The news that Riley Cooper has left the Philadelphia Eagles to seek counseling leads to an obvious follow-up question: Do the Eagles plan to bring him back?
When Eagles running back LeSean McCoy came out and wondered if he could ever trust Cooper again, after seeing the video of him saying a racial slur at a concert, it became apparent that this was going to be a divisive issue that wouldn't be forgotten in a day or so. The fact is, if it's an issue in the locker room now, it will be an issue whether Cooper returns in a few days, a week, a month or whenever.
The only way to totally eliminate all those hard feelings and awkwardness is to remove Cooper from the roster by cutting him. That's the reality the Eagles have to be weighing while Cooper is out of the building and the team can take a step back and assess the situation.
"I just don't know how you can save this situation," former Packers receiver Sterling Sharpe said on NFL Network. "Get him out for the month of August, bring him back in September and expect all to be well? I'm still going to remember what he said.
"I don't know how you take Riley Cooper out of this situation, for any period of time, and bring him back in this situation."
After practice Friday, coach Chip Kelly said cutting Cooper is not being considered.
Chip Kelly said there has never been any consideration about cutting Riley Cooper. Also said a football decision won't be made off this
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) August 2, 2013
Cooper became more important to the Eagles when Jeremy Maclin went down for the season with a knee injury. But Cooper isn't indispensable, no matter the team's depth at receiver. Cooper has just 46 catches in three years. It seems like a potentially enormous locker-room problem over a player that has just 679 yards in the NFL. And this situation is not something first-year coach Chip Kelly wants to deal with as he starts his NFL career.
There is a somewhat related precedent for a team getting through a difficult situation like this. In 1997, Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski was fined for spitting on 49ers receiver J.J. Stokes. Romanowski is white, Stokes is black. Broncos Shannon Sharpe and Willie Green, who are black, said they didn't think the incident was racially motivated and never called Romanowski a racist, but thought the punishment would have been more severe if a black player committed the offense. It was a potentially explosive situation, but the team had a meeting to clear the air and stayed together. Not everyone on that team got along (especially Sharpe and Romanowski), but the Broncos ended up winning a Super Bowl that season. The issue the Eagles face isn't exactly the same, however.
The other issue for the Eagles in this situation is that Cooper is going to have a hard time getting another NFL job if the Eagles cut him. He's not an elite player, and some players on any roster would likely have an issue with Cooper after this. Not to mention the unwanted attention that would come with bringing him in. The Eagles obviously have to understand this and know by cutting him, Cooper's NFL career could very well be finished.
The Eagles are in a difficult spot. Cooper did become a bigger part of their on-field plans after Maclin's injury, although it's fair to wonder if he can really fill in adequately after this distraction and him missing practice time while he seeks counseling. And the Eagles have to decide whether it's the right move to most likely end Cooper's NFL career over one moment of alcohol-fueled stupidity. Cooper has been apologetic, and some teammates like Michael Vick and Jason Avant have shown public support for him. There isn't going to be unanimous support for whatever the Eagles do, among the players or fans.
Having Cooper away from the team will allow the Eagles some needed time apart to make a clear-headed decision. Everyone will be waiting to see if Cooper is taken back after this leave.