In 2013, the final season of his rookie contract, Riley Cooper was inserted into the starting lineup and gave the Eagles a breakout season. Cooper will now have the opportunity to continue his career in an Eagles uniform, as the team announced on Thursday that the wide receiver has been re-signed to a five-year contract.
The NFL's free agency period officially begins on March 11, and it was believed that Cooper would draw a great amount of interest on the open market. But as the wide receiver has said all along, Philadelphia is where he wanted to be.
"I wanted to be back," Cooper said Thursday. "I love (Philadelphia). I think it's kind of cool when you're drafted somewhere and hopefully I'm fortunate enough to finish my career in the same place. I think that's kind of cool. Not a lot of people can do it. Hopefully I'm fortunate enough to do it, and I wouldn't want to do it in any other city but here. It feels good. It's like a weight lifted off of my shoulders. I'm back in Philly where I want to be.
"The process was just to try to get back and sign with the Eagles. That's what I wanted to do. I love (Chairman and CEO) Jeffrey (Lurie), (head coach) Chip (Kelly) and (general manager) Howie (Roseman). They believe in me, which means a lot. It really does. I'm just glad that I'm back. I'm glad that I didn't have to deal with free agency. That's a whole (separate) deal in itself that I don't know anything about. I'm glad that we could get something done before that hit."
In the early stages of last season's Training Camp, the Eagles suffered a pair of potentially devastating injuries to their wide receiving corps. When Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn were both sidelined with season-ending knee injuries before the team had played its first preseason game, questions arose about who would be able to step into that starting receiver position. Cooper, a former baseball player, stepped up to the plate.
Entering 2013, Cooper had never caught more than 23 passes in a season and had never totaled more than 315 receiving yards. That all changed in his first season as a starter. After a bit of a pedestrian start to the season, numbers-wise, Cooper had the first 100-yard receiving game of his career against Tampa Bay in Week 6 as he caught four passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. From there, Cooper never looked back. Over the Eagles' final 12 games of the season (including playoffs), Cooper tallied 810 of his 903 receiving yards, as well as eight of his nine touchdowns. The University of Florida product's best game came against Oakland in Week 9, when he caught five passes for 139 yards and three of Nick Foles' record-tying seven touchdown passes.
"This game is all about opportunity," Cooper said. "I've said it 1,000 times that you never want to see someone get hurt, but it does happen, unfortunately. When Jeremy went down, you don't want to see it, but I finally got to go in there and contribute and just play football, and do nothing different than what I've been doing the last few years, it's just that this game is all about opportunity and I just went out there and played football how it was supposed to be played. (I) just play hard every single down, whether it's blocking or catching, just doing everything you can to win as a team. That's truly something that I pride myself in. That was kind of the motto at Florida, so it's kind of the only thing that I know, and that's kind of the deal here."
Cooper also reflected on the off-field incident that marked part of his Training Camp last summer.
"(The organization) showed tremendous loyalty, but I'm glad that I'm back," Cooper said. "It was tough, everyone knows that. I dealt with a lot of adversity … I've got great teammates, so why would someone want to leave that? I am just extremely fortunate to be in the situation that I am now. Not a lot of people can say that they are where they want to be, and I'm here where I want to be in Philadelphia, so it feels good."
Cooper proved to be more than just a tall, physical red-zone target in 2013. The 6-foot-3, 226-pound receiver became one of the best vertical threats in the NFL, finishing in a tie with Detroit's Calvin Johnson for third in the league in yards-per-reception (17.8). He was also highly instrumental in the Eagles running game, praised again and again by Chip Kelly for his outstanding ability as a blocker.
"Riley is one of the toughest and hardest-working guys in our locker room," Kelly said. "We talk a lot about how players have to make the most of their opportunities, and he did just that last year. He used his size, strength and speed to make a lot of big plays for our team and I'm excited to watch him build upon his success."
"Riley's a tough player who can not only go up and catch the football and make big plays, but who also takes a great amount of pride in his ability to block and be physical down the field," echoed general manager Howie Roseman. "He made the most of his opportunities last year and we all expect him to build upon that. Riley wants to be an Eagle and expressed that several times to us throughout this process. We were very excited to get this done before the start of free agency."
With the new contract, Cooper can remain in an Eagles uniform through the 2018 season. As the Eagles offense continues to evolve under Kelly and the rest of the coaching staff, Cooper will be a part of the plans for years to come.
"I didn't want to go anywhere else," said Cooper. "I wanted to be here. I love the system, I feel like I fit it. I love the organization, I love Philly, the fans, and the coaching staff, so I felt like this is where I needed to be, so I'm here."
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