Riley Cooper isn’t with the Eagles right now and it’s uncertain when he’s coming back.
What is clear, Eagles coach Chip Kelly said Friday after practice, is that Cooper will be back on the team at some point and that parting ways with the fourth-year wideout isn’t part of the team’s plan (see story).
Cooper, who practiced with the team Thursday one day after he apologized to teammates and the public for making a racial slur at a concert, left the team indefinitely Friday morning to undergo sensitivity counseling.
“There has never been any question of cutting Riley,” Kelly said, who said that he and the front office had hatched most of the plan Wednesday night. “Riley was in full agreement that he needed to get some assistance in this situation. Took us about 24 to 36 hours to kind of put a plan in place.
“It was really important, I thought, for Riley to be with us [Thursday]. Just didn't want him sitting at home so, he was here with the team, and when we finally got plans in place, I met with him again [Friday] morning.”
Kelly said he didn’t “have an exact timetable” for Cooper’s return.
“That will get figured out,” he said, “but his status with us is not in question,” which contradicts reports that the Eagles had decided to cut him or that Cooper’s presence on the roster is only because injured receiver Jeremy Maclin is out for the rest of the season.
Asked if missed time would jeopardize Cooper’s chance to make the 53-man roster, Kelly said personnel decisions weren’t part of the decision and aren’t “an issue” for the team. Whether Cooper can be released for performance reasons wasn’t a topic Kelly was ready to address.
“It's Aug. 2, so you're way ahead of yourself right now in terms of that,” he added. “Again, there hasn't been one question about a roster spot.”
Kelly repeatedly said the decision to have Cooper leave indefinitely isn’t “a football decision.” He didn’t detail whether Cooper’s recovery program would tackle race exclusively or also involve alcohol or anger management. Cooper admitted that he had been drinking at the concert.
“This is a life deal,” Kelly added, “so let’s make sure we assist Riley in any way we can.”
Several players have either supported or expressed skepticism about their teammate since the viral video of Cooper hurling a slur at an African-American security guard interrupted Kelly’s first training camp.
On Friday morning, players and coaches again huddled to share feelings, a meeting Kelly described as positive. Cary Williams, who has offered support for Cooper, said the situation remained an “elephant in the room” and that Cooper would need to address teammates again when he returns.
Michael Vick and Jason Avant, two leaders who had already expressed support for Cooper, didn’t deviate from their message, even with Cooper absent.
Vick said Cooper, a 2010 fifth-round pick, is “a great player” with the “potential to be even better than what he’s shown as of this point in his career.” He also spoke about a plan already devised to welcome Cooper back, “and become one of the guys again.”
Avant, who said he had hoped Cooper didn’t have to leave, has “constantly” reached out to his teammate to show support and encouragement.
“He’s very, very contrite, and it’s sincere,” Avant said. “When he was at Florida, some of his best teammates happened to be my complexion. And here, that’s just my boy. I tell him every day -- before this situation -- every time we go out to practice, I say, ‘I love you.’ That’s how we feel about each other.
“I’m not downplaying what he said. What I am saying is that I have a body of work with him over the years and I’m not going to take one little thing and heap that on top of a body of work.”
Cooper practiced on Thursday and told reporters that he hadn’t felt any cold shoulders from teammates, but some teammates after practice still seemed either confused or uncertain if Cooper’s apology rang true or if the video revealed his true feelings.
Whether healing can occur faster with Cooper away from camp drew mixed reactions. If Cooper hadn’t left, Williams said he would have “practiced against him just like he was out here every other day, almost like he didn’t say it because I can get past it.” DeSean Jackson added that, “At the end of the day, he's still our teammate. He hasn't been released or he hasn't been dismissed from our team.”
But Williams admitted that the recovery process differs from teammate to teammate.
“I know it’s a hard situation to get through, and everybody is different in the locker room,” he said. “You’ve got different personalities. People live differently. It can be difficult to deal with and cope with the situation. Right now that’s what we’re in, that transition period to find out a way to deal with it and get through it.”
Kelly, who has said the damage from Cooper’s remark can’t be repaired overnight, expressed concern about the locker room psyche, which factored into the team’s decision to react swiftly.
“Obviously, in this situation there's going to be ... not everybody's going to be in agreement with whatever went on, one way or the other,” he said, “and I think that's very understandable.
“I told our guys this is going to take some time, some time to totally wrap our arms around the whole situation and understand kind of the gravity of when you speak there is weight behind your words. I think it's natural, to be honest with you.”
Vick wouldn’t go into detail about the reintegration plan he referenced, but Avant mentioned that Cooper “wants to have an open dialogue” and “confront things as men,” especially for the teammates who weren’t totally sold on the receiver’s apology.
Kelly guaranteed that more discussions would take place down the road, ensuring that the issue is never buried in the sand.
“I think, as I told the guys today, when we were young and we grew up, we heard sticks and stones will break our bones, but words will never hurt us. That's not true,” he said. “Words can hurt.
“We all should watch what we say whether it's a racist comment or sexist comment or sexual orientation comment because your words have impact. When you say them, people listen and it can hurt people. I think as a group there's one thing we can all do moving forward and educate ourselves that we should watch our tone and we should watch what we say, because it can impact people.”