Philadelphia Eagles: Jason Avant

PHILADELPHIA – Give yourself a pat on the back if you had Jason Avant in the wide-receiver-most-likely-to-skewer-Chip Kelly pool.

Avant
DeSean Jackson’s departure from the Eagles got all the attention, and for good reason. He was coming off a Pro Bowl season, put up great numbers and was still under contract. Avant was 31, saw his role diminish over the course of the season, and his contract expired after the season.

Avant signed with the Carolina Panthers. This week, he told the Charlotte Observer that he knew his days as a Kelly employee were numbered “maybe four games into last season. When they stop calling your number and guys start running some of the routes that you run – I knew from the beginning that I didn’t fit his style of offense, in that I’m a crafty guy that gets open in an atypical way.”

There isn’t much to see here, actually. There is nothing remarkable, really, about a coach shaping his roster to fit his vision for how the game should be played. Kelly made some changes immediately upon taking over the Eagles last year, but it takes a little time to remake an entire football program. Especially when that program had been run the same way for 15 years.

“When it came to certain things,” Avant told the Observer, “we butted heads sometimes – route running and route technique. So I knew I didn’t fit his system.”

Avant was a good soldier and did his part to help smooth the transition from Reid to Kelly. That is even more admirable when you learn that he was doing so with the knowledge he wouldn’t be here when it all came together.

Still, Avant’s comments do shed a bit more light on the Jackson situation. If the oldest, most respected leader among the wide receivers didn’t see eye to eye with Kelly, that suggests Jackson wasn’t totally on board, either. Jackson, like Avant, was steeped in Reid’s approach to the game. Clearly, that approach differs from Kelly’s.

All of that supports the theory that Kelly released Jackson because he didn’t really buy in to what the coach was trying to build here.

That’s fine as far as it goes. But Kelly immediately put pressure on himself to replace the departed talent without taking a step backward. The early signs are good. Jordan Matthews, Darren Sproles and Josh Huff seem like pieces that Kelly can plug in without missing a beat. The Eagles will have to deal with Jackson twice a year while he’s in Washington, but they won’t see Avant again unless it’s in the playoffs.

If there’s any head butting going on then, it will be on the field.
PHILADELPHIA – In the aftermath of the Eagles' decision to release wide receiver DeSean Jackson, there was more speculation than explanation available. That's how wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell got drawn into the conversation.

During a mid-December game in Minnesota, Bicknell and Jackson were seen shouting at each other on the sidelines. It was the kind of scene that plays out every week in the NFL. But when a player gets released just a month after playing in the Pro Bowl, a scene like that suddenly seems more important.

[+] EnlargeBob Bicknell
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images"I never had a problem with DeSean Jackson," Bob Bicknell said. "I enjoyed coaching him."
Like most of coach Chip Kelly's assistants, Bicknell is not available to the media most of the time. All of the assistants talked Monday, so it was the first time Bicknell was asked publicly about Jackson.

“Honestly, I don't remember too much about that [Minnesota] situation,” Bicknell said. “It wasn't something that was carried too long. I think it does happen from time to time [on the sideline].

“I never had a problem with DeSean Jackson. I enjoyed coaching him. I enjoyed the year I had with him. As a coach, you move on so quickly. Once that decision was made, I moved on. I wish him nothing but the best. He did everything I asked him to do.”

Jackson produced career highs in catches (82), yardage (1,332) and touchdowns (nine) in his only season under Bicknell and Kelly. Now it will be Bicknell's task to replace that production without Jackson or slot receiver Jason Avant, who left as a free agent.

“I think it comes from everybody,” Bicknell said. “It comes from everybody being a little bit more comfortable in the offense. We've always had good guys in that [meeting] room. I have great confidence we have a lot of guys in that room who can make plays.”

Riley Cooper returns as one starter. Jeremy Maclin, who tore an ACL in training camp last season, returns to the starting lineup. Draft picks Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff provide different skill sets. Arrelious Benn and Brad Smith are veterans with chances to contend for playing time.

“A lot of guys are fighting for that position now,” Bicknell said. “They're all out there making a lot of plays. Jordan Matthews is a pretty fast guy. Brad Smith is really good with the ball in his hands. I don't look at it like, we can't go deep.”

The Eagles also added running back Darren Sproles, who has excellent speed. He's not in Bicknell's meetings, but he's one more player who will get the chance to help replace what the Eagles got from Jackson.

As for Bicknell, he said he had no issues with Jackson.

“I never had a problem with DeSean,” Bicknell said.
PHILADELPHIA -- Jordan Matthews, the second-round pick from Vanderbilt, has gotten a fair amount of attention during the past two weeks of OTA practices.

He’s gotten quite a bit from quarterbacks, who like throwing to a 6-foot-3 target with good hands. He’s gotten attention from defensive backs, who go where the ball is going. And Matthews has gotten a fair amount of attention from reporters working the who-will-replace-DeSean-Jackson angle.

[+] EnlargeSproles
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsAs the Eagles search for ways to replace DeSean Jackson's explosive plays, new running back Darren Sproles will be part of the solution.
That is understandable enough. The release of Jackson, a Pro Bowl receiver in his prime, was the most puzzling move yet during Chip Kelly’s tenure as head coach. Whatever you think of the move, and the explanations or lack of same, the Eagles created a need for themselves and Matthews is the draft pick destined to be seen as the solution to that problem.

But that’s not really fair. The truth is, the Eagles have to replace the element of speed that Jackson provided. They can do that a number of ways. Matthews might not have quite that elite speed himself, but he can be part of the mix in Kelly’s offense.

“I can see Matthews has a quick first step,” veteran cornerback Cary Williams said. “I can see him being very explosive out of breaks. And once he gets his hands on the ball, he looks like someone who can break a couple tackles and take a simple, six-yard curl into an 80-yard play.”

For now, Matthews is running with the second team as the slot receiver. That has more to do with Kelly’s approach to teaching rookies than anything. Chances are, Matthews will replace Jason Avant in the slot, with Jeremy Maclin, back from a torn ACL, stepping into Jackson’s spot on the outside.

Maclin has good speed, but not Jackson speed. The Eagles added elite speed when they acquired Darren Sproles in a trade with New Orleans. But as Kelly was quick to point out last week, Sproles is a running back. He’s not a wide receiver.

Still, Sproles’ speed can have the same effect on defenses as Jackson’s did. He can force defensive coordinators to account for him, and that is half the battle. Kelly’s ability to deploy his other weapons, to take advantage of the space created by that speed, is the other half.

“We knew [Sproles] was a really, really talented player, and when he got here, he showed that right from the jump,” Kelly said. “We heard from the coaches that coached him what an intelligent football player he is and learned that from the first day he was in this building, and how sharp he is and how dedicated he is.

“I talked to Norv Turner (who coached Sproles in San Diego) and he remarked to me when I saw him at one of the pro days, he said, ‘You'll have to slow him down because he only knows one speed.’ And that's the same thing you see. Darren practices and trains at one speed. It's awesome. He fits in with the culture that we want in terms of preparation, but it's everything we wanted when we got him here.”

Kelly’s ability to move Sproles around, and to mix and match all his other offensive weapons, will give the Eagles plenty of versatility this season. It is that, more than Matthews or any other one player, that will replace Jackson’s speed.

Analyzing Kiper Grade A draft: Eagles 

April, 3, 2014
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The Philadelphia Eagles were active in keeping their own players, such as Jeremy Maclin, Jason Kelce and Riley Cooper. They were active in signing free agents, such as safety Malcolm Jenkins, and trading for running back Darren Sproles.

But the biggest move was cutting wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who stayed in the NFC East by signing with the Washington Redskins.

In ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's Grade A draft, he plays general manager for the Eagles, not Howie Roseman or Chip Kelly. What would Mel do as GM?

Find out here. Insider

Insiders give Eagles solid mark

March, 28, 2014
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ESPN's NFL Insiders like what the Eagles have done thus far in free agency. I'd have to agree, but with an asterisk, because free agency always comes with one.

The Insiders gave the Eagles a B grade -- only six teams received a higher one. So they were definite fans of Philadelphia’s acquisitions: free safety Malcolm Jenkins, strong safety Nate Allen and running back Darren Sproles. Yes, the latter was acquired in a trade, but they lumped him in as an offseason pickup. And the grade was assessed before the Eagles landed backup quarterback Mark Sanchez. But his arrival would only strengthen the B, giving the Eagles what should be a solid backup to Nick Foles.

They also did a good job re-signing their own players, losing only receiver Jason Avant. So their strategy thus far has been sound. Hence the B grade.

"They are set up to take the best defensive player available throughout the entire draft. That is how I look at it," said former NFL scout Matt Williamson, now ESPN’s scout.

Jenkins should be an improvement, but how much of one? He was up-and-down in New Orleans, who opted to sign safety Jairus Byrd instead of retaining Jenkins. But, as Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said Tuesday, Eagles coach Chip Kelly knows what Byrd can do having coached him at Oregon. But the Saints know Jenkins and opted for the more expensive Byrd. Still, the Eagles liked Jenkins’ versatility and that should help. But he needs to play more consistent.

Sproles is a big one, too. He potentially makes the Eagles’ offense even more dangerous and does not have to duplicate, say, his 2011 success. The Eagles don’t need him to, not with their other weapons. They just need him to be a playmaker when he does get the ball. Sproles still looked spry this past season, albeit with fewer chances. The big question: What does he have left?

“There are some down there in New Orleans who thought Darren's best days were long behind him and the wall was approaching faster than outsiders think,” said ESPN Insider Louis Riddick, the former Eagles director of pro personnel. “They made a calculated bet, and we'll see which team is right there. You just know the Saints know more about him than anybody else knows about him."

Lurie touches on Vick, Byrd

March, 25, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said the team learned its lesson in free agency after their mishap a couple years ago. And that was a big reason for their approach in 2014 – and perhaps why they did not pursue safety Jairus Byrd.

Lurie also learned over the last few seasons their now-departed quarterback, Michael Vick, could be counted on as a leader.

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“He’s underrated in terms of his influence with both young people and teammates,” Lurie said of Vick, now with the Jets.

Lurie spoke with Eagles beat reporters at the NFL owners’ meetings Tuesday, touching on several topics -- but not touching the biggest one right now. When asked after his six-plus minute interview about DeSean Jackson, Lurie said he had “nothing to say.”

But he did have something to say on:
  • Not signing Byrd. He reminded reporters that Eagles coach Chip Kelly coached him at Oregon. “Nobody knows the Saints safety better than our coach. Very big confidence in that. And if he thought we should allocate our resources to have that player be our safety for the next several years at that level, then that’s what we would have done. You have to be very astute in how you want to allocate your resources to win big. We learned a lesson a few years ago. Sure, we were the team that signed Nnamdi [Asomugha] and some other guys. It just doesn’t work that way. You have to be disciplined. In this case it was great because our coach knew some of the top free agent safeties and they played for him and we could operate on a level based on his projection of reality.”
  • Vick’s legacy in Philadelphia. “The fact that he owned up to his mistakes and did something about it, not only served his time, but when he came out he was on a mission to prove it wasn’t just words that he wanted to do good things and reverse a lot of the bad things he did. He took action to do that. “He had some great moments on the field, some frustrating moments. Would get hurt at times. But at all times he was a good teammate for Nick [Foles]. Nick will tell you Michael was always supportive. When they were competing he was supportive. When Michael beat him out he was still supportive and when Nick played at a Pro Bowl level Mike was incredibly supportive.”
  • To illustrate Vick’s leadership more, Lurie pointed to the Riley Cooper situation last summer. “The people that stepped forward and were the most valuable in the locker room and who were the most influential were Michael and Jason Avant. A lot of respect for those two in terms of what they brought.”
  • As was stated earlier, Lurie did not want to address the Jackson situation. But he perhaps indirectly opened a window into what’s going on or what Kelly wants from his players. “It’s a very focused plan based on what the character needs to be and what the performance level needs to be. It’s a very focused target system where you know the kind of people you want to surround our current players with and who to go after and what the function of this offense is because it’s different than it was with Andy [Reid], the defense is completely different...It worked out well the first year with Chip and the personnel department and Howie [Roseman] figuring out what would be best.”
  • Free agency and their ideal philosophy. “The ideal system is to maximize your salary cap with the terrific players you have on your roster. You hope to be one of the teams that drafts so well that you’re spending one of the least in free agency. We’ve always been aggressive. That’s just our nature. We’ll always maximize our cap and what we spend. We would prefer to spend it on our terrific young players. That’s the best way to win.”

Top free-agent roundup: NFC East

March, 10, 2014
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Here are the top 15 free agents, followed by their rankings, entering Tuesday's signing period as compiled by NFC East reporters Dan Graziano, Todd Archer, Phil Sheridan and John Keim. There are some strong options at the top, but there is not a lot of depth in the NFC East when it comes to free agency. And if Dallas' DeMarcus Ware gets released, he vaults to a top spot on this list. As always, ESPN's free-agent tracker will keep you updated during this period.

1. LB Brian Orakpo, 8.5: The Redskins used the franchise tag on him, so barring a surprise, he’ll be back. It’s a controversial move among fans, but the Redskins need his pass rush and promise to unleash him more often. His career best for a single season is 11 sacks.

2. DT Linval Joseph, 8: A very big, strong and young (25) interior run-stuffer who has also shown the ability to create pressure from the interior, Joseph could be available because of the Giants’ depth at defensive tackle and their many needs.

3. DT Jason Hatcher, 8: He is coming off an 11-sack season, but he turns 32 in July and Dallas doesn’t have much cap space.

4. LB Jon Beason, 7: The Giants are working hard to sign him before free agency opens, as his leadership and high-energy play at middle linebacker helped transform their defense during the 2013 season.

Nicks
5. WR Hakeem Nicks, 7: This grade is based on talent and past accomplishments, and a feeling that he was being overly careful in 2013 in order to hit free agency healthy. Lacks his early career speed, but knows how to play the position as well as anyone.

6. WR Jason Avant, 7: For a team in need of a third-down possession guy, the sure-handed Avant will be a great value.

7. P Donnie Jones, 7: The Eagles are expected to re-sign Jones, who was an underrated contributor to their NFC East title team.

8. DE Anthony Spencer, 6: He is coming back from microfracture surgery, so the cost won’t be high.

9. LB Perry Riley, 6: The Redskins need to re-sign him because they already have a hole at inside linebacker after London Fletcher retired. But they won’t break the bank for Riley, who needs to improve in coverage.

10. DE Justin Tuck, 6: Coming off an 11-sack season that came out of nowhere after two down years, Tuck turns 31 later this month but is a locker-room leader and a 4-3 defensive end who can set the edge against the run.

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Vick
11. QB Michael Vick, 6: With Nick Foles' ascension, Vick is looking for a chance to start elsewhere.

12. RB Andre Brown, 5: He played very well in his first few games back off a broken leg, but faded down the stretch and fumbled too much in the final few games. He is likely not a guy who can be relied on as a starter, but potentially a valuable piece.

13. TE Brandon Myers, 5: A huge disappointment in New York after catching 79 passes as a Raider in 2012, Myers also contributed little as a blocker. The Giants are likely to let him go. He could fit better with a different system.

14. CB Terrell Thomas, 5: He played all 16 games after missing the previous two seasons because of ACL tears in the same knee. Thomas believes he can hold up as a starter off a real offseason, and would like to cash in.

15. S Danny McCray, 5: He is a core special teamer only, so the Cowboys could find value here.
We got so many good questions and comments, we broke the Twitter mailbag up into two sections. Thanks very much to everyone who chimed in. Here's Part 2: 

Free-agency primer: Eagles

March, 7, 2014
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: QB Michael Vick, WR Jason Avant, S Nate Allen, P Donnie Jones, S Kurt Coleman.

Where they stand: By keeping wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin off the market, the Eagles assured their starting offense would look very much as it did in 2013. There are no obvious positions of need on that side of the ball that would likely be addressed in free agency. The defensive side is another matter. That unit made fine progress in its first year with coordinator Bill Davis’ 3-4 scheme, but the Eagles need playmakers there, especially in the secondary. Having $20-25 million in salary-cap space gives them the flexibility to do whatever they choose.

What to expect: GM Howie Roseman has repeatedly said he does not want to overpay in free agency, but the Eagles might have to go that route with a safety like Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward or Chris Clemons. Going for bargains at that position just has not worked, and Roseman has acknowledged he doesn’t want to get to the draft in dire need of a safety. There isn’t a lot of depth at outside linebacker -- teams do their best to hold on to effective pass-rushers -- but Roseman could look for a second-tier guy there. It would not be surprising if the Eagles re-signed Jones and added a kicker in free agency to compete with, or flat-out replace, Alex Henery. Keep an eye on a return man, perhaps Devin Hester or Dexter McCluster.
The Philadelphia Eagles will be in almost perfect position when NFL teams are allowed to open talks with unrestricted free agents Friday.

They are perceived as a team "headed in the right direction," as soon-to-be-free-agent safety Jairus Byrd said on ESPN on Tuesday. And they have enormous flexibility thanks to more than $26 million in salary-cap space, according to ESPN's Roster Management service.

The Eagles didn't have to release wide receiver Jason Avant for cap purposes. That decision was about paying the $1 million roster bonus negotiated into his contract and due on March 15. But with Avant's departure, the Eagles save another $2.5 million on their cap.

General manager Howie Roseman has set low expectations for the team to make a huge splash in free agency. He could be doing that because he simply doesn't see a free agent worth splurging on, because he wants to prevent potential fan disappointment or because he doesn't want to telegraph his real plans to other teams before the market opens.

Three of the more intriguing names disappeared from a potential wish list this week: Miami extended the contract of cornerback Brent Grimes, Washington placed the franchise tag on linebacker Brian Orakpo and Pittsburgh linebacker Jason Worilds signed his transition-tag tender.

The two top safeties, Byrd and Cleveland's T.J. Ward, are expected to hit the market. Roseman has acknowledged his preference to address the safety position in free agency so it isn't a glaring need going into the draft. But he may have his sights set on some of the less expensive players expected to be on the market.

Roseman said last week that his spree of contracts for current Eagles would not limit the Eagles' options in free agency.

"It will affect other things going forward," Roseman said. "We have some flexibility. Obviously, this affects it, the things we've done the past couple of days. But we're going to go out and try to do things that make sense for our football team."

Another thing working in the Eagles' favor is the expansion of the cap this year to $133 million and the expected continuing rise over the next couple of years. That extra cap space comes just as Roseman will have to decide on extensions for players like Nick Foles, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Boykin and Mychal Kendricks.

Foles, especially, gives the Eagles a lot of flexibility. Starting quarterbacks can eat up 12 to 15 percent of a team's salary cap. Foles' 2014 salary of $770,880 accounts for 0.65 percent of the Eagles' cap. That's about as much as backup offensive lineman Allen Barbre.

Eventually, if they're going to be successful, the Eagles will have to pay a quarterback that kind of money. For now, they can build a team and deal with Foles -- or someone else if Foles should stumble -- when the cap increases.

"It's hard to look three years out," Roseman said. "It's hard to know where you're going to be after two full seasons and after two draft classes. We do spend a lot of time on the cap next year. We try to be conservative with what the cap projections are going to be."

Finally, there's this reality: The salary cap is not nearly as onerous as it is made out to be. The Dallas Cowboys were in as tight a situation as any team in the NFL going into the new league year. By reportedly reworking quarterback Tony Romo's contract, converting salary to bonus money, the Cowboys resolved their cap issues.

So there is an escape hatch from cap purgatory. The Cowboys still probably won't have the cap space to be proactive in free agency.

The Eagles will. They are in position to do whatever they want.

The Philadelphia Eagles have already replaced Jason Avant on the field by re-signing wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper.

It will take more than a couple of pen strokes to replace Avant in the locker room and on the practice field. The 30-year-old Avant, who was released by the Eagles on Tuesday, was the go-to guy for younger players seeking personal advice, the organizer of team Bible studies and the standard-setter for doing extra work after practice.

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“There have not been any players who have represented the Philadelphia Eagles with more class and dignity than Jason Avant,” Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement released by the team. “Whether it was in the locker room, on the playing field or in the community, he has always been a true professional, a role model and a winner every step of the way. On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Jason and his wife Stacy and their two daughters nothing but the best as he continues his fine career.”

Coach Chip Kelly marveled after the snow-globe game against Detroit that Avant came to him on the sideline and asked not for more passes to be thrown his way, but for Kelly to run the ball toward Avant’s side.

“Jason is on the sideline asking me, 'Can we run the ball my way?'" Kelly said. "I don't know how many wide receivers in this league are asking to have the ball run their way, but I think that's kind of a testament to the team we have right now."

Avant was also the guy who took young receivers and tight ends over to the JUGS Gun after practice to work on catching passes. Rookie Zach Ertz worked with Avant during the season, and Ertz wound up getting some of the playing time that was going to Avant earlier in the season.

But Kelly has said many times that a big part of leadership is being productive on the field. Avant, who caught at least 50 passes in the previous three seasons, caught just 38 balls for 447 yards and two touchdowns in 2013.

Some of that is because Kelly asked Avant to block, but clearly the Eagles are excited about what Maclin, Cooper and DeSean Jackson can do in the same three-receiver sets Kelly used so often last season.

Avant’s release was an unfortunate part of the business side of football. He was due a $1 million roster bonus on March 15, and seemed to know he would not be getting it.

“This is a business as well,” Avant said back on Jan. 6. “There are contract issues. There are so many moving parts. You want everyone to come back, but it’s just not the truth. That’s just the National Football League. To Eagles fans: I’ve had a ball here, no matter what the outcome is.”

The outcome is known now. It was inevitable, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to like it.

“There’s no question that releasing a player like Jason is one of the toughest parts of the job,” GM Howie Roseman said in the team’s official statement. “It’s a tough day when you have to say goodbye to a player who you have so much respect for. I can’t thank him enough for the leadership, the big plays and the positive impression he made on so many of his teammates.”

New deals make players Chip Kelly guys

February, 27, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- With their new contracts, Riley Cooper, Jason Kelce and Jason Peters will remain Philadelphia Eagles, but that's not all.

They also officially became Chip Kelly guys. That's important for both the players, in terms of job security, and for the team.

New coaches often want to clear out as much of the roster they inherit and bring in their own players as quickly as possible. Kelly added just one starter, first-round pick Lane Johnson, to the starting lineup he inherited from Andy Reid. All 11 of those offensive starters are now under contract for next season.

Kelly said all season that he was impressed with how quickly the Eagles embraced everything from his X's and O's to his sports science-based conditioning program. The coach is now reciprocating, buying into some of the same key players who bought into him.

Kelce was the easiest call. The center was a sixth-round pick in 2011 who instantly became a vital cog in a very effective offensive line. He had already outplayed his original contract. Rewarding him with $13 million in guaranteed money and with long-term security sends a positive message to the locker room while also ensuring continuity at a vital position.

Cooper was the toughest call. He placed a target on his back last summer by getting caught on video using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert. The Eagles could have easily released Cooper right away or simply let him walk away as a free agent.

There are plenty of wide receivers who could catch 47 passes for 835 yards, as Cooper did last season. But Cooper established himself as a favorite target of Nick Foles, who in turn established himself as the starting quarterback. Cooper also embraced the run-blocking aspect of the position as Kelly coaches it.

In short, Cooper turned himself into a Kelly guy, and he was rewarded with $8 million in guaranteed money on a five-year deal that could be worth $25 million.

Peters presented a different kind of challenge. He proved in 2013 that he is still, after two tears of the same Achilles tendon, as good a left tackle as there is in the NFL. But he also turned 32 in December.

The five-year contract he signed all but assures that Peters will finish his career with the Eagles. He will be 36 when it expires. That's pretty old for an athletic offensive lineman, but as Peters' agent, Vincent Taylor, put it, if Peters loses a step, he's still ahead of most players.

The Eagles' starting five offensive linemen are all signed through at least 2016. They have control for the foreseeable future of Cooper, Foles, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek and Jason Avant. They could bring Jeremy Maclin back, as well, adding to the already considerable stability among offensive personnel.

This is Kelly's offense, and these are now Kelly's guys.
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman could ensure remarkable continuity for Chip Kelly's offense with a series of contracts that reportedly are in the works.

According to multiple reports, the Eagles could announce a new deal with wide receiver Riley Cooper as soon as Thursday. The team also appears likely to sign Jeremy Maclin to a one-year deal before the former first-round pick gets to the open market.

Center Jason Kelce, who had one year left on his rookie deal, was also close to a new contract, a source confirmed Wednesday night. The Eagles extended Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters' contract Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeRiley Cooper
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesThe Eagles are reportedly working to keep Riley Cooper and their offensive lineup intact.
Keeping Cooper and Maclin from the free agent market means the Eagles could start the same offensive lineup in 2014, with the addition of Maclin, as the one that started the playoff game against New Orleans.

"We're going to try to keep our best players and the guys that we feel are part of our culture and that fit well into the chemistry of our football team on and off the field," Roseman said Wednesday. "It's an important message for us this offseason. We know these players. We've lived with them."

Roseman has said all along the Eagles were open to bringing both Cooper and Maclin back. He has also said the team was intrigued by the depth of wide receiver talent in the draft this year.

Maclin, 25, was the Eagles' first-round pick in 2009. In 59 games (57 starts), he caught 258 passes for 3,453 yards and 26 touchdowns. Maclin's best season was 2010, when he caught 70 passes for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns -- all career highs.

All of those games were played for head coach Andy Reid. As he prepared for Kelly's first season last July, Maclin tore his ACL during a training camp practice. He missed the entire 2013 season.

That created an opportunity for Cooper, a 2010 fifth-round pick who had started 10 games over his first three seasons under Reid. No sooner had Cooper moved up the depth chart then a video of him using a racial epithet at a concert surfaced on the Internet. Kelly and the Eagles fined Cooper, who left camp for several days to seek counseling, but he remained with the team.

Cooper started 16 of 17 games, including the Eagles' playoff game against New Orleans. Through five games, all started by quarterback Michael Vick, Cooper had just eight catches. Once Nick Foles assumed the starting job, Cooper's production exploded. He finished with 47 catches for 835 yards and eight touchdowns. He also proved himself a capable blocker, which is critical in Kelly's run-first offense.

The impending free agency of Maclin and Cooper was "complicated" (in Roseman's words) for several reasons. The Eagles have Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson under contract. Veteran Jason Avant has two years left on his deal, but is considered a candidate to be released or to have his salary cut for cap purposes. Maclin's injury and Cooper's notoriety make their market values uncertain.

After the playoff loss to the Saints, both players said they would like to return to the Eagles. Maclin said he knew he might have to take a one-year deal to show that he's fully recovered from the injury.

"I'm a realist, so I understand that's a possibility," Maclin said on Jan. 6. "Me and my agent, we'll get together and discuss what's best for me and then go from there."

"I want to be back," Cooper said. "I'm hoping the Eagles come into play and I'm here. It's a first for me. I don't know what it's like. I know I'm not on a team. I want to be here. It's such a great group of guys."
PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles general manager Howie Roseman may have found a simple solution to what he described as a "complicated" situation at wide receiver -- re-sign everyone.

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Cooper
A report Wednesday by the Philadelphia Inquirer indicated the Eagles were close to a new contract with wide receiver Riley Cooper, who was on the brink of free agency. The team also appears likely to sign Jeremy Maclin to a one-year deal before the former first-round pick gets to the open market.

Roseman has said all along the Eagles were open to bringing both Cooper and Maclin back. He has also said the team was intrigued by the depth of wide receiver talent in the draft this year.

Maclin, 25, was the Eagles' first-round pick in 2009. In 59 games (57 starts), he caught 258 passes for 3,453 yards and 26 touchdowns. Maclin's best season was 2010, when he caught 70 passes for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns -- all career highs.

All of those games were played under head coach Andy Reid. As he prepared for coach Chip Kelly's first season last July, Maclin tore his ACL during a training camp practice. He missed the entire 2013 season.

That created an opportunity for Cooper, a 2010 fifth-round pick who had started 10 games over his first three seasons under Reid. No sooner had Cooper moved up the depth chart then a video of him using a racial epithet at a concert surfaced on the internet. Kelly and the Eagles fined Cooper, who left camp for several days to seek counseling, but he remained with the team.

Cooper started 16 of 17 games, including the Eagles' playoff game against New Orleans. Through five games, all started by quarterback Michael Vick, Cooper had just eight catches. Once Nick Foles assumed the starting job, Cooper's production exploded. He finished with 47 catches for 835 yards and eight touchdowns. He also proved himself a capable blocker, which is critical in Kelly's run-first offense.

The impending free agency of Maclin and Cooper was complicated for several reasons. The Eagles have Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson under contract. Veteran Jason Avant has two years left on his deal but is considered a candidate to be released or to have his salary cut for cap purposes. Maclin's injury and Cooper's notoriety make their market values uncertain.

After the playoff loss to the Saints, both players said they would like to return to the Eagles. Maclin said he knew he might have to take a one-year deal to show that he's fully recovered from the injury.

"I'm a realist, so I understand that's a possibility," Maclin said Jan. 6. "Me and my agent, we'll get together and discuss what's best for me and then go from there."

"I want to be back," Cooper said. "I'm hoping the Eagles come into play and I'm here. It's a first for me. I don't know what it's like. I know I'm not on a team. I want to be here. It's such a great group of guys."

The Eagles extended Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters' contract Wednesday. Roseman appeared close to an extension for center Jason Kelce, who has one year left on his rookie contract.

Bringing back Cooper and Maclin would ensure remarkable continuity for an offense that was second in the NFL in total yards. Maclin could rejoin a starting lineup that could be otherwise identical to the one that started against the Saints.
PHILADELPHIA -- When the NFL Network camera caught Chip Kelly watching wide receivers run the 40-yard dash at the combine Sunday, it brought to mind something the Eagles head coach said early this year.

The Eagles were preparing to play the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs, and Kelly was asked about Sean Payton's offense.

“He's obviously got some talent and they're a really, really talented football team, but Sean does a great job of getting his playmakers in matchups that are favorable to him and he does it week in and week out,” Kelly said, before ticking off a list of players' names.

“There's a ton of them,” Kelly said. “That's what Sean and Drew (Brees) have -- a lot of toys.”

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsChip Kelly is eager to add offensive toys from this year's rookie class.
There was just a hint of envy in Kelly's voice. That's what resonated as he and general manager Howie Roseman looked down upon the wideouts, running backs and quarterbacks doing drills in Indianapolis. As good as Kelly's offense was in his first season, it figures to be that much more varied and explosive as the Eagles add new toys for him to play with.

And that is why it wouldn't be shocking for the Eagles to allow both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper to walk in free agency. If they also part with veteran Jason Avant, who is due $3 million, that could mean huge turnover at a vital position.

At the same time, Roseman has said he is open to bringing both Cooper and Maclin back at the right prices. The Philadelphia Inquirer, citing unnamed sources, reported over the weekend that Maclin was the team's first priority. That report followed a Pro Football Talk report last week that there is expected to be a robust market for Cooper.

Frankly, until March 11, nothing that is leaked out anonymously should be taken too seriously. It would benefit Cooper for someone in his camp to predict that he will draw a lot of interest from other teams. And it would benefit the Eagles to send the message that Cooper is not their No. 1 priority.

Meanwhile, Roseman's on-the-record remarks can be taken at face value -- and there is certainly reason to believe he is open to drafting wide receivers from this talent-rich draft -- and read as coded messages for the agents he will have to negotiate with. The Eagles have “walkaway” numbers for the players they'd like to sign, and it doesn't hurt for agents to know that, and to know Roseman has other attractive options.

While the Eagles are still looking to upgrade the talent on their defense, they remain very likely to draft and sign offensive talent. Kelly went into the 2013 season with almost no additions to the offensive personnel he inherited. Rookies Lane Johnson and Zach Ertz were the only notable exceptions.

Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, Avant and Cooper produced the vast majority of the Eagles' yardage and points in 2013. Kelly has had a full season to learn their talents as well as their limitations. He knows where he had to cut corners while devising his weekly game plans and where a key addition or two could add octane to his schemes.

He may just want some new toys to play with, and the combine is like the world' biggest toy store.

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