Jeremy Maclin's future in Philadelphia beyond the 2013 season is in doubt. The fifth-year wideout is entering the final year of the rookie contract he signed in 2009, and the Eagles will have to decide sometime between now and next March whether to re-sign him.
Maclin has been productive through four seasons, but hasn't reached the upper limits of the potential projected by many when he was selected No. 19 overall in the NFL Draft. Maclin himself understands that he may be playing for long-term deal this season. Via Philadelphia Magazine:
"This is the team and organization that drafted me. I don't want to leave," Maclin said. "But at the end of the day, that's going to get brought up and come up when it's time for it. All I can do is go out there and play ball, and I'm going to play to the best of my ability."
On the surface, the case for re-signing Maclin is easy. Few players have more consistent season-by-season numbers. His 773 yards receiving in his rookie year is a pretty good low mark, and only four other players in NFL history--Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Hakeem Nicks and Isaac Bruce--have had at least 250 receptions and 3,500 yards receiving before their 25th birthday, according to CSN Philly.
Yet Maclin was occasionally mentioned as a trade piece before the 2013 NFL Draft, in part because some feel he hasn't lived up to they hype of being a former first round draft pick. His high water mark remains a 2010 season during which he caught 70 passes for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns. Breakout seasons have been anticipated since, but Maclin didn't improve in 2011 and 2012, posting 63/859/5 and 69/857/7 seasons, respectively. Maclin's consistent season totals also mask a tendency to disappear from week to week. Last season, he averaged just over 57 yards per game in 15 appearances, but had just one performance within 15 yards of that average. Maclin had at least 93 yards receiving in five games, and 39 yards or below in seven games.
Maclin also occupied a significantly different role than the one many envisioned under former Eagles head coach Andy Reid. Maclin's NFL Combine profile described a boom-or-bust type hyper-athlete who may rely too much on his athleticism and may have trouble refining his routes for the NFL. Overall, the skillset seemed well-suited for Reid, an acolyte of the West Coast Offense, which thrives on quick passes meant to get the ball to wideouts with room to run. Surprisingly, however, Maclin has not been a particularly good receiver after the catch. Last season, he finished 48th in the NFL averaging 4.2 YAC per reception, behind teammate DeSean Jackson (5.4) and well behind league leader Percy Harvin (8.7). Maclin's rookie year 4.5 YAC per reception remains a career high.
To be fair, Maclin has also dealt with mitigating circumstances. The put it nicely, the quarterback play in Philadelphia has been spotty during his time. Maclin posted his best numbers when Michael Vick threw for 3,018 yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions in just 12 games in 2009, and perhaps it isn't a coincidence that Maclin has since hit a plateau as Vick struggles to regain his form, much less stay healthy. Maclin is also competing for attention with Jackson and running back LeSean McCoy, both of whom were recently signed to long-term extensions.
The presence of Jackson and McCoy only compound Maclin's need to stand out, however. Teams only have cap space for so many playmakers, and the Eagles have already decided that Jackson and McCoy are worth tethering to the payroll for the foreseeable future. Maclin will command a larger price tag than the roughly $3 million per season he earned off his rookie contract, and he will need to demonstrate to the franchise that he is a necessary part of the Eagles' success going forward.
Which brings us to Chip Kelly, the Eagles' new head coach and the one man who may have more control over Maclin's future than Maclin himself. Plenty of articles have been written about what Kelly's offense will look like, the only conclusion being that no one knows for sure. If the Eagles run a variation of Oregon's run-first spread offense, however, Maclin could be in trouble. Maclin has been well documented as a poor blocker, a trait that Kelly valued highly at Oregon, perhaps even more than receiving ability. Only Jeff Maehl in 2010 had more than 1,000 yard sreceiving during Kelly's six years as the offensive coordinator or head coach of the Ducks. Last year, no player had more than 45 receptions or 493 yards receiving.
The fact that the Eagles drafted a Matt Barkley, a pure pocket passer, in the fourth round of April's draft suggests that Kelly isn't necessarily married to a run-heavy offense, but until the 2013 season kicks off, there is no way to know for sure. Maclin seems confident he will be able to prove his worth on the field, and perhaps he is right. Maybe niggling injuries have hampered him and maybe 2013 will finally be the breakout year so many have predicted in the past.
But what happens if Maclin simply "good," yet again? What would 65 receptions, 900 yards mean and six touchdowns mean for 2014 and beyond? Unless Maclin is truly exceptional, we may see him in another uniform next summer.