Where Kelly, Cooper And the Eagles Go From Here

Riley CooperThree seconds can shape a career. That’s the reality that has slapped Riley Cooper in the face over the last 48 hours.

One sentence. Ten words. And now he will forever be known as the football player who blurted out a racial epithet at an African-American security guard while loaded at a Kenny Chesney concert. Whether fair or not, that’s how it is.

Since the video was released, Cooper has done all the right things. He apologized to his teammates, his coaches and the organization. He has faced the media twice. He hasn’t run. He hasn’t hid.

In the last six months, Chip Kelly has taken a number of steps to change the culture at the NovaCare Complex. He has removed boundaries in the locker room, no longer dividing players by positional groups. He has removed signs in the parking lot that used to be reserved for offensive, defensive and special teams players of the week. He has changed things up dramatically in the weight room, the cafeteria and on the practice fields.

The focus has been on fostering a team-first mentality, increasing efficiency and giving the players every possible advantage at their disposal. But now, with the Eagles’ full squad having been at camp for only a week, Kelly faces a challenge in keeping everyone together. He acknowledged as much on Thursday.

“There could be a concern,” Kelly said, when asked if the Cooper situation might divide the locker room. “Yeah, there is a concern.”

The key here is how the players view Cooper and whether they can get past this, or even want to. In a perfect world, his teammates would educate Cooper and explain to him why he was wrong. He would understand. He would change. And he would be a better man for it. Maybe that’s how this whole thing plays out.

But maybe not.

The problem is isolating Cooper’s comment as one single mistake. The notion that the only time in his life where he used the n-word was caught on camera is silly. As is the idea that everyone makes racist comments after having had one too many beers. That’s why players like Jason Avant, LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick, who have been around Cooper for three-plus years, aren’t quite sure what to make of the outburst.

“It was kind of confusing,” Avant said Wednesday night, shortly after Cooper apologized to the team. “And the reason it was confusing is because I’m with him every day and I know him. And the first thing I kept saying is like, ‘That’s my boy. That’s a really good friend of mine.’

And this from Vick, via ESPN.com:

“That’s the thing. That’s not the guy we know. We know Riley.” Vick paused for a second. “Or maybe we don’t,” he said.

This isn’t about throwing stones and living in a glass house. Players like Vick, Avant and Cary Williams have been quick to admit that they’re far from perfect.

But for Kelly, it’s about establishing a culture in Year 1, getting everyone on the same page and building his program. By my count, the Eagles could be looking at around 21 new players when the season begins next month. That’s roughly 40 percent of the roster. Those are guys who don’t know Cooper and many who now probably don’t care to know him.

Football is different than other sports like basketball. With 53 players, there can be some cliques, and the team can still be successful. Not everyone has to like each other or be best friends. But Cooper’s presence, in some cases, will lead to a level of discomfort and awkwardness. There will be certain players who won’t want to be around him – in the cafeteria, in the weight room, on the field.

And then there’s his value to the team. Like it or not, players are treated differently based on the degree to which they help the franchise win games. Kelly’s stance is to treat everyone fairly, but not necessarily the same.

On a good NFL team, Cooper might be a fourth or fifth wide receiver. Don’t buy the argument that the Eagles would have handled this differently had Jeremy Maclin been healthy. The truth is the drop-off from Cooper to one of the other back-up wide receivers on the roster really wouldn’t be that significant.

And so, sometime between now and the Sept. 9 matchup against the Redskins, Kelly will have a decision to make. His hope is that players will accept Cooper back into their group, the wide receiver learns from the situation, and the team gets past this.

The other option will be to part ways with him. In the coming weeks, if Cooper’s presence is doing more harm than good, if it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to contribute to a winning culture, then the Eagles will have to consider moving on without him.

All offseason, we’ve looked for hints about what to expect from Kelly on the field. How fast will the offense move? Will it feature the read-option? Are they installing a true 3-4?

It’s Year 1. Away from the field too, it’s about building a program and establishing a culture. One way or another, Kelly will have to figure out how to deal with the unexpected distraction.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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  • Broadcasting Wisdom

    One thing this incident has done is forced me to youtube Riley Cooper highlights. I know it is an unrepresentative sample, but I actually came away much more impressed than I expected. Those two one-handed touchdowns against the Cowboys are plays nobody else on our team has made in the last decade. That bomb against the Patriots was great, and he had a few tough catches in traffic. I know his overall stats aren’t jaw-dropping, but those are based on opportunities – were there any notable drops? Especially with all this attention and the desire to prove everybody that he is worth the distraction, Riley could be in for a breakout year if he gets the starting nod. NFL Players and fans have forgiven a lot worse transgressions than this.

  • Brent E. Sulecki

    Im on board with Cary. Smallwood. and whitlock who all had very wellt thought out words to use talking about the situation.
    they all were very well spoken and thought out articles and made me really think.
    im not happy some people are saying that if riley was a 1st round guy with high talent then it would be easier to let this go. I mean look what some folks did with vick. just because he started playin well and winning games. it went away. but many would say that riley doesn’t have vicks pedigree or talent level. but just the same it doesn’t make it right to cut or not cut a player who has the same offense based on talent level. I think riley is very talented. multisport athlete. and I could see him somewhere with a stud qb like a brady or manning or Rodgers for that matter making him into a great and above quality wr…I mean whats the difference when you see riley to decker. same build. same speed. catching ability we don’t know because we have seen decker with a ton more chances. riley deserves a chance to play football as a starter and get himself character wise back on track. kobe raped a girl. shady threw a girl off a bus on 95…I mean those things are always there for these players…but since riley so far in his career has been a backup essentially he should be exiled…that’s not fair.

  • http://abigbuttandasmile.com/ A Big Butt and a Smile

    If it continues to be a problem he will be let go. It’s as simple as that.

  • John P

    what a joke..the fake outrage from the black players…they aren’t offended, they only think they are supposed to be offended…how can they get uptight over a word they each use 100 times a day…..plus the liberal media asking dummy questions…..these black players were never slaves, the whites were never slave owners..so I don’t but the argument that this is offensive for whites to say because of slavery…..total…fake….bs

  • illadelphia21

    Holy sh!t…really an outsiders reference…F’n hilarious!

  • #7

    Johnson, Momah, or Shepard. None of them have played in an NFL game. Start Cooper and use him the right way. Won’t be a superstar, but I think he can make some plays. Maybe this “N-word Gate” will help him play with some fire

  • #7

    pffff!! Yeah ok…lol

  • G_WallyHunter

    Exactly, it looks terrible lol.. Johnson has potential tho, but Eagles need that big body guy

  • Philly0312

    Johnson had similar production to Cooper last year – more by a per play metric. 4 less catches, similar yards, on 17 fewer targets. I’d say if he wasn’t so small it would be a no brainer to put him in over Cooper. The other two, I’m with you there, although hopeful for both of them, even if one or both goes to the PS.

  • illadelphia21

    No I get what you were and are saying. I was just making a comment as to how he’s are only real option 2 start on the outside. The guys you mentioned have a long way to go and a lot of proving to do before they should even be considered. W/ the exception of Johnson, who should only be used situationally on the outside.

  • Philly0312

    Well, I am kind of addicted to all Eagles news, especially this blog as is generally has the absolute best information. While an important story due to the incident itself, the impact on team chemistry and Vick’s display of strong leadership after the incident, it has been 48 hours straight at this point. NFL on Sirius talked about almost nothing else yesterday. We were having articles on a variety of different things of interest to the future of the eagles – now its 50 percent news on Riley Cooper.

  • Eagles4Life

    Why is it for the benefit of the team? The majority of the team is black. Despite the public comments, do you really think any of this sits well with them?

  • G_WallyHunter

    For the benefit of not stoking the fire, I understand that it offends many of them, but keep your mouth shut and stop talking into the CBS and NFL microphones, it’s selfish and does absolutely no good for the team and organization… again I don’t want to take away from it’s offensiveness… but that doesn’t mean you have to tell every media outlet that comes to you just how offended you are with many details… shut up

    Let’s say this happened up in Foxborough, you think players would be speaking like that on record? No, they would shut the hell up and deal with it in house. McCoy should really keep his mouth shut and focus on the important season ahead, if you’re offended, that’s fine, don’t go into depth about it with reporters… shut up

  • #7

    Agreed on Johnson. I don’t know alot about Momah other than he’s big and supposedly fast. Would like to see him get some work in the preseason

  • #7

    The fire is already stoked bruh

  • G_WallyHunter

    Ya apparently he’s been looking pretty bad in camp

  • G_WallyHunter

    Oh I understand that lol very much so… But come on.. McCoy should know better, especially after the last 2 seasons. I don’t care if he wants to come out and speak about him personally being offended, that’s a selfish act. It should be kept off the record for the benefit of his employer and coworkers.
    I get that he was speaking for teammates as well, but come on, just shut up, there is absolutely no positive outcomes for the team and organization that could come from it.. just more feed for the media

  • All Things Bad@ss

    What makes you say that? No one, and I mean NOBODY, comes in and instantly commands respect; it is earned. Chip has done a fantastic job by all accounts of garnering as much respect as could be expected in a very short time. Riley spouting off at the mouth has no bearing on that. Chip will have this team ready to play and he will get better and better, in quick fashion mind you, with each and every game. Ye of little faith …

  • Broadcasting Wisdom

    Maclin is not healthy, not sure if you saw that he is out for the year. And yes, 1 more TD than Desean on about 50 fewer targets in a season he broke his collar bone and missed training camp and the first 5 games. I have watched every Eagles snap of the last 20 years. When most people watch 800 offensive snaps a year, the 30 plays in which Cooper did something can get lost. But if you watch all plays in which Cooper was involved, he actually performed exceedingly well and made 2 one-handed touchdown catches that no Eagles receiver has made in the last decade. I am somewhat surprised that you are citing a player’s career stats, who played behind Maclin, as if they are an indicator of how that player would perform were he the starter. As long as we are discussing white receivers, go look at Jordy Nelson’s first 3 years in the league when he sat behind Jennings and Driver, and then look at his stats once he was the starter. Look at Erik Decker’s stats his rookie year when he wasn’t the starter. If you want to point to some plays last year that suggest Cooper sucks, I’m happy to reassess my thoughts of him, but I don’t remember him dropping a single ball.

  • Token

    Kelly may have had a up hill battle coming from college, but that doesnt excuse him. I dont think hes gotten any respect. If he has it doesnt show. Does this team appear any less out of control as it did last season? Its a constant circus.

  • Uncle Carm

    Just for the record, he was not in the workplace when he said it. Just saying.

  • ian

    I was thinking the same thing. It is such a random comment. Why was the guy filming? What was said before. He could have been responding to something the security guard said. Lots of people use the n word to refer to themselves, friends, etc. If the guard said something to the effect of “None of my n***as are gonna let you backstage and we will kick your ass if you try.” and Cooper being drunk responded with using the word right back at him then maybe it makes more sense. It was an idiot move regardless. However, in my life everytime I have heard the word used in a derogatory manner there was a little spite in the tone. He says it so awkwardly. Without a bit of spite, despite wanting to fight.

    That being said, he did say it…it got out and went viral and now he may have lost the respect of the locker room. A divided team will never succeed so if they cant get past this then they have to cut him regardless of the work he has done to fix this mistake.

  • illadelphia21

    Your point was that he deserved to start and you cite Maclin being out for the year doesn’t mean that Coop deserves to start…it means that we’re forced to start him. Big difference! And the main(not only) reason for him to start is simply cause he’s 6’3. Take DJ2 for example. Played in 3 more games than Coop, had 4 less starts, and still put up comparable numbers. Yet if I said he deserved to start, I’d sound like a complete ass! Sorta in the same way somebody saying “Coop deserves to start” vs “we really have no other choice but to start Coop”, would sound!

    Yes DJax was targeted about “50 times more” but how many of those were actual redzone targets vs Coop’s three redzone targets resulting in TD’s?! Wow he made 2 “1 handed grabs” for TDs in one season out of 3 seasons…that’s it…make him our starter and build a team around this guy! These are called flash plays. Yes they earn you a roster spot and a chance at more playing time, but unless your doing these consistently, they do not earn you a starting spot or make you anymore deserving of one. Flash plays…stemming from the phrase flash in the pan! That’s not necessarily a reliable or even good connotation. But yes out of 3 yrs of playing Coop has produced some good plays when given the chance. That’s not saying much.

    I don’t know where you get this “800 snaps viewed” number from but I guess I’ll take your word for it. Smh.

    I bring up his stats for the simple fact to show that he has done nothing to suggest that he “deserves” to be starting regardless of injury. A reasonable fan, even w/ only viewing “800 snaps” per yr (smh) would think that Coop’s accumulated stats over a 3 yr period could easily be duplicated, if not flat out bested, by a teams 3rd best WR in a single season. Usually a team would want that 3rd best WR to be the next up to start, but hey Andy was never conventional about that stuff. Still even Avants numbers per season match or dwarf Coop’s 3 yr totals. Yes Avant gets more targets…why??? Because he’s simply better than Coop. The more targets a WR gets can show a trust that his QB has in him and that he is reliable, and can also directly correlate w/ how good of a WR he is.

    Thanks for judging Coop and comparing him to other white WRs when I’m comparing him to all WRs in general. Really just plain idiotic! But yeah I looked at the two players you brought up. Nelson’s 1st 3yr total vs Coop is a runaway victory for Nelson. Hands down. It’s not even a contest. Why would you even bring up Nelson?!
    And as far as Decker v Coop’s 1st season, yes he edges him out. Yet the stat line is pretty comparable. So does that mean that cause Decker is white and had a mediocre 1st yr, but went on to start and become a decent starter in this league, then Coop can do it too?! Really man…C’mon son!!! Glad all white WRs have this ability w/in them. HEY EVERYBODY…I FOUND THE SECRET TO GETTING A DECENT TO REALLY GOOD #2 WR! ALL TEAMS GO OUT AND DRAFT A WHITE WR WHO’S 6’3 OR TALLER. MAKE HIM SIT BEHIND LEGITIMATE STATERS FOR A YEAR OR THREE. AND THEN START HIM ON THE BASIS THAT HE DESERVES TO START WHETHER OR NOT HE HAS CONSISTENTLY PLAYED TO A STARTER’S LEVEL!!! HE’LL BE AMAZING!!! PROBLEM SOLVED!!! Please send checks to illadelphia21 on disqus…not the one on twitter!!! LMFBO!

    The fact is I have always liked Coop and hated on him simply cause he has not done anything to be considered better than below average. And as I’ve talked about, for the last couple of weeks, and well before his incident…that he does not suck but is most definitely below average as a WR. And you may want to have faith in him, and think he’s better than that. Cool. But please stop the D-riding. It’s really not a good look and makes what your saying not credible. Oh yeah I think he only dropped like 2 balls last year. I would make a joke off of that including your man crush for him but would probably get my comment deleted if not banned.

  • illadelphia21

    Technically he was. Although he was off the clock, it still happened at Lincoln Financial Field.

  • All Things Bad@ss

    Other than Cooper, what circus are you referring to? The QB competition is what it is … it’s smart. The rest is just media driven and you’re buying it.