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Thursday, January 2, 2014

From Public Enemy to Key Contributor: The Riley Cooper Story





by: Ryan Waldis
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Let's face it: the entire Riley Cooper situation that occurred this past summer was a tad bit hairy. You know the story (after all, every major media network along with several prominent magazines and newspapers brought it up day after day): Cooper was attending a Kenny Chesney concert, and at some point he got into a confrontation with an African-American security guard. Conveniently, someone happened to be filming the confrontation with their cell phone, and that person just happened to catch Cooper saying, "I will jump that fence and fight every (racial slur) here."

It brought negative attention to a team that really didn't need it at the time. It caused fights at practice (well, maybe not, but it still could have). It caused a division in the locker room for a small amount of time. It caused tweets like the ones you see above to become the norm for a while. It even caused Marcus Vick to say some inappropriate things such as, "Hey I'm putting a bounty on Riley's head. One k to the first Free Safety or Strong Safety that light his (profanity) up! Wake him up please...." and, "Riley Cooper your a (profanity-profanity) Boy!!! Racist peace of (profanity)."

It's clear that almost everyone in Philadelphia wanted Cooper to be cut. Knowing what you know now, though, that wouldn't have been a very smart decision, would it have been?

Let's look at the facts before going into why the Eagles wouldn't be in the position they're in without Cooper. When Cooper's incident occurred, the Eagles weren't exactly loaded at the wide receiver position. Sure, they had DeSean Jackson, who is a quality number one receiver. But who else did they have? Allow me to refresh your memory: Cooper, Jason Avant, Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson, Greg Salas, Russell Shepard, Ifeanyl Momah, Nick Miller, B.J. Cunningham, Will Murphy, and David Ball. Most of those names didn't exactly jump off of the paper when Training Camp began and, to be honest, they still don't. If you performed a Google search on any of those names (aside from Cooper and Avant), chances are you wouldn't find a ton.

So, if the Eagles cut Cooper, they would have had to make do with the likes of Avant and Johnson and Benn (who eventually got injured anyway, as did Jeremy Maclin, if you were wondering why he wasn't on the above list). Still, fans insisted on cutting Cooper, and even came up with brilliant ideas such as signing Terrell Owens. Could you imagine where the Eagles would be right now if their top two WR's heading into the regular season were Jackson and either Owens, Avant, or Johnson? Hold on, let me answer that for you using the picture down below.

Photo Courtesy: www.ci.new-brighton.mn.us
Well, as we all know, the Eagles ended up heading into the regular season without adding any notable wide receivers. Cooper had the number two wide receiver spot all to himself. He had a great opportunity to prove that he could be a really good WR. Unfortunately for him, he started rather slow. Yet another reason why Eagles fans wanted him gone as soon as possible. Look at his stats through the first five games below.

Receiving
Rk G# Date Age Tm Opp Result Rec Yds Y/R TD
1 1 2013-09-09 26-000 PHI @ WAS W 33-27 2 14 7.00 0
2 2 2013-09-15 26-006 PHI SDG L 30-33 2 25 12.50 1
3 3 2013-09-19 26-010 PHI KAN L 16-26 2 29 14.50 0
4 4 2013-09-29 26-020 PHI @ DEN L 20-52 2 25 12.50 0
5 5 2013-10-06 26-027 PHI @ NYG W 36-21 0 0 0
16 Games 10-6-0 47 835 17.77 8
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/2/2014.

Eight receptions. 93 yards. And a whopping one TD catch. That's not exactly a start that Cooper will remember for the rest of his career. Cooper's terrible start led to many Philadelphia fans calling for a change at the WR position. Many fans figured that the Eagles wouldn't get anywhere with Cooper as a starting WR. They had a valid point: throughout the first three years of his career, Cooper totaled 46 receptions, 679 yards, and five touchdowns. Sure, he was stuck behind both Jackson and Maclin (and perhaps even Avant) on the depth chart during those three seasons, but a guy with as much potential as he had should not have been under-performing the way he was. Philadelphia fans were sick of Cooper's extremely inconsistent play, which led to many tweets like the one below.
Some Eagles fans didn't care what it took; they wanted someone different catching passes from Michael Vick, or Nick Foles, or perhaps even Matt Barkley. And while Josh Gordon did end up having an outstanding season (87 receptions, 1,646 yards, and nine touchdowns), take a look at this excerpt from Pat McManamon's article on ESPN.com about the situation:
"Gordon, though, is far and away the best player on the Browns offense. The team lacks a running game, and his abilities at receiver make him the offense's best weapon. If he's traded, the offense would have glaring needs in the short-term and into the future. The Browns know this, which is why it will continue to take a major offer -- perhaps even a first-round pick -- to pry Gordon away from the Browns."
Would it really have been a good idea to trade a first-round pick (along with one or two other picks) when the Eagles could simply sign a free agent or draft a WR in several months? The Eagles certainly didn't think so, which led to the team sticking with Riley Cooper once again, for better or worse.

And boy, did that decision (for the first time in four years) finally pay off. Take a look at Riley Cooper's stats from his final 11 games below.

Receiving
RkG#DateAgeTmOppResultRecYdsY/RTD
662013-10-1326-034PHI@TAMW 31-20412030.001
772013-10-2026-041PHIDALL 3-1768814.670
882013-10-2726-048PHINYGL 7-152136.500
992013-11-0326-055PHI@OAKW 49-20513927.803
10102013-11-1026-062PHI@GNBW 27-13310234.002
11112013-11-1726-069PHIWASW 24-1633712.330
12122013-12-0126-083PHIARIW 24-2134816.000
13132013-12-0826-090PHIDETW 34-2037424.670
14142013-12-1526-097PHI@MINL 30-484297.250
15152013-12-2226-104PHICHIW 54-1135317.671
16162013-12-2926-111PHI@DALW 24-2233913.000
16 Games10-6-04783517.778
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/2/2014.

Without this man, the Eagles wouldn't be in the playoffs.
Photo Courtesy: www.phillymag.com
Remember when I said that Cooper, through the first three years of his career, totaled 679 yards and five
touchdowns? Take a look at the tear he went on, starting with the Tampa Bay game and ending with the Green Bay game. In just five games, he totaled 462 yards and six touchdowns. It was around this month-long stretch when fans finally started realizing that Cooper was more important to the team than they originally gave him credit for.

There was no more booing (unless he dropped a pass which, to be honest, was rare). There were no more tweets stating that the Eagles should cut the fourth year wide-out from Florida. There were even some people who began to wonder whether signing Maclin back was logical. After all, Cooper was finally proving that he could be a really good WR in the NFL. That's a story for a different day, though.

Before the season started, fans wanted Cooper gone. His actions at a Kenny Chesney concert brought a ton of negative attention to the Eagles. That right there was enough of a reason to cut him. Well, at least to Eagles fans it was. Regardless, after a slow preseason (Cooper caught just four passes for 55 yards and a touchdown in three games), fans wanted him cut. After a slow start to the season, fans wanted him cut. Now, with the Eagles preparing for their first playoff game since 2010, do you still want Riley Cooper, the man who finished the regular season with 47 receptions, 835 yards, and eight touchdowns, off of the team?

I sure hope not. Sure, Cooper was a public enemy in the city of Philadelphia from late July to early October. Without him on the team right now, however, the Eagles wouldn't be in the position they're currently in. That's not an opinion. That's a fact.

I'll leave you with this tweet by yours truly. I don't mean to brag, but I'd like to think that I know more than many analysts that predicted that Cooper would do nothing this season.

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