When Joe Banner and Andy Reid used to run the show for the Eagles, they developed a relatively new strategy for how to deal with managing the salary cap and retaining their top talent.
What they would do is identify young players that they felt were on the rise and offer them a contract extension before they had a “breakout” season. In other words, they wanted to get them at a more affordable, cap-friendly price before they could demand top dollar.
It was a calculated gamble by the Eagles’ front office. From their stand point they could secure a potential rising star at a managable price and the player would get the security of a long term contract with a signifcant raise in pay while not having to worry about being injured before free agency.
At first, the Eagles were revered for this practice because it seemed like a great solution to the salary cap/retaining-top-players issue that has plagued many teams. However, it was ultimately risky business.
With the exception of a few, this new way of doing business usually resulted in one of two things: Either the player would outperform their contract and they’d be looking for a new deal two years later, or they would underperform their contract resulting in wasted money for the team.
There was, however, another issue that resulted at times and it’s what leads me to Jeremy Maclin’s situation…
There were a few times, with players who rebuffed the team’s advances on a contract, that the relationship between player and team detiorated and ultimately led to a parting of ways.
A few cases in point…
Michael Lewis – He was the starting strong safety from 2003 – 2005 and was viewed as a tenacious hitter and a great pairing with Brian Dawkins. He was a second round pick as part of the famed 2002 draft class and became a Pro Bowl player after the 2004 season.
During that offseason, the Eagles tried signing him to an extension before his contract was up but Lewis turned them down. Mysteriously after that, Lewis’ playing time began to dwindle and he was eventually replaced in the starting lineup by 4th round rookie Sean Considine.
He was gone after the 2005 season, one year after earning All Pro honors. They cited Lewis’ play as the reasoning but it seemed to be too much of a coincidence for that to be entirely true.
Jeremiah Trotter – This was an extremlely volatile situation. The Eagles wanted to extend Trotter prior to his rookie contract expiring. They could never agree on a dollar figure and the two sides went back and forth up until the end of the 2006 season.
While it could be viewed as purely a logical decision, the Eagles placed the franchise tag on him. However, the move appeared to be in spite because of the heated nature of the relationship between he and the front office.
Trotter made it known publicly he did not want to be tagged. When he was, he litterally went into Reid’s office and went on a tirade. The Eagles eventually removed the tag but the situation had gotten out of control and he was eventually let go (only to return two years later).
David Akers – He could be the most blatant example and has at least one thing in common with the Maclin situation.
During the 2010 season, the Eagles tried to work out a new contract with Akers and made at least one offer of which he refused. After the playoff loss to the Packers, Reid uncharacteristically called Akers out after missng two field goals in a tight game.
At the time, Reid never threw his players under the bus and always shouldered the blame. The team then followed that up by drafting his replacement in the 4th round (Henery) in the following draft.
Who did the Eagles draft in Rounds 2 and 3 again this year? Oh yeah, two players that play Maclin’s position.
It was obvious that the team was pissed off about Akers with the only apparent reason being that he rejected their offer. If they were that mad about his two missed field goals in the playoffs, they would not have placed the transition tag on him that offseason (prior to drafting Henery).
Brian Dawkins – No explanation needed here, right? The two sides could never agree on money and the Eagles wouldn’t budge. It has come out since then that Lurie regretted the way that situation went down, but mostly that is because Dawk is Dawk (i.e., one of the greatest Eagles ever).
I’m not trying to say that Maclin’s situation is the exact same as any of the above players nor am I saying that his relationship with the team will deteriorate. Joe Banner and Andy Reid are long gone and there are no indications of the above type of behavior from the Kelly and Roseman tandem.
However, while things have been going well in the “reward your own players” department, it’s been a while since a player turned down the Eagles’ overtures in contract relations so it’s yet to be seen how the current regime handles such a situation.
Maclin is coming off a torn ACL and the Eagles wanted to sign him long term, but the money wasn’t to Maclin’s liking so he decided to just take a one-year deal with the plan that he’ll prove himself and warrant a bigger contract.
From the Eagles’ perspective, they like Maclin enough to want him around for a while but also saw an opportunity to maybe get him at a discount due to the injury. When that didn’t happen, the team drafted two Wide Receivers in the first three rounds to hedge their bets.
If Maclin had signed long term, it’s quite possible that they wouldn’t have drafted both Matthews and Huff. If one or both of those guys show promise this year, it may deem Maclin less valuable to the Eagles.
Not that I think Kelly or Roseman would, but could they “Mike Lewis” Maclin by not prominantly featuring him in the passing game thus allowing him to build the stats needed for stronger bargaining power?
Or would they “Brian Dawkins” him by placing a certain value on him and not budging?
The general consensus is that Maclin will have a great year and prove to be an excellent fit in Chip Kelly’s offense. I think we’ll see him crack 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, but I’ll stop short of saying he’ll “blow up.”
No matter how he produces this year, Maclin could very well be gone after 2014.
If he has a good/great year, he might out-price himself for the Eagles. If he has a mediocre year stats-wise and Maclin feels he was underutilized, it’s unlikely the Eagles would up their offer so therefore he’d want to test the market.
The one thing that could sway the Eagles’ mindset is how Matthews and Huff look this year. If both of them look as promising as expected, Maclin could be deemed expendable if he doesn’t accept their offer.
If one or both of them struggle, the Eagles may not have the confidence in them to let Maclin walk. Either that or Maclin proves to be so invaluable that it puts the pressure on the Eagles to up their offer to retain him.
One thing is for sure, it will be interesting to see how things play out.