his contract.

Compared to the imposing collections of receivers the Eagles defense faced almost weekly, this was not exactly a fearsome group. And yet the Eagles receivers were good enough for Foles to have a breakout season.

Did that say more about Cooper and Jackson and Avant or about Kelly's imaginative offense? How the Eagles answer that question internally will go a long way toward determining their strategy.

There are some free agents who could add different dimensions to the passing game -- Eric Decker of Denver, Emmanuel Sanders of Pittsburgh, Golden Tate of Seattle -- but mostly there is the draft. We'll be taking a look at some of the wide receivers available in a post later.