There was that moment in the Eagles' third preseason game when Jeremy Maclin took off from the line of scrimmage, ran 10 yards downfield, started a cut to the inside, and something went awry with his right knee. It locked as he planted, and Maclin fell and grabbed at the knee as the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field went quiet.
He said later that nothing aside from the pain was going through his mind, but the rest of the stadium was thinking that a man who had two previous anterior cruciate ligament tears and had bet heavily against a third might have made the wrong decision.
Maclin turned down a five-year contract earlier this year in favor of a one-season deal that guaranteed less overall money but gave him the opportunity to become a highly paid free agent if he could stay healthy and be productive on the field.
Fortunately for both Maclin and the Eagles, the preseason incident turned out to be just a slight hyperextension, and the first eight games of the regular season have so far validated his strategy. Maclin says he wants to stay with the Eagles for the rest of his career, but if this season continues apace, he's going to be rewarded somewhere.
"I'm not going to call it gambling on myself. I just think it was the best situation for myself and my family," Maclin said. "As far as the contract, when the time is right that stuff will take care of itself. The most important thing is playing football and helping the team win games."
The other Eagles players selected Maclin as the team's 2014 winner of the Ed Block Courage Award. That was certainly a recognition of Maclin's comeback not only from the ACL surgery that kept him out all last season, but his ability to persevere through a similar injury in college and a cancer scare in 2011. On the business side of the ledger, however, the honor from his teammates had something to do with that contract courage, too.
"It takes guts, but he's got 'em," tight end Brent Celek said. "He believes in himself to the point where he thought he was going to play well, and he is."
Maclin has been on the field for 87 percent of the offensive snaps this season and has averaged 10 targets and nearly six receptions per game. With 45 catches, 790 yards, and eight touchdowns, he's on a pace to set new personal records in all those categories. Entering this weekend's games, he was fifth in receiving yards in the NFL and second in average yards per reception (17.6).
"It's been a long way back, but I feel like I've been back for a while. Time does heal, and I'm healed right now," Maclin said. "With everything I've gone through . . . I've learned not to take it for granted. It's a privilege, not a guarantee."
The Eagles, who signed Maclin to the one-year deal with $3.5 million guaranteed in February, could negotiate right now to avoid free agency after the season, but the team hasn't extended a contract in-season since 2009. A source familiar with the situation told The Inquirer's Jeff McLane no negotiations are currently taking place.
"Oh, he's going to get paid. I just hope he gets paid here," center Jason Kelce said. "He's a breath of fresh air out there. He comes to work ready to go every single practice. A lot of times receivers tend to be divas, and that's not him. He's a very confident individual. He had already come back from [ACL surgery] once. Generally speaking, you're more hesitant the second time you tear it. How many times can you tear it and keep coming back? But he's a very confident man."
In the last two games, Maclin has combined for 18 catches, 345 yards, and four touchdowns and was the NFC offensive player of the week for the first time in his career following the Houston game. His 187 yards against Arizona and 158 yards against Houston rank among the top four individual games of his six-year career.
Maclin was betting on his ability, but so were the Eagles when they released DeSean Jackson and kept Maclin as their lone, true deep threat. So far, at the halfway point of the season, there has been a payoff. Now Maclin just has to parlay that start into a healthy finish. As he said, and as he knows better than most, there's no guarantee there.
"A lot of people don't do what he did, because they take the secure deal and be safe with it," cornerback Cary Williams said. "And it is 100 percent injury rate out there. That's something to think about. But you have to have a strong faith in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself, nobody else will. This is a business. It is a team sport, but it's also an individual business. Part of the business is having that confidence in yourself."
Call it confidence or call it courage. The Eagles give Jeremy Maclin props for the first one. They took a look at what he decided personally, and thought about what they might have done in the same situation, and they gave him an award for the second.