Eagles Hope to Maintain Team Chemistry with Offseason Signings

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper will be with the Eagles for the next five years. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper will be with the Eagles for the next five years. Photo by Webster Riddick.

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.”

Vick Handles Move to No. 2 Spot Well, Supports Foles

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Michael Vick said Foles deserves to be the starter. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Michael Vick said Foles deserves to be the starter. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—It’s easy for an athlete to sulk and bemoan his situation when he loses his starting position. This is especially true when a guy has been a long-time starter. In some cases, that long-time starter is usually demanding to be traded elsewhere.

That can’t be said of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. After witnessing the rise of Nick Foles, the NFC’s offensive player of the month for November, Vick has been supportive of the guy he competed for the starting job with since minicamp. Foles said Vick has been helpful throughout his time on the field.

“Mike’s been tremendous throughout this whole thing,” Foles said. “The best thing about Mike is that he’s a great team player. He’s been nothing but helpful to me throughout this whole thing whether it’s me on the sidelines and telling me what he sees out there. It’s been great for me to look up to an older guy to see how he’s handled this whole situation.”

But that’s the approach Vick has taken all season. Remember this was the same guy who took a pay cut, signed a one-year contract, and competed for the starting job. At the same time, he was working with Foles and rookie Matt Barkley to help them to get better.

“Mike wants to contribute any way he can and that’s the type of guy he is,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s a great teammate, great leader. He’s been great for Nick over the games he’s been out in terms of helping him to develop. We’ve got a good situation.  I think we have two quarterbacks that win games in the NFL.”

Wide receiver Jason Avant said Vick is still a leader in the Eagles locker room even though he is not the starter.

“He’s not focusing on himself, he’s been focusing on his teammates and putting God first,” Avant said. “That’s leadership to me more so than someone saying this or saying that. Leadership is about what you do in your daily life, but also in adverse times. What do you do? Does pressure break you or does it reveal that you’re a champion on the inside …(Vick) is a champion.”

Before he got hurt in the first Giants game, Vick wasn’t having a bad year. He led the team to the win over the Redskins in the season-opener. He passed for 203 yards and threw two touchdown passes. He also had 54 yards rushing with one touchdown.

In the Eagles 33-30 loss to the San Diego Chargers, Vick passed for a career-high 428 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown.  But he struggled in the Kansas City game, throwing two interceptions including a pick-six.

Against the Denver Broncos, Vick was merely ordinary compared to an incredible performance Peyton Manning. Vick passed for 248 yards on 14-of-27 passing, but had a few drops along the way.

By the time he left the game with his injury, Vick had led the Eagles to a 16-7 lead before Foles replaced him. Vick said he’s not disappointed by the demotion to second string because of how well Foles has been playing.

“It’s all about support,” Vick said on Tuesday. “I’ve been playing in this league for a long time, and it’s great to see guys who I know can play and spend a lot of time with go out there and have success, and I enjoy watching it. I enjoy watching my team go out there and do the things that Coach Kelly asks them to do and see it turn over and correlate into wins. It goes to show that what we’re doing is working and we’re all on the same page, and it’s exciting to see.”

I can’t say that I know how Vick will be remembered in this game as a player because I think his book still has a few chapters left.  On one level, I wouldn’t be too worried about whether or not he’s put up all the requisite numbers to get a bust in Canton. But if there was a Hall-of-Fame for growth as a human being, Vick would definitely be on the first ballot.

The way he has handled being relegated to the backup role is proof positive of that. Since coming up from the depths from his imprisonment, Vick has proven that being a man and handling adversity without wincing or crying out loud is far more important than his passing statistics.

Eagles Players Say Cooper-Williams Scuffle Was Just Football, Not Racial

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—In a video that will probably get more viral than the upcoming Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez fight next week, controversial Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper got into a fight with teammate and volatile cornerback Cary Williams.

The video, which was shot by Comcast Sportsnet Philly, shows Cooper going after Williams after both players hit the ground during a passing drill on a ball thrown by quarterback Michael Vick.

Cooper attempted to grab Williams around the neck. Williams threw a couple of overhand slaps to Cooper’s helmet.  Teammates restrained both players. Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin pulled Cooper away while Eagles assistant coach Todd Lyght separated Williams.

But as Cooper was being pulled away, Williams broke away from the coaches and stalked after Cooper and could be faintly heard on the video saying, “I ain’t the N-word you f—k with.”

That was apparently a reference to a video in which Cooper using the N-word at a Kenny Chesney concert after a dispute with an African-American security guard.

Also in the video, Vick looked like he was trying to calm Williams down.  Then Vick was spirited away after Williams appeared to have shoved him.

Inside the locker room, the players said the situation came down to two guys competing for the ball and nothing to do with anything beyond what happens in football.

Of course, it does beg question, have the Eagles Black players really gotten over Cooper’s comments at the Kenny Chesney concert?

“It’s just something that happens,” said Boykin. “People are out there competing and practicing hard everyday. It’s just competition.  They’re moving on from it.”

“The ball was in the air and they both kind of came down on each other. …it was over quick, we broke it up and forgot about it and we practiced. They guarded each other six or seven times and nothing happened.”

Cooper himself played down the incident and chalked it up to two guys fighting for the football.  When he asked if Williams said something vicious to him, Cooper jokingly said, “Y’all ready for Washington.”

When asked if things were normal with his teammates since returning from his leave of absence in aftermath of him using the N-word, Cooper said everything was okay with his teammates both African-American and white.

“Everything is completely 100 percent normal, talking to everybody, everybody talking to me,” Cooper told reporters after practice Thursday. “We’re all real close. Everybody, Cary included. He’s my boy. We’re both in the NFL. We are super competitive. We both want the ball. In one-on-one’s, he wants to have a pick, I want to have a reception. That’s just what it is.”

Since the controversy regarding the video came to light, Cooper said no other player from any team around the league during the preseason has brought it up during the heat of competition in a game or during practice.

Williams, who played with the Baltimore Ravens last season, does have a history of trash-talking with opposing wide receivers regardless of race.  When the Ravens played the Eagles last season, Williams was fined by the league for a fight with DeSean Jackson, who was also fined.

Ironically, Jackson was seen on tape talking with Williams after the fight. He said that he told Williams that they have to focus on Monday night’s game against Washington.

“We got a game and in the end that’s all I care about,” Jackson said. “We got a game to win Monday and that’s it.”

Throughout the preseason and in training camp with the Eagles, Williams has been getting into fights with any receiver who lines up against him.

When reporters gathered around Williams locker after practice, he refused to talk to reporters about the altercation with Cooper.

Wide receiver Jason Avant dismissed the incident as the something that goes as a normal part of what goes on at a football practice. He said the real problem was that it was caught on camera.

“That’s what happens on a football field, we just can’t let you guys see it,” Avant said with a smile.