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Eagles should and could move on from Riley Cooper

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It makes no sense for the Eagles to suddenly release Cooper now for his racist outburst two years ago, since he's kept his nose clean ever since. BUT they should release him this year anyway -- for football reasons.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Certain reporters and pundits -- well, mostly Stephen A. Smith -- are very eager to push the controversy over whether Chip Kelly is a racist. They commonly write (or threaten?) that the issue will continue as long as Riley Cooper is on the team. It's cheap drama and easy clickbait, requiring no actual reporting or thought at all.

Of course, this argument ignores the fact that coach Kelly deferred to team leaders (notably Michael Vick and Jason Avant) to decide whether Cooper should stay. Cooper has kept his nose clean since then, and it would make no sense to retroactively punish him just because click-baiting journalists demand that the team does.


At the same time, Kelly might (and should) cut Cooper for  "football reasons."  He just wasn't very good last year. Cooper's receptions actually went up, but his yardage and TDs went way down. Given that he played 81.3% of the Eagles snaps, he was amazingly unproductive. (Pro Football Focus rated him the worst starting receiver in the NFL, literally.) And that doesn't even consider his three clutch-situation drops against the Saints, Colts and 49ers.


Yeah, he blocks well to the point where he's almost a sort of tight end who plays out wide, but Josh Huff had begun to take over Coop's block-first, catch-second role by the end of last season, and has a much higher ceiling.


The Eagles will probably carry 6 WRs again this year, with Seyi Ajirotutu in the Brad Smith ST-focused slot and Matthews, Huff, and Agholor as locks. Josh Reece, Freddie Martino, and Michael Johnson are camp bodies with no chance of making this team.


So five WRs are competing for the last two receiver slots -- Cooper, Miles Austin, Rasheed BaileyQuron Pratt, and Jeff Maehl.  I think Maehl's run is over, and Miles Austin will definitely survive.  Cooper has now been on this team the longest of any receiver, but Austin has played in the league longer and can fill that role of mentoring the many young wideouts. In fact, Cooper has said that Austin is tutoring him on the finer points, too.


So the final WR roster slot comes down to Riley Cooper vs. Rasheed Bailey vs. Quron Pratt. Pratt is back in camp after a year on the Eagle's practice squad, and has shown a couple of flashes (but not much more). Bailey's a hometown hero from Division III Delaware Valley, and earlier this summer, Geoff Mosher of CSN-Philly reported that he was "the rookie free agent who has generated the most buzz around the Eagles throughout camp."


Forget the idea that Cooper's excessive contract forces the Eagles to keep him.  Regardless of what you might have read, it would not cost the team more money to cut him than to keep him. The amount is the same either way -- $4.8 million. Before June 1st, cutting Coop would have pushed the cap hit for the remainder of his $4 million signing bonus into this year's salary cap, instead of spreading it out over the next 4 years, but it's a "pay now or pay later" situation, and the Birds are under the cap this year anyway.


The only additional cost for cutting Cooper would be the salary of the player who replaces him: $435K for Pratt, or $525K for Bailey.  If the team thinks one of them adds more to the roster's talent level, that's very cheap.


It's too early to count Cooper out.  You know Chip loves his blocking and his size (6'4", 220, compared to Bailey who is 6'1" 205, and Pratt who's even smaller) , and with all the turnover this year his knowledge of Kelly's system  is a plus. And he might have better chemistry with Bradford than with Sanchez (who doesn't throw well outside of the numbers). So far Cooper has consistently played with the ones in training camp, in part because Chip likes to make rookies earn their rise up the roster, no matter where they were drafted. But it might be a sign the team still likes him.


I can't imagine starting such an unproductive receiver, but Riley might be overdue due for a bounce back, and he's a veteran on a young unit who knows the scheme well. His biggest role is as insurance against an Agholor collapse, a safe starter alongside Josh Huff (with Matthews in the slot) who can at least block.


Cooper was terrible as a WR2 last year, and would be even worse as WR1 in 2015, but if you think of him as competing for the 6th and final receiver slot -- Jeff Maehl's role last year -- it's hard to say he's not qualified. Maehl was targeted only 5 times in 2014, catching all 5 for 46 yards, and added nothing on special teams after 6 tackles in 2013.


On the other hand, Cooper produced very little last year relatives to his snaps, and didn't do anything  on special teams either, which is key for depth players. Rasheed Bailey is a young player with more upside, and he's a special teams ace who blocked two punts in a single college game.  He also might possibly replace Brandon Boykin as the Eagles' best gunner on punts.


The final decision will boil down to how comfortable the coaches are that Agholor can get past rookie hiccups. If we see the USC first rounder start to nudge Cooper out for first team reps in training camp, or if he flashes in preseason games, expect the Eagles most infamous player to be packing his bags in early September.