Jeremy Maclin: Should the Eagles re-sign their 2009 first round pick?

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles 2009 1st round pick is set to hit free agency, should the team bring him back?

Prior to the last season I contributed an article on Jeremy Maclin facing a contract year in our 2013 Eagles Almanac (there's still tons of great and relevant stuff in there if you don't have it yet). Unfortunately, sooner after the release of that fine publication, Maclin tore up his knee and was done for the year.

The point of my article was to look at Maclin's career so far, assess the general perception of him and decide whether or not he should return. I figured with all the rumors of Maclin possibly returning floating around, it might be something worthwhile to share here. Again, everything in this piece was written before the season and before the injury, so the estimates of what he should fetch on the open market are probably off, but the assessments of his career so far remain the same.

Return of the Mack-lin? The Eagles 2009 1st round pick faces contract year

At the conclusion of the 2013 season (or perhaps even earlier) the Eagles will have a big decision to make about the future of WR Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles 2009 first round pick is just one season away from being an unrestricted free agent.

In recent seasons, the Eagles success with their top picks has dubious. In fact, the failure to hit on those top picks undoubtedly played a large part in Andy Reid's downfall. In 2007 and 2008 the Eagles traded their 1st round picks but took Kevin Kolb & Trevor Laws with their top picks respectively. Neither is still with the team. In 2009 the top pick was Maclin, in 2010 it was DE Brandon Graham and in 2011 it was OL Danny Watkins. Last year, the Eagles took DT Fletcher Cox.

Watkins, so far, has been a bust. After an injury filled first couple seasons, Graham started to shows signs of the player the Eagles hoped he'd be last year while Cox had himself a fine rookie campaign. However, it would seem hard to argue against the assertion that Jeremy Maclin is easily the Eagles best top pick over the last 6 years.

He's started 58 games for the team and since he's arrived on the team he's amassed more total catches and TD receptions than any other player. DeSean Jackson, who has 2 Pro Bowls to his name, bests him only in yards over that span.

Here's some more red meat for the Maclin fans. He is among a group of only nine WRs in league history to record at least 55 receptions and 750 yards in each of his first four seasons. He is also one of just five WRs to ever reach 250 catches, 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns before his 25th birthday. (Credit: CSNPhilly's Ruben Frank)

Despite those numbers, there is a sense among a lot of Eagles fans that it may not be worth re-signing Maclin. Let's take a look at some the arguments against him and later try to get an idea of what it might cost to keep him.

He hasn't had a breakout season

Of all the anti Maclin arguments we'll look at it, this is one is probably more at the heart of why the Missouri WR isn't held in higher esteem by Eagles fans. DeSean Jackson has made 2 Pro Bowls in his time here and he's hit that magical 1,000 yard number for WRs. So has the Giants' Hakeem Nicks, who the Eagles passed on in favor of Maclin in the 2009 draft.

Maclin, critics charge, lacks that one true breakout season that could show us just how high his ceiling is. While it is certainly true that he's never made a Pro Bowl, his 2010 campaign where he hauled in 70 catches for 964 yards and 10 TDs is about as close to a breakout as one can get without it being generally accepted as one. In fact, had he managed another 36 yards and reached that symbolic 1,000 yard plateau there's a pretty decent chance everyone would have seen it as a breakout year.

So is it really 36 yards we're quibbling over? Is that the only reason we wouldn't call his 2010 a breakout?

Let's for the sake of argument say that it wasn't. How important is a "breakout season" anyway? If we compare Maclin to the rest of the 2009 WR class, his total career production bests almost all of them. In fact, only former Steeler and current Dolphin Mike Wallace has more receptions, yards & TDs than Maclin.

Perhaps the most interesting comparison out of that group is to the Giants Hakeem Nicks. He did have what was called his "breakout" in 2010 when recorded just 9 more catches, fewer than 100 more yards and 1 more TD than Maclin. The general league consensus is that Nicks is the superior talent, which I don't necessarily disagree with. Nicks certainly has the combination of size, speed and hands that change defenses more than Maclin does. Plus, it is fair to say that Nicks' highs have been higher. But let's look at the actual production over their careers so far.

Games

Receptions

Yards

TDs

Jeremy Maclin

59

258

3453

26

Hakeem Nicks

55

255

3726

27

As you can see, the total production has been remarkably similar. Nicks has a pair of 1,000 yard seasons to his name, but despite that has not been able to notably out-produce Maclin. Obviously, Nicks has done more on a per game basis, but his injury history is not an insignificant variable in this argument. Maclin has been the more durable player and that's important.

Let's also not forget QBs here. Nicks has played every single game of his career with Eli Manning at QB. Maclin has caught passes from Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick & Nick Foles. Now, there's probably not many people reading this that don't have a healthy dislike of Eli Manning, but I'm sure we can all admit that a WR is probably better off with the three time Pro Bowler and two time Super Bowl MVP than he would be with the Eagles QB carousel since 2009.

Bottom line is, Maclin's failure to reach that 1,000 yard plateau or record what everyone sees as a "breakout year" doesn't seem like a compelling reason to let him go.

He racks up numbers because defenses fear DeSean Jackson

I actually find this the easiest of the anti-Maclin arguments to refute, but I will start with an admission. Defenses do fear DeSean Jackson more. They do more often roll coverage his way and do often seem to send their top CB his way. However, here's why that doesn't matter... Maclin has still produced even with Jackson out of the lineup.

Exhibit A came at a game I actually was on hand for, Eagles vs Falcons in 2010. I'm sure you'll all remember that game for the infamous hit that then Atlanta CB Dunta Robinson laid on DeSean Jackson, concussing him and knocking him out of the game. With Jackson out, Maclin dominated to the tune of 7 receptions for 159 yards and a pair of TDs. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that Kevin Kolb was your starting QB that day.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence though is Maclin's extended run as the team's #1 at the end of last season. DeSean Jackson broke his ribs in week 12 against the Carolina Panthers, an injury that would keep him out the remainder of the season. Over the final 5 games of the year Maclin caught 28 passes for 353 yards and 3 TDs. That's an average of around 6 catches, 71 yards and over a half a TD per game. If we projected those numbers of the course of a 16 game season, Maclin's numbers could have been 90 catches, 10 TDs and over 1,100 yards.

No DeSean Jackson and yet still very good production from Maclin. In fact, it was easily his best stretch of that year.

Now you might counter with the fact that in one of those games he faced a truly awful Tampa Bay secondary and you'd be right. However, I'd also remind you that he played almost this entire stretch with a rookie QB in Nick Foles who was lining up behind an offensive line that had just one remaining starter.

So does Jackson aid Maclin? Sure. Just like Victor Cruz aids Hakeem Nicks or Julio Jones aids Roddy White. Of course having a good WR on the other side will open things for a guy. However, Maclin's performance without Jackson has shown he doesn't need to play opposite a #1 to produce and is probably a good indication that you couldn't just put anyone opposite Jackson and expect the kind of production Maclin has racked up.

The Eagles need a bigger, tougher compliment to DeSean Jackson

As I did above, I'll start with admission. I don't think Jeremy Maclin is a particularly tough player. At 6-0, 198 he's not particularly big and isn't exactly a guy known to fight for extra yards. He's not quite the toughest guy to take down either. Our own Jimmy Kempski sometimes refers to him as "self tacklin' Jeremy Maclin" for his propensity to go down for a catch and just stay there or to get knocked over by seemingly nothing.

So he's certainly not a big, tough guy and the argument is that with a diminutive guy like DeSean Jackson on the other side, the team needs a bigger guy on the other side that will be more of a threat in the red zone.

But here's the thing, Maclin is a pretty good red zone threat. Last year, 3 of his 7 TDs came in the red zone and another 2 came from within 30 yards. In 2011, 4 of his 5 TDs came in the red zone and in 2010, he caught 7 red zone TDs. That's 14 red zone TDs over the last 3 years (numbers via Pro Football Reference).

Now let's make a crazy comparison. Calvin Johnson is 6-5, 239 and may be the best "big" WR of all time. Over the past 3 seasons, he's caught 19 red zone TDs, just 5 more than Maclin. Of course, Johnson has caught a boatload of other TDs but the point is that you don't have to be his size to be effective in the red zone.

Maybe I still haven't convinced you. Despite what I said above, you still say the Eagles need some big guys in the red zone. The good news is... they've got them! In this brave new Chip Kelly world, the Eagles have stocked up on big TEs that could very well change the dynamic of the passing game in the red zone. Kelly has said that we could see packages were we see combinations of two or even three of Brent Celek (6-4, 255), Zach Ertz (6-5, 250) and James Casey (6-3, 240) on the field at once. Let's also not forget that big WRs Arrelious Benn & Riley Cooper are still on the team.

You want size? You've already got it. You don't need to let Jeremy Maclin walk to get it. In the end, I think we tend to overthink things in football. The best compliment to a good WR, is another good WR.

What will he command?

Hopefully I convinced you. Jeremy Maclin is a valuable player that's worth keeping. However, as we all know in the NFL it always comes down to the almighty dollar. What's it going to cost to keep Maclin?

Before we delve into the dollars, let's consider one major caveat. If Maclin doesn't ink an extension this offseason, he's obviously going to play out the last year of his deal. If he does have a big "break out" year, that would obviously inflate the value of his next deal. If he got hurt or didn't play well, the value could go the other way. However, if he does sign a deal this offseason or just have another par for the course season, there are a few comparable deals to take note of.

First off, Mike Wallace is probably the top of the market. He came from the draft class as Maclin and hit the jackpot on the open market this offseason signing a 5 year, $60 million dollar deal with $30 million guaranteed. As we said earlier, Wallace has out-produced Maclin (and the rest of his draft class) in every category plus he got this money as an unrestricted free agent. So this is a bigger deal than Maclin is going to get, but it does at least give us some idea of what the upper bound is.

Percy Harvin is another WR from the 2009 class that recently signed a new deal and did so after a trade, so he wasn't on the open market. His deal had pretty major headline numbers at 6 years, $67 million. However, only $14.5 million was guaranteed, $11 million of which is guaranteed only for injury. So his guarantees are half of what Wallace got. Maclin is a better and more durable WR than Harvin, but he doesn't nearly as many things. Harvin is a fantastic return man, a skill Maclin doesn't have and he offers a different dimension as a sometimes running back.

One situation to watch out for is what happens with Hakeem Nicks in New York. As we've talked about already, he's a decent comp for Maclin and has been skipping the Giants OTAs in search of a new deal. If he gets one this offseason, that will set a pretty good guideline for the Eagles and Maclin's representatives to hammer out a deal. I expect Nick's deal to be bigger, but it likely won't be hugely different.

In the end, the Eagles may not need to look much further than their own books for a blueprint for Maclin's deal. Just last year, DeSean Jackson signed a 5 year, $47 million deal that included $15 million in guaranteed money. Maclin is likely going to have a lower average annual value than a guy like Percy Harvin, but the fact he's more durable means he could get as much in guarantees.

If the Eagles could get Maclin for around $7-8 million a year with $15-18 million in guarantees, it would likely be a fair deal. Brian Hartline, another member of the 2009 WR class that Maclin has outperformed signed for $6 million a year with $12.5 million guaranteed. So obviously Maclin will get more than that.

Hopefully he gets it from the Eagles.

2014 update!

My thoughts on Maclin's ability remain pretty much unchanged. In fact, given how much Hakeem Nicks has regressed Maclin's standing among the rest of the WR class may have even gone up. Obviously the knee injury is a concern, but by next season he'll be a full calendar year removed from surgery. For an ACL tear these days, that's a lot of recovery time.

The good thing is, the knee injury almost certainly lowers the commitment the Eagles will have to make to keep him. A hungry Maclin back on a short term deal in a Chip Kelly offense with the most accurate QB he's ever played with could be big for the Eagles over the next season or two.

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