Offseason thoughts: Riley Cooper and roster construction

The offseason has officially begun (for the Eagles), and that means its time to look at the roster from a higher level.  You can get a basic breakdown from most of the Eagles beats; I’ve just got a few thoughts to add.  The biggest point to make is: Don’t forget about the team’s strength.  Too often, fans focus entirely on team weaknesses and forget that nothing in sports is static.  Remember back to the Andy Reid peak.  Those teams were built upon the strength of the DEFENSE.  Over time, the defensive roster was allowed to atrophy while the focus was on the offense.  Fixing weaknesses is obviously vital, but the first priority, in my opinion, should be ensuring your team’s strength remains a strength.  This year, the team’s success was built upon a great offense.  However, there’s no guarantee that the offense will remain at that level.  Personally, I still think they’re still missing a “weapon” at WR.

Now, a few player notes:

– Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin are both free agents.  I do not expect both of them to be back next year, and wouldn’t be shocked if neither returned.  Cooper seems like a prime candidate to be overpaid elsewhere, and he’s exactly the type of player teams should be very careful not to overpay.  He had a very good year, but how far above replacement-level is he?

He had 47 catches, which ranked 82nd in the league this year.

He had 835 yards, good for 38th in the league.

His best stat was probably the 17.8 yards per reception, tied with Calvin Johnson for 3rd in the league.  However, the following players averaged more than 15 yards per reception: Denarius Moore, Jerome Simpson, Doug Baldwin, Nate Washington, Chris Givens.

The point is NOT that Riley Cooper shouldn’t return.  I think his skill-set is particularly well-suited to Foles’ game (deep jump balls especially).  However, in a salary-cap league, it’s important not to pay decent players like stars.  The fact is the Eagles could probably replace Cooper’s production without too much difficulty.

Maclin is a slightly different story, but I think it comes down to the same analysis.  There will likely be another team willing to pay him more than the Eagles will.

– Remain skeptical of rookie performances.  Don’t discount them entirely, but don’t overreact.  I’m talking mainly about Bennie Logan and Earl Wolff.  Both had nice years, but if you’re penciling them in as starters, you’ve gone too far.  It might help to remember Macho Harris…. I’d still like to see an “impact” NT, and Logan probably isn’t at that level.  If Wolff is starter-material, fantastic, but he might have also benefited from low-bar comparisons.  The record of late round safeties (or any position really) isn’t great, and he’s hasn’t shown enough to leave me confident he’ll beat those odds.  I’m hopeful that both players can be contributors, but neither would stop me from pursuing an upgrade in either FA or the draft (provided BPA of course).

– Best Player Available.  As far as I’m concerned, there are very few positions on the team that I would NOT draft if a player at that position was the best player available at the Eagles pick.  Running back is obvious.  QB…probably (and I’m a big Foles fan!).  Center.  That’s about it.  The Eagles are a very shallow team.  They need to add talent, regardless of where that talent comes from.  Many fans will point to the Safeties and hope for a 1st round pick to address that need.  However, that kind of thinking is how you end up drafting a 27 yr old Guard in the 1st round…

– Plug holes with Free Agency.  Most fans, during free agency, focus on the top players available.  That’s a mistake (for now).  The Eagles are still very much in the “building” phase, and it’s too early to take a shot at a star player in free agency.  If they see someone who’s young and fits the system perfectly, then go for it.  However, given where the team is, it’s more important to add depth where possible (at a reasonable price), and perhaps address STs.  It won’t grab headlines, but it’s important to building a team.  If you’ve added depth and patched holes in Free Agency, it becomes much easier to take the BPA in the draft.  In generally, teams should try to add impact talent in the draft, and plug holes in Free Agency.  Signing star players in free agency (A) forces you to overpay (winner’s curse), and (b) limits flexibility going forwards.  As a result, that approach should only be used by team’s whose rosters are close to set already.  If there is a clearly defined weakness, the risk of FA is lower.  With needs everywhere (the Eagles now), I’d rather maintain flexibility until the roster is further defined.

I’ll leave it there for today.  I’ll have a much more extensive roster breakdown soon, but I wanted to get a few of the more important thoughts out there beforehand.  After such a successful season, it’s hard to remain patient.  However, the Eagles are still a ways from being a legitimate contender.  Missteps in roster-building now can short-circuit the entire process and undo all of the progress the team made this year.




13 thoughts on “Offseason thoughts: Riley Cooper and roster construction

  1. I disagree with your last point.

    Take Jon Runyan. He was signed in 2000 when we was still a team on the up bring (not unlikely this team, but actually worse), we made him the highest paid tackle at the time and he became a big part of the next 8 years of very great football.

    You add talent when you can as long as you do not grossly overpay. I do not think FA you bring in is more overpaid than your other star player in your team. Would a WR similar to Jackson get more money from us than Jackson?

    When adding FAs go for the star, but he has to fit your system (can be tough to predict, but do not do like the Skins and go after Haynesworth and make him a NT) and only go after FAs who are couple years under 30 and never go after a RB in FA.

    Going after somebody like Byrd is fine. He should be in his prime for 4 years (will be 32 by then) and he will get top tier safety money because he is a top tier safety.

    Where you go wrong in FA is if you go after 2nd tier FAs and pay them 1st tier money etc.

    I hope the Eagles add 1 top tier FA (CB, OLB or S) and then go after a couple of depth players to add depth to CB, OL and DL.
    I also hope we focus more on offense in FA and the draft more than some people might expect. I want us to go from very good to truly elite (I think it is better to have 1 an elite offense with average defense than elite defense with average offense or just have two above average units).

    • I certainly wouldn’t argue with bringing in Byrd, but remember Nnamdi as well. It’s risky to take a big shot, especially if the team is still a year or two away from really being fully built-out. Also, if you sign Byrd (or anyone else), you make it a lot harder to take a S in the first round, even if he is BPA. That’s what I mean about flexibility. Ideally, want to maximize draft and cap space and then use the big FA splash to fill a last remaining weakness.

      Not a hard and fast rule (Runyan worked out great), but u need to proceed with a lot of caution. Bad FA signings can sink the ship pretty quickly.

      On Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 12:13 PM, Eagles Rewind

      • NA was old, so he would be a no go (as said, +30 FAs is very risky).

        If we brought in Byrd, we could still take a 1st round safety if they right one is there, unless you are 100% sold on Wolff.

        Is it the worst thing in the world too have 2 potential great safeties?

  2. Maclin is much more valuable to me than Cooper. Arrelious Benn or some other big receiver can do what Cooper did. What skills did Cooper display? I guess up until the Saints game we could have said he had great hands…but other than that, his only quality is he’s big. And for the first half of the season that got him nowhere. So I wouldn’t pay him much.

    The rumour floating on Twitter yesterday was that Maclin is telling people that he will be resigining with the Eagles and that it’s a “done deal.” We’ll see. I sure hope so – I actually like him better than DeSean, which I guess exposes me as crazy : ) But I would love to see a healthy Maclin in this offense.

    Not exactly on topic but interesting aside nonetheless – I was just watching the Colin Cowherd show on ESPN and he was discussing the Eagles. He said that a close source of his says Chip told him, prior to jumping to the NFL, that when he did go to the NFL he would:

    a. Never spend many draft picks on offense, because he felt he could make the offense work with any players
    b. He would never pay big money for a QB (specifically, a “franchise” type QB)

    Cowherd then went on and on basically making Nick Foles out to be a mediocre at best QB propped up by Kelly’s system, so take it FWIW.

    • Interesting point about the offense. Sounds true, but my guess is Chip’s feelings may have shifted a bit after actually getting to the NFL. Scheme is most important, but as we saw, it’s not everything. (That and the Eagles used the first 2 draft picks of the Chip era on offense…)

      Foles’ contract, if he plays well next year, will be very interesting. He’s definitely helped by the system, but you still don’t want continuous turnover at the position. If the book on Foles is “system QB”, then we might be able to lock him up long-term on a reasonable deal. That’s a BIG advantage salary-cap-wise. Most “contenders” have a big portion of the cap tied up in the QB.

    • Re: Maclin. My guess is he thinks he could put up “star” numbers in this offense, which may or may not be true. If he only gets “prove-it” offers from around the league, then it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him back. Really depends on how his knee looks to team doctors.

      • Consider what Maclin put up of numbers in college in spread system and I always thought AR used him wrong (he basicly sent both Jackson and Maclin on deep routes all the time), I think Maclin would put up better numbers than Jackson this year if he is fully healthy.

  3. I agree with most of what you’ve said here. For all the talk about how good last year’s draft class was, I think people forget that FA was the reason it could happen. When it became apparent that Chip was going to move to a 3-4, the ‘biggest needs’ for the Eagles were probably CB, S, OLB and NT.

    By going out and signing Williams, Fletcher, Chung, Phillips, Barwin and Sopoaga, they at least had extra bodies at each of those positions which meant that they didn’t have to use their second pick on Darius Slay, for example, when they thought Ertz would be a great TE for this system.

    • Good examples. Part of the reason this season was such a success. All of those FAs were low-risk contracts, so when they didn’t work out (Phillips and Sopoaga) it didn’t hurt at all. I expect a similar approach this time.

      On Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 2:04 PM, Eagles Rewind

  4. It cracks me up when people denigrate the Sopoaga signing. The Birds got a fill-in for half the season to show Logan the ropes then let him go for a mini draft upgrade. It was a low relevance move that was almost completely positive. Yet it gets ripped as a mistake.

    After reading the article, I was all ready to write the Free Agent success addendum, but that’s already been done well. I’m curious who we’ll get in free agency. Despite all that’s been written, I kind of pine for Orakpo; fills a need, 27 years old, weakens a division opponent.

    This I believe: Fill w/free agency – Draft BPA!

    • I’m with you on Sopoaga. A similar, but more important FA signing in Eagles history that universally gets derided: Doug Pedersen. He was signed knowing he wasn’t very good, but took the beating and instructed the rest of the team/McNabb until McNabb was ready. The guy should have been lauded as a hero but shortsighted fans expect no one should be signed unless they are immediate superstars…

      • guys like Logan and Cox also said that Sopoaga was a big part of them learning how too 2 gap.
        Also turning a 3.2 mill cap dollars into a 5th round draft pick is not the worst trade in world (Brent it could be fun to see how much a draft pick is worth in cap dollars and not just using the rookie scale, but if teams could actually trade draft picks for cap space straight up instead of having to trade players like Ryans).

  5. I’m already tired of reading about Byrd. The next few months are going to make for some awful blogging around the web.

    PIcking at 22 is almost fun. You always have stars in the making dropping down that far, and you never know what position you’re going to pick up. (I’m thinking of people like Vaccaro, Watt, Rodgers, etc. )

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