By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—Winning the NFC East and nearly beating the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs last season has convinced the Eagles that they are on the verge of being a really good team.
The priority for the Eagles front office this offseason is to keep the core group that they helped them get to the playoffs in 2013. The Birds signings in the last week are an indication that they want to maintain the chemistry of the team that helped them to achieve a 10-6 record last season.
The Eagles gave contract extensions to All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce. They also signed wide receiver Riley Cooper to a five-year deal and they signed wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who missed all of last season with a right-knee injury, to a one-year deal that could turn into a multi-year deal. The Birds also signed defensive end Cedric Thornton to a one-year contract.
“It’s a great reflection on what we’re doing and it’s starts with the ownership and we got to give credit to Jeffrey (Lurie) for giving us the flexibility to go out and sign our guys and always giving us the resources to do what want to do,” said Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. “That’s very lucky in the National Football League. Part of it is the culture we’re trying build here and we gotta get better. I think the players see what we want to accomplish and they want to be a part of it.”
The odd man out in all the Eagles signings was wide receiver Jason Avant, who was released by the team after being with the team for eight years.
But Cooper’s emergence as a weapon in the Eagles offense and the potential of a relatively young Maclin made Avant expendable. Cooper, who signed a five-year deal reportedly worth $25 million, is coming off a career year in which caught 47 passes for 847 yards and eight touchdowns.
In 2012, Maclin, who’s had two knee surgeries, led the team in receptions and has caught at least 50 passes in his first four years with the team.
“People like Riley because he brings some physical toughness to your football team. He can go up and get the football … For us, (Cooper) fits what we do,” Roseman said. “We’re excited to have Jeremy back. That was our goal when we started the offseason. We drafted him in the first round and we excited about seeing what he can do in this offense. He adds another weapon to this offense.”
The re-signings of Maclin and Cooper to go along with DeSean Jackson might give you the impression that the Birds have all the receivers they need. After all, Jackson is coming off the best year of his career with 82 receptions for 1,332 years and nine touchdowns.
You can make an argument that the Birds receiving corps is full of two or three’s along with a Jackson who is more of 1-A type of receiver. I still think the Eagles need to find a big No.1 possession receiver via free agency or the draft that would fit with this team. Roseman said he’s not ruling out that possibility.
“It’s about value,” Roseman said. “It’s about value in free agency and then it’s about taking the best player available in the draft. I wouldn’t take anything off the table. I wouldn’t put any absolutes on any position right now at this moment. We don’t want to be in a position where we see a really good value in free agency and we say, ‘No,” just because we might a particular depth chart at the moment. And that’s the same thing for the draft.”
The emergence of Nick Foles as the Eagles starting quarterback and LeSean McCoy leading the NFL in rushing in 2013 was thanks in large part to the outstanding performance of the offensive line led by Peters, who went to his sixth Pro Bowl, and Kelce, who signed seven-year deal reportedly worth $37.5 million dollars.
“The offensive line, more than other position group, really relies on each other,” Kelce said. “It’s always a tight-knit group. We have a tight, close group of our guys in our room. I’m excited to work with not just the starter, but the guys we have in the wings waiting to get their chance. I think we have a great group. … I think this offensive line is in a great position to be successful.”
In 2014, the Eagles schedule will not be easy with games against the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and the NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers. With the team showing a commitment to keeping last year’s team relatively intact, Kelce believes the Birds are on the cusp of being a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the NFC.
“I haven’t been this excited for a football season since I can remember,” Kelce said. “With the way we ended it, with the way it looks like it’s headed, the genuine enthusiasm that everyone has, it’s a good time to be a Philadelphia Eagle.”