One day after inking left tackle Jason Peters to a five-year contract, the Eagles came to terms with wide receiver Riley Cooper for five years and center Jason Kelce for seven, locking up two players who really came into their own during the 2013 season.
Cooper, given the opportunity to step into the starting lineup when Jeremy Maclin suffered a knee injury in training camp, established career highs in every receiving category and made a significant impact in an offense that franchise records across the board and ranked as one of the very best, statistically, in the history of the league.
Kelce returned from a knee injury that truncated his 2012 campaign and stepped right back into his role as the starting center and played outstanding football. His tremendous athleticism combined with the requisite intelligent and superb work ethic allowed Kelce to thrive in the offense with new line coach Jeff Stoutland.
In a span of two days, then, the Eagles did some big-time work. They locked down the best left tackle in the NFL in Peters, who came back strong in 2013 after missing 2012 with a torn Achilles tendon, and then the team announced on Thursday morning the contracts for Cooper and Kelce, players just hitting their primes who are going to be counted on heavily in the years to come.
It's a great way to start this pre-pre-free agency period. The Eagles have a list of to-do action items on their agenda and they've knocked out three of them very quickly. There is plenty of work to do before free agency begins as the Eagles consider the other players on the current roster who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 11, when the free agency period begins at 4 p.m. And there are still contracts on the current roster the Eagles could look to extend, should the team be so inclined to do so.
Cooper's rise is one to applaud. A fifth-round draft pick in 2010, Cooper played in the rotation at wide receiver and was a key player on special teams until Maclin went down in the summer during a training camp practice at the NovaCare Complex. The Eagles did not go outside the team to fill the void and instead had faith that Cooper would rise to the challenge. He did that on the field, and off the field he owned up to his adverse situation last year away from the game, and then Cooper went about the business of improving as a football player during the regular season.
All he did was catch 47 passes for 835 yards and 8 touchdowns – career bests in each category – and Cooper's 17.9-yard average per reception ranked third in the NFL in 2013. Cooper followed up the breakout regular season with a team-best 6 receptions for 68 yards and a score in the playoff loss to New Orleans.
Cooper figures to play a major role at wide receiver, a position that still has some shaking out to do. Maclin is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11, although it's important to note that Cooper's signing on Thursday has no effect on Maclin or his future with the Eagles. The draft has excellent top-end talent and depth at wide receiver, as general manager Howie Roseman has noted. Clearly, it is an important position for the Eagles, who want to have as much talent and as much depth as possible at wide receiver for this high-octane offense to push the ball down the field quickly.
As for Kelce, the Eagles have their quarterback for the offensive line through 2020. He is the perfect fit for the scheme – quick off the ball, powerful, technically sound – and Kelce's ability to get to the second level of the defense in the running game helped the Eagles lead the NFL in rushing in 2013. A sixth-round draft pick in 2011, Kelce is considered one of the best at his craft in the game.
What's next? Don't know. But I, like you, can't wait to find out. The Eagles have made some very strong moves in the last two days as they chart their course in this offseason and complete the to-do list designed to make this roster as strong as it can be.