THE EAGLES almost certainly would be better adding Jeremy Maclin as the veteran leader of their receiving corps. In fact, in a magical universe where unicorns frolic and there are no salary-cap complications, you could erase almost any receiver from their roster, replace him with Maclin, and the result would be a better 2017 unit.
And though the Birds don't have a lot of cap room right now, they could make more if they really thought they needed to. But as Maclin reportedly was leaving Baltimore on Thursday without a deal, Doug Pederson wasn't leaving the door open to a return by the Eagles' 2009 first-round pick more than just the tiniest crack.
Asked whether the team had any interest in signing Maclin, a surprise cut by the Kansas City Chiefs last week, Pederson said, "At this time, no."
Asked later in his news conference why the Eagles aren't interested in bringing back Maclin, whose 85 catches for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns got him into the Pro Bowl following the 2014 Eagles season, Pederson said something revealing, if you held his words up to the light.
"Love the guys that we have. We're always, constantly looking and obviously trying to better our roster at every position, but at this time, I'm very pleased with what we're working with . . . We have some young talent that's playing extremely well," Pederson said.
"So, going forward next week and on into camp, what I'm trying to see is where our young guys are and how well they can handle the workload with what we're trying to do offensively and in our passing game."
Some observers have puzzled over the Eagles' approach this offseason, reaching for short-term fixes in some situations (LeGarrette Blount) while emphasizing the long term in others (Sidney Jones). I'll break it down for you: Where they have a gaping hole they need to patch to make the 2017 team reasonably competitive and further Carson Wentz's growth, they're willing to do that with a short-term veteran, at the right price. But in spots where they have invested draft resources and see future building blocks, they won't do anything to hinder those players' development.
In 2017, is it likely Maclin will be more productive than fourth-round Eagles rookie Mack Hollins or fifth-round rookie Shelton Gibson? Yes. But Maclin, looking toward his ninth season at age 29, is unlikely to be all that productive in two or three years, when the Eagles think they'll be ready to seriously contend for a Super Bowl.
The Eagles aren't willing to give Maclin any of Hollins' 2017 reps. They even seem averse to declaring 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor a sunk cost, and in fact, Agholor seems like a new man at OTAs. (Yes, yes, stop snorting and waving your hand dismissively, I know, I'm just telling you how it looks right now.)
Pederson said there was no interest "at this time" because we all know how the NFL goes. Alshon Jeffery gets hurt or suspended again next week, the Eagles suddenly could be quite interested in Maclin, if he hasn't signed.
It's interesting to ponder what would have happened if the Chiefs had figured out they were in cap trouble three months ago, and cut Maclin when free agency started. My suspicion is that the Eagles still would have preferred Jeffery, who is both a much bigger target and 20 months younger than Maclin. And I suspect Maclin, though coming off an injury-clouded season, would have been able to command more than the one-year, $9.5 million deal Jeffery took with the Eagles. Jeffery also was coming off a poor season, capped by a four-game PED suspension. (Another short-term fix? Only if he bombs. Otherwise they likely will tag him while trying to work out a longer contract.)
Back in March, Maclin certainly wouldn't have taken the one-year, $4.5 million deal the Eagles signed with 28-year-old Torrey Smith, which includes a team option for two more seasons.
The Eagles' Maclin stance seems reasonably popular and figures to remain so, right up to the point at which they lose games this season because Jeffery, Smith, Hollins or Gibson is struggling. Or the point at which they start thinking Agholor finally has turned the corner, begin to rely on him, and he lets them down in a crucial spot. Or the point at which Jordan Matthews' patellar tendinitis becomes a seasonlong, up-and-down saga.
Right now, Hollins looks almost too good to be true - 6-4, 221, excellent hands and nifty feet, mature and focused - but Gibson is struggling.
"Learning the playbook is the biggest thing for me right now . . . coming out there and just giving effort, not worrying about (the result)," Gibson said Thursday.
He dropped two passes in a row in one drill Thursday, and has fought the ball more than a few times during the OTA workouts reporters have been allowed to watch.
"Everything is moving at a fast pace right now, just need to focus in on stuff," said Gibson, whose long speed is projected to add an element the 2016 Eagles lacked.
"I'm just focusing on learning this playbook," Gibson said, when told of Pederson's denial of interest in Maclin. "It's totally different," he said, from what he did at West Virginia. "Having to switch from 'X' to 'Z,' knowing everybody's concepts. Didn't really have to do that at West Virginia. It's a lot of things on my mind."
Gibson said it helps that new Eagles wide receivers coach Mike Groh "is teaching us how to catch the ball, instead of 'You gotta catch the damn ball!' and stuff like that."
Agholor, asked whether the lack of interest in Maclin was good news for him, said he knew nothing of Maclin's situation and wasn't concerned about anything like that.
Agholor, you might recall, was the guy Chip Kelly drafted 20th overall to replace Maclin, after Kansas City offered more money (a $22.5 million guarantee in what was then a five-year, $55 million deal) than Kelly thought Maclin was worth. Kelly then shrugged and gave the money he'd earmarked for Maclin to DeMarco Murray, and well, we all know how that turned out.
Friday, by the way, is the one-year anniversary of Agholor's trip to a "gentleman's club," which resulted in a sexual-assault allegation from a dancer, though the Philadelphia district attorney's office declined to bring charges after investigating. Sources close to the situation have said there was a dispute over payment.
Thursday, Agholor again worked from the slot, as he has quite a bit this spring, possibly because Matthews is sitting out for precautionary reasons. He caught a long bomb down the middle from Carson Wentz.
"I played there in college and I'm used to it," Agholor said. "I feel great and I'm enjoyin' working . . . That's where I'm at in my life right now; I'm enjoying every bit of just getting better.
"We think we're going to be a special wide-receiver unit. We think we're special in that room right now, and every day we're just trying to make plays. It's exciting, it's fun, and we're in a good place."