While the LeSean McCoy quotes claiming Chip Kelly coaches with racist prejudices circled the media this week, fans largely shot up in frustration against the former Eagle. McCoy’s comments both seem bitter and irresponsible, openly using the media to blast a former coach. However, one coattail of the team that these racist allegations might hang on to is Riley Cooper, and the fact that Kelly has kept him on the team.
Cooper has been hogging the negative spotlight in the media over the past few years. The infractions began when a video was leaked of Cooper using a racial slur while drunk at a Kenny Chesney concert, which expectedly ignited a massive debate over whether or not Kelly should keep Cooper. Chip Kelly, a first-year coach, wisely deferred to his team veterans and leaders, namely Michael Vick and Jason Avant. These two players, also likely offended by the slur, felt it right to forgive Cooper for his mistake, and justified Kelly’s decision to keep him.
Cooper broke out as a receiver that season, complementing DeSean Jackson well and supplying big plays in the red zone. With the Eagles debating whether or not to keep Jackson after “culture issues” that had manifested themselves in 2013, the team had no choice but to keep Cooper on board. Having to rely on multiple rookie receivers to complement Jeremy Maclin would have been difficult—as shown through Josh Huff, who’s talent was marred by youthful mistakes last year—so Kelly kept Cooper to create stability at the receiver position. The contract seemed somewhat hefty, though a justifiable reward to a player who preformed well the previous year.
More transgressions followed suit, however. Cooper fell off the map in 2014, and didn’t live up to the salary he was earning from his new deal. Cooper seemed to be at fault for many of the Eagles interceptions this past year, and often didn’t contest for jump balls the same way he did in 2013. Additionally, Cooper was criticized for attempting to make a joke of Jeremy Maclin trying to earn a contract, claiming it was the reason why Maclin stayed on the field more.
Cooper has been a lightning rod for those agreeing with LeSean McCoy’s racist accusations. They argue that Kelly let go of Jackson and McCoy, two African-American players. for character and culture issues, yet kept Cooper, a caucasian player who used a racial slur, made inappropriate comments about a teammates’ finances, and underperformed at the very same position as Jackson.
So why is Riley Cooper still a member of the Philadelphia Eagles?
Due to the wording of Cooper’s contract, if the Eagles were to release the former Gator now, they would be on the hook for $6.2 million against the cap. Keeping him only costs $4.8 million, which is a large sum, but significantly less than the amount owed if the Eagles cut Cooper. In hindsight, the Eagles made a financial howler last year when they paid Cooper much more than he was worth. Now, Kelly and the Eagles are forced to keep him in order to avoid the $1.4 million cap hit that would be tacked on if he was cut.
However, if the Eagles decide to cut Cooper after June 1st, the team would actually save $1 million, If Cooper was cut now, all of his owed bonuses in future years would be accelerated onto the team’s cap, adding the $1.4 million extra to the cap.. However, the NFL has a rule in place stating that if a player is cut with a “June 1st designation,” then his future bonus money does not count against the current year’s cap. Cooper could well be one of the two players the team is allowed to use this on, as it would help the team escape a poor financial decision.
Furthermore, cutting Cooper after June 1st would allow the Eagles and Chip Kelly to move past the culture-racism debate that has haunted the team. Cooper’s racial slur would be well behind the Eagles if thy cut him, and any proponents of racist allegations, including one LeSean McCoy, would be left without a leg to stand on. With the team having drafted Nelson Agholor to group with a promising Jordan Matthews and an improving Josh Huff, Cooper seems to be the odd man out anyway.
Kelly and the Eagles hoped to save their salary cap fortune, and ended up mortgaging their media fame and reputations in the process. Now that the receiver position is in good hands (no pun intended), it’s about the time the Eagles let go of Cooper: the most polarizing lead-blocker in Eagles history.