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Maclin's departure just business

The Eagles sought to keep wide receiver Jeremy Maclin but placed a value on him they would not exceed.

(Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
(Yong Kim/Staff file photo)Read more

JEREMY MACLIN came back from a career-threatening ACL injury to have the best season of his career, catching 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Now he's gone, headed for a reunion in Kansas City with the man who drafted him, Andy Reid, and Eagles fans want to know how in the hell this happened; how in the hell a supposedly smart guy like Chip Kelly could do something so insane like letting Maclin walk.

It wasn't personal, and it certainly wasn't racial, as ESPN's Stephen A. Smith suggested yesterday, conveniently focusing on the color of Riley Cooper's skin and ignoring the color of the two wide receivers Kelly selected in the second and third rounds of the draft last year, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff.

It was business.

Maclin is a very good but not great wide receiver who averaged an impressive 69 catches and seven touchdowns per season with the Eagles. He isn't one of the 10 best wideouts in the league and probably isn't one of the 15 best, either. But he is very good.

Kelly and the Eagles wanted to re-sign him. But not at any cost. They made him what they felt was a generous offer, but had a "walkaway" number when they negotiated with his agent. When the agent asked for more than that amount, they wished him well and said goodbye.

As former Eagles president Joe Banner pointed out in my Monday column, this is an ideal year for free agents to test the market. The salary cap has jumped $20 million over the last 2 years. Many teams are flush with money. As of Sunday, 12 teams had at least $30 million in cap space. Nineteen had at least $20 million.

Teams overpay players in free agency every year, but this year could end up setting a new standard for stupidity. Hell, the Eagles are giving a 6-year, $63 million deal with $25 million in guaranteed money to a cornerback with 17 career starts (Byron Maxwell).

The Chiefs' desperation level for a wide receiver was even greater than the Eagles' for a cornerback. They didn't have a wideout catch a single touchdown pass last season.

When Randall Cobb, who was regarded as the top-rated wideout on the free-agent market, re-signed with the Packers over the weekend, Maclin and the Ravens' Torrey Smith moved to the top of the heap.

Maclin's deal with the Chiefs reportedly averages out to $11 million a year, which is a million a year more than the Packers gave Cobb, who played Babe Ruth in Green Bay to Jordy Nelson's Lou Gehrig. Cobb's 4-year deal included $17 million in guaranteed money. It's still not known what percentage of Maclin's contract is guaranteed.

After selecting wide receivers in the second and third rounds of the draft last season, and with this year's draft again featuring a deep wide-receiver class, it wouldn't have made much sense for the Eagles to give Maclin the kind of contract the Chiefs gave him.

Again, all of this doesn't mean Kelly didn't want to keep him. It means the Eagles had a value on him, just like every team has on every player, and they weren't inclined to disregard that value and overpay him.

What is Maclin's value? Good question. He's not an elite receiver. He's not Calvin Johnson or Demaryius Thomas or Dez Bryant or Odell Beckham Jr. or Julio Jones or A.J. Green.

He's not Antonio Brown or Nelson or Cobb or Alshon Jeffery or Brandon Marshall.

He's not what you would call a difference-maker. He doesn't draw double-teams. He doesn't have great speed or size. He's just a guy who works his tail off and gets every ounce of ability out of his body. He's a guy you want to have on your team, but not necessarily at $11 million a year.

His overall numbers last season were impressive, but he finished tied for 15th in the league in receiving first downs with 56.

He wasn't much of a third-down weapon, catching just 16 passes on third down. Sixty receivers in the league - 60 - had more third-down receptions than Maclin, including teammates Matthews (24) and tight end Zach Ertz (23).

Maclin had just six catches and three TDs in the red zone. Matthews had 10 and six. Cooper had five and three.

I'm not mentioning these numbers to disparage Maclin. I'm mentioning them to show why the Eagles were reluctant to break the bank to keep him.

The news Sunday that he would be signing with the Chiefs caused some teeth-gnashing among Eagles fans, mainly because they're looking at the fact that the only other wide receivers on the roster at the moment are Matthews, Cooper and Josh Huff.

While Matthews had an impressive rookie season playing exclusively in the slot, Cooper had just three TD catches and averaged 10.5 yards per catch after being given a 5-year, $22.5 million deal ($8 million guaranteed) in January 2014, and Huff had only eight catches as a rookie.

But let's show a little patience. It's the 10th of March, for God's sake. Let's see if Kelly signs another veteran wide receiver in free agency. Let's see if he addresses the position again in the draft.

The wide-receiver crop is one of the deepest in the draft again. Somewhere from 12 to 15 could go in the first three rounds.

Despite Huff's rookie struggles, Kelly still has high hopes for the Oregon product. There's no reason to believe that Matthews, who had 67 receptions and eight TDs as a rookie, isn't going to keep getting better. And you would think Kelly will find a way to get Ertz as involved in the passing game on first and second down as he was on third down.

So, don't despair quite yet. Wait a little while. Wait until after the draft before you start hollering that the sky is falling.

On Twitter: @Pdomo