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Thursday, February 27, 2014
Cooper stays where racial issue is old news

By Phil Sheridan

PHILADELPHIA -- Receiver Riley Cooper signed a new contract Thursday with the Philadelphia Eagles, passing up his chance to test the free-agent market.

Cooper also avoided visits with other teams where he would have to answer unpleasant and difficult questions about last summer.

Instead of having to explain how and why he was captured on video dropping a racial slur at a concert, and convince new coaches and teammates that he's really a decent guy, Cooper remains with the one team that has already dealt with and moved on from the incident.

Riley Cooper
Riley Cooper chose to remain with the Eagles instead of testing free agency.
"I do feel like he's accepted by everyone in the locker room," center Jason Kelce, who also signed a new contract, said. "Obviously, I can't speak for everybody. But I think the biggest point is, it was handled. Obviously, it was a terrible situation. Riley came forward, said he was wrong, made a mistake. I think guys were able through time and being with him and understanding who he actually is, it kind of defused.

"At this point, I don't think it's a factor. It's not brought up anymore, and it doesn't need to be."

But it would have been brought up all over again if Cooper had signed, or even visited, somewhere else.

"I felt like this is where I needed to be," Cooper said Thursday. "So I'm here. It's like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I'm glad I didn't have to deal with free agency. That's a-whole-nother deal in itself that I don't know anything about."

Cooper signed a five-year, $25 million contract with $8 million in guaranteed money over the first two years. There is no way to know what Cooper would have commanded on the open market, or whether teams would have excluded him because of the incident.

The Eagles, on the other hand, stood by Cooper through a firestorm of criticism -- most directed at him, some directed at the team for not taking stronger action.

"They showed tremendous loyalty," Cooper said. "I'm glad I'm back. The city, the fans, the team, the system -- everything in Philadelphia, I like. It was tough. Everyone knows that. I dealt with a lot of adversity."

Of course, he also created it. General manager Howie Roseman said the incident was painful for the whole franchise but that it was not a major consideration in deciding to bring Cooper back. Roseman said the contract doesn't include language about behavior that is any different from the standard contract.

"We got through that in August," Roseman said. "We had an opportunity to see him during the season and see how his teammates interacted with him, see how he was around the building. When you talk about going through some adversity together, in a lot of ways, that brought our team closer together. Not that it was something we'd want to have happen, but we learned a lot about a lot of players on the team through that."

Cooper's story would be compelling if he'd never gone to that Kenny Chesney concert. He was a fifth-round pick out of Florida -- and one of Tim Tebow's favorite targets -- who lasted three seasons as the fourth receiver in Andy Reid's offense.

When Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL last summer, Cooper got his chance to start. As coach Chip Kelly said in a prepared statement, he made the most of that opportunity.

"I think it's kind of cool when you're drafted somewhere and, hopefully I'm fortunate enough to finish my career in the same place," Cooper said. "I think that's kind of cool. Not a lot of people can do it. Hopefully I can do it. I wouldn't want to do it in any other city but here."