“….It seems like a long time ago that we were leading the NFL in 20+ yard plays..” said Eagles GM Howie Roseman during the offseason. With rumors swirling surrounding a potential reunion with DeSean Jackson, Roseman stated his intent. “…I don’t have a DeLorean time machine to go back in time and get some of those guys back.”
Late yesterday evening, a headline emerged that shocked many and perked the ears of Philadelphia Eagles fans. The Kansas City Chiefs parted ways with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin after just two seasons, reportedly saving them $10M in cap space. With a surge of young talent that is now surrounding Alex Smith, the cap savings made too much sense for the Chiefs, but would bringing Maclin back to the team that drafted him five years ago make sense for the Eagles?
If Maclin was released in the weeks proceeding the start of free agency, this would be a legitimate discussion…but it isn’t. The Eagles sought a receiver in the prime of his career during that period, and they arguably snagged the top talent available in Alshon Jeffery. Not only that, but the team would also add Torrey Smith to their depth chart on a prove-it deal with plenty of flexibility. Then came the NFL Draft, and the decisions to bring in Shelton Gibson and Mack Hollins. Without even thinking about where Maclin would fit, it’s safe to say that the Eagles are STACKED on the outside. Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham, Bryce Treggs, Paul Turner, Marcus Johnson and Greg Ward Jr are just SOME of the names who we are yet to mention.
In terms of fitting in, that’s a whole new debate. Alshon Jeffery and Jordan Matthews may have their roles cemented, but it’s the second spot on the outside that’s widely up for competition. Torrey Smith is looking to bounce back from a disappointing campaign in San Francisco, while his direct competition is an incredibly crisp route runner who has had his fair share of demons to battle along the way, Nelson Agholor. However, with Mike Groh replacing Greg Lewis as the team’s wide receiver coach…Agholor appears to be competing with a new fire in his belly and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
If the team are to pay Jeremy Maclin what could turn out to be a lucrative deal with plenty of financial security, his role has to be clear…and the only thing that is clear to me is that he wouldn’t resume the number one role he had when last in the City of Brotherly Love. If anything, Maclin’s role would likely replicate what we saw last season in Kansas City…and even if the team did part ways with someone like Torrey Smith which would sting them with a hit of $500,000, would the production in a role that isn’t as glamorous as Eagles fans remember warrant cost of another “prove-it” deal?
Then there’s the other side of the coin. When DeSean Jackson was heavily linked with a team aching for a deep-threat when free agency began, fans and media alike seemed besotted with the idea of seeing Jackson coming home. But as opposed to paying Jackson a three-year deal worth $33.5M, the team would add two deep threats through the draft, including Shelton Gibson who ran a 4.39 40-yard dash. With the 118th overall pick, the Eagles selected Mack Hollins. A collar bone injury held Hollins back in 2016, as he received for 309 yards and four scores in the seven games he did play. In the year beforehand, he averaged 24.8 yards per reception and recorded eight touchdowns and 745 yards on 30 targets.
The motive was simple. The Eagles cannot afford to overpay for wide receivers when building continuity. If the Eagles did decide to pull the trigger on Jeremy Maclin, the team would likely have three receivers on prove-it deals and one in his final contracted year. If by the end of 2017 the team are in a win-now mode and make the playoffs, that mean’s low draft capital and a lack of salary cap space that will only haunt them as the flashes of talent will simply pass them by. It’s something Roseman echoed earlier in the offseason.
“We have to be disciplined. We have to stick to our plan. We have to stick to our process. That has to show up in the draft. I’m sure that everyone can sit here and write about positions of need, we understand that. We’re going to do what’s right when you have young players.”
It’s likely that Maclin would seek a hefty contract…something that the Eagles aren’t exactly in a strong position to offer. With just over $5M in cap space, the team have been fighting the pressures of looming salary cap pressure all offseason long, restructuring plenty of contracts and asking numerous players to take pay cuts along the way. Not only that, but Maclin’s numbers naturally stagnated with some injury setbacks and emergence of others around him.
During his 15 game campaign in 2015, the former Eagles wideout amassed a career-high 87 catches for 1,088 yards and eight scores. Just one year later, his career-low 44 receptions for 536 yards and two touchdowns were accompanied by seven drops.
If the Eagles were still in need of a number one wide receiver, then the decision to bring back Jeremy Maclin is an easy one. But with Alshon Jeffery and an abundance of competition at the position, it would be an incredibly bold move to completely destroy the idea of a “prove-it” deal and replace Torrey Smith with yet another wideout on a deal that will be more expensive, just because he spent a large portion of his career with the Eagles.
The Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas era is well underway, and nothing the duo have done so far has underwhelmed. The contracts, the rookies, the free agency additions, the Eagles are building a powerhouse of continuity that can be sustained through the draft and bolstered with veterans on prove-it deals. The reason Douglas was bought in to begin with, was to help bring that level of stability to the Eagles…and suddenly throwing all of those chips to one side to reunite with a former player who may not have a higher upside than Smith or Agholor just doesn’t fit the new tightly-nit structure that the two have implemented.
Maclin is a brilliant receiver. Capable of playing in the slot or on the outside, his toughness and ability to be a threat from anywhere on the field have been well documented. But as Howie Roseman said, it’s not as simple as turning back time..and just like repairing a broken relationship, it’s never going to be as magical as it was the first time round.
Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports