The question when it comes to Riley Cooper and the receiver position at large is about resource allocation.
DeSean Jackson is slated to make $10 million this season. The other receivers currently on the roster are eating up close to $7 million worth of salary (though a big chunk of that can be shed if they release or restructure Jason Avant). The front office is working on signing Jeremy Maclin. They have invested significantly in the tight end position and will likely be using a good deal of “12 personnel,” which means one less receiver on the field. And as we know, the draft is stacked with quality wideouts.
There is good money already tied up in the position, only so many snaps to go around and a wealth of young, inexpensive options to be had come May 8. Given all these factors, and the glaring needs in other areas of the roster, why give Cooper a five-year, $25 million contract with $10 million guaranteed?
Howie Roseman explained it this way:
"You don't know how the draft is going to shake out, and if you're going into the draft counting on a certain player or a certain position being there and then it's not there, what are your options? So we went into it just trying to determine the values of our guys. And if we could find something that was within the range of our values, then we felt comfortable doing a deal because we know the value of those players in our offense and our scheme," he said.
"At that position we carried six guys last year. That doesn't account for injuries; you need depth. I think we all look at last year, and can't count on the fact that we're not going to have injuries anywhere. We need depth in this league."
Roseman seems to think there would have been a decent market for the 26-year-old if he was allowed to hit free agency, saying that teams like his physicality and ability to go up and get the football. His skill set is particularly appealing to a team like the Eagles, who deploy a run-heavy offense and rely on their receivers to provide downfield blocking.
The contract breaks down like this:
Riley Cooper to make $5M in 2014 - $4M bonus, $1M salary. Has $4M guaranteed 2015 salary and $1M of $4.5M 2016 salary guaranteed.
— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) February 27, 2014
The deal is comparable to the one Danny Amendola signed with the Patriots last season. That was a five-year, 28.5 million contract with $10 million guaranteed.
"When you look at the starting receiver market, they're all over the map those deals," said Roseman. "When we met as a group and with Coach we came to a price that we felt comfortable with, that we felt was fair for this player. We wanted this player back and at the end of the day, Joel [Segal] and Riley did a great job of getting it done."
There is something to be said for signing a player that has a connection with the quarterback and has proven to be a fit for the system, as opposed to gambling on a free agent that may or may not take. It can also be suggested that Kelly's offense is player-friendly, and that Cooper -- who had more yards and touchdowns in 2013 than in the previous three years combined -- was in some ways a product of that system. In one sense that's irrelevant -- it doesn't matter why a player is productive, only that he is productive -- except when it comes to determining value. Could someone else provide a similar service for a cheaper price or better service for a comparable price, in other words.
Roseman has called the receiver situation complicated, noting that the team wants to hold onto their own but "you can only put a limited amount of resources at a particular position before it starts taking out from other places." He talked of establishing walkaway numbers with both Cooper and Maclin to ensure that they did not have to shortchange other positions on the roster. They established a number that they felt comfortable paying Cooper, were able to negotiate their way into that comfort zone, and pulled the trigger. Time will tell if it was money well spent.
"It's all about value. It's all about setting the value and if we can find something that fits within the value, we're going to do the deal," said Roseman. "We're going to take the guys that we know and that we know can contribute to our team and how they fit."