This is the first of what could be a handful of moves as the Eagles clean up the salary cap, tighten up the roster and prepare for free agency (March 9) and the NFL Draft in April. Wide receiver is a position that must give more production, so releasing veteran Riley Cooper on Monday wasn't all that surprising.
His production dwindled since the breakout season of 2013 when he caught 47 passes, scored eight touchdowns and averaged 17.8 yards per reception. The 2014 catch total of 55 was a career high, but Cooper scored only three touchdowns as the team's passing game took a step back. In 2015, Cooper caught 21 passes for 327 yards and two scores and played 49 percent of the team's offensive snaps. The move to release Cooper saves the Eagles $2.9 million within the salary cap, according to OverTheCap.com.
And what does it mean for the wide receiver corps? It means that the group is headed by Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff and that behind them there are questions. Jonathan Krause and Freddie Martino are under contract for the 2016 campaign, while Seyi Ajirotutu is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March.
The Eagles need more production from that group, top to bottom, as the offense evolves into what head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich envision. There are other needs on that side of the football – answering the quarterback position leads the way, and improving the offensive line is next on the list – so we'll see how the Eagles address wide receiver in free agency and/or the NFL Draft.
For now, though, the wide receiver room is very young and, other than two productive seasons from Matthews, extremely unproven. Here is a look at the receivers on the roster and an analysis of what they bring to the table for this offense.
JORDAN MATTHEWS, third season
Nobody works harder. Nobody approaches the game in a more professional manner. Few in the NFL have been as productive in their first two seasons as has Jordan Matthews, who has 152 receptions in 2014-2015, the 10th most by an NFL player in his first two years. Matthews did his damage, a huge percentage of it, from the slot in the Chip Kelly offense and it remains to be seen how Pederson and Reich plan to use him. Pederson believes that Matthews can play inside or outside and be effective, and wide receivers coach Greg Lewis echoes that evaluation.
At the moment, Matthews is the go-to receiver in the passing game. He has the size and the route-running skills and the ability to get down the field. Matthews worked his way through an inconsistent early 2015 to finish with a strong second half of the season.
NELSON AGHOLOR, second season
This is a critical offseason for Nelson Agholor after a 23-catch rookie campaign. Agholor was slowed by a mid-season ankle injury and he showed some encouraging signs late in the year, but for the most part it just did not go as planned. Many expected Agholor to make as much of an impact as any receiver taken in the draft because of his route-running abilities, his hands, his explosiveness after the catch and his maturity. That wasn't the case.
The Eagles remain high on Agholor. Lewis speaks highly of him, haviing scouted Agholor when Lewis worked in 2015 for New Orleans and the Saints had strong grades on Agholor entering the draft. Agholor needs to make that jump that so many players do from their first seasons to Year 2 in the league. He could have a very significant role in 2016.
JOSH HUFF, third season
Josh Huff went from eight receptions in his rookie season to 27 in 2015, but it still wasn't enough. His playing time yo-yoed. The coaching staff never seemed to have a lot of trust in Huff, who scored three touchdowns and who at times was explosive with the football in his hands.
Can Huff take the next step? Can he be a more consistent player to go along with his obvious dynamic skills? It's a whole new ballgame for Huff and for the receiving corps. Lewis says he is excited to work with Huff to see if he can bring the best out of his game, improve his consistency and make him a week-in, week-out threat.
JONATHAN KRAUSE, second season
For a minute there, and literally just a minute, it seemed like Jonathan Krause was going to get an extended look in game situations. He played in two games, at New England on December 6 and against Washington on December 26, and in each game Krause registered a catch. Season totals: two receptions, 11 yards.
And a bunch of questions.
At 5-11, 190 pounds, Krause is big enough to play in the league and he runs well enough, too. Can he find a home in the new offense? Is he able to, for example, play in the slot. Where would Lewis like to use him? Krause had a good career at Vanderbilt, so maybe all he needs is some time.
Krause is the kind of young receiver who can benefit from a coaching change. He's going to have an entirely new perspective now. Let's see how he fares.
FREDDIE MARTINO, second season
Signed as a rookie free agent by the Falcons in 2014, Freddie Martino played in one game that season for Atlanta. He was signed or waived eight times by the Falcons before the Eagles signed him last August.
After falling just short of the 53-man roster, Martino was added to the practice squad in September and he spent the season there for the Eagles.
The only time we saw Martino stand out in a game situation was when he made a superb touchdown catch off of a Tim Tebow pass in the 2015 preseason finale at the New York Jets, and the catch may have earned him a practice squad invitation.
Martino has good size at 6-0, 196 pounds. He had a terrific college career at North Greenville, catching 296 passes for 3,766 yards and 26 touchdowns in 48 games for the Crusaders.
SEYI AJIROTUTU, seventh season
Seyi Ajirotutu has made his mark in the NFL as a special teams and he played well for the Eagles in that regard last season. He has not been able to consistently help in the passing game, however. Ajirotutu is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 9.
There are six receivers on this roster, so clearly the Eagles are going to add to the position. They have some options in free agency and in the draft and in the post-draft period when trades are made and non-drafted rookies are signed.
Production is king here, and the Eagles need more. Releasing Cooper on Monday was the first move to re-shaping the wide receiver corps and making it more well-rounded and consistent.