A tumultuous, seesaw season for Riley Cooper is over.
Six months ago, Cooper’s NFL career was in question. Video of him using a racial slur went viral. He was on leave from the Eagles. Would he return or wouldn’t he? And if not, would he ever play again?
Now, Cooper’s career is in question again, but for a much different reason. He is scheduled to become a free agent. Will he return or won’t he?
Cooper hopes so.
“Who knows what will happen. Who knows who will be back. Who knows the moves they’re going to make,” Cooper said after the Eagles’ season-ending 26-24 loss Saturday night to the Saints. “But everyone says it, ‘Oh I want to be back with the team.’ They’re not going to say [they don’t want to be].
“I want to be back. I want to be back. I love the system. I flourish in this system. I feel like blocking. I do all those things and I play the game so hard. I want to be back, for sure.”
The Eagles should want him back. The four-year veteran has developed an uncanny chemistry with Nick Foles, the team’s starter of the future (see story). After a slow start, Cooper erupted. In his first five games -- all games started by Michael Vick -- he had eight catches for 93 yards and one touchdown.
In Week 6 against Tampa -- Foles’ first start -- he had four receptions for 120 yards and one touchdown. When Foles tied the league record by lighting up the Raiders with seven touchdown passes, Cooper caught three of them, including a 63-yarder. A week later, he had two more at Green Bay to tie Ben Hawkins for the most TD catches over a two-game span in team history.
Cooper finished with 47 receptions for 835 yards and eight scores -- obviously all career highs for the Clearwater, Fla. native who was drafted by the Phillies in 2006 and in the fifth round by the Eagles in 2010. He gained 17.8 yards per reception, tied for third in the league with none other than Calvin Johnson and behind Josh Gordon and league-leader Kenny Stills, whom the Eagles held to just three catches for 35 yards (11.7 per) Saturday night.
Cooper meanwhile had a game-high six catches for 68 yards and a TD -- and one glaring drop.
“Think I had two drops all year. This one came at a crappy time,” he said. “Nick threw a great ball. I caught it and I tried to turn up the field so fast, I took my eyes off of it and dropped it.”
If the Eagles bring back Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, who missed the season with a torn ACL, and pair them with deep threat DeSean Jackson and possession receiver Jason Avant, Chip Kelly’s offense becomes that much more prolific.
“You’ve gotta be proud of the direction we’re headed. We made it to the playoffs. Everything was so new -- coaching staff, system -- so we’re headed in the right direction,” Cooper said.
“I want to be here. I love Chip. I love the system. ... Will I be back? I don’t know. I really don’t know, but I hope so.”
The system and the direction are two relevant reasons Cooper wants to be back. But even more important is this: He wants to remain with the team that helped him resurrect his career.
“What great teammates I have,” he said. “To have my back and really just be there for me. They definitely were. I just wanted to go out there, not do a lot of talking, and just try to play football how football’s supposed to be played. You play it hard. You play it tough. You block. I just try to play the game how it’s supposed to be played.”