The Eagles are having a busy off-season so far and we still haven’t even arrived at free agency or the NFL draft. With the NFL Scouting Combine wrapped up last week the Eagles got down to business signing some of their own key players to contract extensions. Most around the Philly region wouldn’t have expected a division title and a home playoff game going into the 2013 season but that’s just what happened last year. In order to keep this nucleus of players together so they can grow and take that next step it’s important for management to lock up important pieces to the puzzle and that’s just what Eagles GM Howie Roseman and the front office started doing last week and I love it.
In a span of 24 hours the Eagles wrapped up $42.55 million in guaranteed money and more than a hundred million dollars to retain 3 key offensive players. It was a whirlwind spending spree which you rarely see from teams when it comes to their own players but this Eagles team is different. Gone are the days when the Eagles front office would throw legends to the street once they approached 30 years of age or over like the previous GM Joe Banner did with Eagle legends such as Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, and Brian Westbrook among others. This Eagles culture is now being cultivated to one of growth and unity. I commend Howie Roseman and coach Chip Kelly for realizing in order for a team to win together they must grow together.
Lets start with Pro Bowl offensive lineman Jason Peters who started off the spending spree. Peters, who was due to become a free agent after next season signed a 4 year contract extension that runs through 2018. The extension is worth about $41 million and includes $19.5 million guaranteed. Sure Peters is 32 years of age but under Howie Roseman the Eagles aren’t looking at age like they did under the previous Joe Banner / Andy Reid regime. Peters is a 6 time Pro Bowler, 2 time first team All-Pro and 3-time second team All Pro. How can you possibly let a player of his caliber possibly walk into free agency after next season? After the signing Roseman said “He’s a generational player. Once every 20 years, you get a guy that’s that size, that athleticism, that football IQ, that work ethic.” Roseman is absolutely correct, you can’t let a guy like that leave this team, especially a team that’s up and coming and values a guy of such leadership and football knowledge like Peters. The Eagles made a mistake once by letting Brian Dawkins walk in his early 30s and in my opinion the defense still hasn’t recovered from that mistake. Roseman knows in order for this offense to continue to excel under Chip Kelly they needed Peters to remain with the franchise for years to come.
The day after the Peters extension the Eagles got even busier signing two more key players to extensions. Center Jason Kelce was the first member of the 2011 draft class to sign a new contract. It was a 6 year extension worth $37.5 million with $13 million of it guaranteed. Kelce, at age 26, was drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 draft at the 191st overall pick out of Cincinnati. He exceeded all expectations so far as the center of an Eagles offensive line that has all of its members signed for at-least the next two seasons. Kelce will now prepare to enter his 4th season with the team in 2014. He’s yet to make a Pro-Bowl but will surely make one at some point soon. He overcame a brutal knee injury that saw him miss the majority of the 2012 season thanks to a season ending ACL tear in his knee. For most 6th round draft picks that would have marked the end of the road but Kelce battled back and had a fantastic year in 2013. Chip Kelly after the Kelce extension said “Jason is the epitome of the type of player we want around here, both on and off the field.” Kelce, along with Peters and the other offensive lineman will have an opportunity to continue to grow under Kelly and his offense and it will be exciting for Eagle fans around the Delaware Valley to watch.
On the same day as the Kelce signing the Eagles locked up Wide Receiver Riley Cooper. Most experts thought Cooper would want to test the free agency market but that wasn’t the case as Cooper decided to re-sign with the birds prior to the opening of free agency. He agreed to a 5 year $25 million contract with $10 million guaranteed. Cooper will actually receive the same amount of guaranteed money as Bronco wide out Wes Welker and Patriots wide out Danny Amendola. Clearly Cooper and his agent couldn’t have been any happier with the way the money fell in this deal as Cooper is now right on par with some other significant NFL wideouts. Cooper went into training camp last season as the 4th WR but thanks to a season ending injury to Jeremy Maclin during training camp Cooper was given an opportunity to start and he made the most of that opportunity. In his 4th season Cooper had a career high season with 47 catches on 87 targets for 835 yards and 8 touchdowns. Chip Kelly also thought of Cooper as a quality blocking receiver which goes a long way in the Chip Kelly offense. Once Nick Foles became full time starter it was clear that Foles and Cooper developed a chemistry that was one of the best of any QB/WR in the NFL. Cooper said after the signing “the process was just to try to get back and sign with the Eagles. I love Jeffrey Lurie, Chip Kelly, and Howie Roseman. They believe in me, which means a lot. It really does. I’m just glad I’m back.” It’s easy to see Cooper really enjoyed his season with Foles and this offense and it was a smart move on his end to stay with the team and grow under Kelly and his system along with Foles who clearly has chemistry with Cooper. Sure his role may be diminished in 2014 because of the return of the next guy I’ll discuss but regardless Cooper will have an opportunity to continue to grow and prosper with a QB and a system that he thrived in during 2013. I foresee Chip Kelly using a wave of fresh WR’s throughout games in 2014 and for him to do that he’ll need Cooper in the fold performing like he did last season.
The pre-free agency signing spree concluded with the signing of Jeremy Maclin to a 1 year deal. Maclin was set to hit free agency and supposedly had strong interest from former Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and the NY Jets. The deal calls for a base salary of $5.5 million with incentives which if hit could raise it as high as $6.5 million with $3.5 million guaranteed. The deal offers great flexibility for both Maclin and the Eagles. The $3.5 million guaranteed won’t have much of an effect on the 2014 salary cap and also allow Maclin to re-sign or enter free agency after the 2014 season seeking more money if he has a great season. Maclin went down early on in training camp in 2013 with a season ending knee injury. At the time most Eagle fans were thinking it would have a huge effect on the offense but instead it allowed the Eagles to see the likes of Riley Cooper emerge as a threat in the offense. By season’s end most experts were wondering just how much better the Eagles offense could have been in 2013 with a healthy Maclin part of the bunch. Well now we’ll be able to see just how much better this offense can be with Maclin back for at least 1 more season along with Cooper and DeSean Jackson. Maclin commented on the contract shortly after signing saying “I love when people say the one year prove it deal, because in my eyes I’m not proving anything to anyone, I’m getting better.” I fully expect Maclin to bounce back and have a huge season in Chip Kelly’s offense. With so many other weapons on offense it’ll be tough for any defense to stop this team when they have the ball in 2014 as long as everyone stays healthy.
The Maclin signing capped off a week of the Eagles doing the unthinkable as they took care of their own. Whether its football, business, or a relationship chemistry is a key component to making it successful. As a fan, it’s gratifying to see these players and this franchise have come to realize that building a team and allowing the team to form chemistry over a period of time longer than one season will pay dividends in the long run. You never got that feeling with Joe Banner and Andy Reid. You always knew once a player hit 30 he’d be gone sooner than later. Sure most of the signings this week were to players under 30 with the exception of Peters but it’s a true testament that the culture of this franchise is changing and this group of players will have the opportunity to grow and build upon a successful NFC East Championship season and hopefully allow us fans to witness the next step towards a Super Bowl sometime in the near future.