Evan Mathis is set to become a free agent, but should the Eagles re-sign him? I look into this issue, along with others, while reflecting on his career and colorful personality along the way.
Note: This post turned out longer than I intended it to be, so I broke it down into different sections, as you can see by the title headers. I also included a “TL;DR” (too long; didn’t read) version at the bottom of this post. Here’s a list of the sections…
- Pre-Eagles Era Evan Mathis
- Who the Heck is this Guy?
- A Legend is Born
- Should the Eagles Bring Mathis Back?
- Some Rebuttal to the Case Against Signing Mathis
- Why Mathis Will Want to Stay
- Evan Mathis, (Super) Human Being
PRE-EAGLES ERA EVAN MATHIS
In order to provide some context about Mathis’s career before he joined the Eagles, in case you aren’t familiar, here’s an explanation of it by Mathis himself:
My rookie year was 2005 and I didn’t get much playing time beyond Special Teams, and it was somewhat frustrating as I had much higher expectations. In 2006, I started 15 games at right guard, and played well, and was looking forward to progressing my career from there. The next year, our offensive coordinator and offensive line coach were fired. Their replacements were fond of larger guards and I had always been on the small end at 300 pounds. I ended up buried on the depth chart and was even moved to tackle. I was totally irrelevant for the 2007 season, and I was absolutely miserable. I used the next offseason to bulk up to 320 to try and play the part. It didn’t really matter because I was merely a camp body in 2008. I have yet to figure out why the Panthers never gave me a chance again.
After training camp in 2008, they cut me, I was picked up by the Dolphins before the 2nd game of the season and started sharing time with their right guard. I was released from there during the 10th week of the season and picked up by the Bengals two weeks later.
I didn’t play beyond Special Teams for the rest of that season for yet another meaningless year. I stayed relentless and came into Bengals camp lean and mean in 2009. After a solid camp, I was the backup at all three, interior positions and chomping at the bit to get a chance to play. During the 2nd quarter of the first game, our left guard sprained his MCL and I got my chance. I proceeded to start seven games that year and played lights out. During the seventh start, I suffered a high ankle sprain and ended up missing the next three games. When I returned, I played the second and fourth quarters of the remaining games. I didn’t like splitting time because it was tough to stay warm and get in the zone. The next year, I missed mini-camp and the first week of training camp with a torn calf. When the season started, I was again the backup at the interior three positions. 2010 was a waste as I only saw the field for about 100 snaps.
Staying hungry and relentless, I trained my ass off for almost seven straight months under the guidance of my staff at Zone Athletic Performance in preparation for the 2011 season. I got into camp with the Eagles and earned the starting job before the season opener. Just now, in my seventh year, I feel like my career has started.
WHO THE HECK IS THIS GUY?
As you may remember, last summer the Eagles –assembled the Dream Team- made a number of free agent signings shortly after the NFL lockout ended. One of the lower key signings at the time was the signing of 7 year veteran journeyman offensive guard (often abbreviated as 7YVJOG) Evan Mathis. It’s fair to say most Eagles fans weren’t sure who this guy was when he was signed. Therefore, it’s also fair to say expectations for Mathis as an Eagle weren’t very high. At most, he seemed like a quality backup and spot starter. This is perfectly evidenced by a comment of one infamous BGN commenter (username withheld, but I link to it anyway! – Note: I’m not trying to pick on anyone here, I’m just using this as an example of the low expectations that I previously mentioned.)
“Honestly.. This guys a backup. But a good one. [He’s] a good backup. [H]e’d be a below average starter. […] He’s essentially [Max Jean-Gilles’s] replacement.
However, in JasonB’s post about the Mathis signing, he pointed out that Mathis might actually be more. Jason noted that Bengals fans felt like Mathis wasn’t being played enough and that when he was playing, he was playing well. Pro Football Focus certainly agreed with this notion when they stated the following:
“As we’ve pointed out countless times, when Mathis starts at left guard, the Bengals interestingly win football games. Mathis was graded as the third best linemen during pass and rush blocks by Pro Football Focus during a seven-game stretch that the Bengals went 6-1. He graded as the second-best overall lineman for the entire year and as this awesome reward, they replace him with a player that Pro Football Focus graded as one of the worst offensive linemen on the team.”
Jason then ended the article by saying “So who knows? Maybe the Eagles find a diamond in the rough here. Or maybe he’s Reggie Wells 2.0.”
A diamond in the rough, indeed.
A LEGEND IS BORN
Mathis made an impression on some fans immediately after signing with his humorous personality, via Twitter. But Mathis became even more relevant when newly signed former Broncos OL Ryan Harris, who was penciled in to be the Eagles starting RT during preseason, injured his back and was ruled out for the year. This left a gaping hole at the RT position, which prompted the Eagles to move Swiss army offensive lineman and former LG Todd Herremans out to RT. This caused the Eagles to make Mathis the starting LG. Mathis looked like he could hold his own during pre-season, so this move certainly made sense.
Since he took over at LG, Mathis played very well. He started 15 games, and didn’t commit a single penalty or give up a sack the whole season. That’s pretty damn impressive, if you ask me.
PFF graded him as not only the best guard in the entire NFL this past year, but also the 10th best offensive player overall:
Mathis was the best guard in football this past season. Lining up at guard next to Jason Peters, he helped form the best left side of an offensive line in the NFL for the Eagles–and he did it all being thrust into the lineup late in camp as the Eagles shuffled positions. Mathis played 1,024 snaps this season and did not allow a single sack. He allowed just 15 total pressures on the season (less than one per game for the mathematically inclined) and his +20.4 run blocking grade was almost three times better than the next best mark of +6.9 posted by All-Pro Carl Nicks.
There’s no doubt that Mathis contributed the very successful offensive line the Eagles had last year.
SHOULD THE EAGLES BRING HIM BACK?
Mathis was an absolute bargain for how well he played last year. His original deal was for only 1 year, $735,000. But now that his deal is up, the Eagles have to decide if he’s worth bringing back.
Let’s examine Mathis’s career again: journeyman player who never caught on anywhere until later in his career when he found a scheme that he fits in and is given an opportunity to start? Hmm…. Sound familiar? It should, because it sounds very similar to the career of Eagles DE Jason Babin. After failing to stick in Philadelphia, Babin went down to have a Pro Bowl year in Tennessee, and then was obviously resigned to the Eagles again on a 5 year, $28 million front loaded deal. This is the kind of deal the Eagles need to aim for with Mathis. The exact amount of money and year length may differ from that of Babin’s contract, especially since they play different positions, but I think it should be a ballpark idea for what Mathis’s contract should be like. Since Mathis is considered older (30) for an NFL player, this prevents the Eagles having to pay him big money should he start to decline more with age. I think there’s little reason to be worried about decline, however, since Mathis is relatively fresh: he’s only started 37 games in his 7 year career. He’s also in the best shape of his life. The price on Mathis should be fair for this same reason: he’s only produced at a high level for one year, so the money he will demand can’t be overly ridiculous. Despite the fact that Drew “Next Question” Rosenhaus is his agent, I have faith the Eagles will be able to work out a fair deal with Mathis. If last year’s free agent spending spree showed us anything, it’s that the Eagles are able to sign guys to relatively fair deals (see: Babin, Cullen Jenkins just to name a few). This isn’t to say I expect him to come cheap, but I’m thinking the Eagles will be able to bring him back for a fair price.
So to answer the question… Yes. The Eagles should sign him – he is playing at a very high level and is critical to the success of the Eagles offensive line. The Eagles offensive line needs to be successful in order to give Michael Vick time to throw and prevent him from getting hit, along with opening up holes for Shady to run through. (Or watch in frustration as he cuts back and goes the wrong way, but still gains yards anyway.) Signing Mathis is the most important player the Eagles need to retain (yes, including DeSean). Having to replace him would not be an ideal scenario when there are other, more pressing needs for this team (such as LB, possibly WR, etc.)
SOME REBUTTAL TO THE CASE AGAINST SIGNING MATHIS
Brian Solomon of McNabborKolb (which is a very respectable blog) recently wrote a post titled “The Case Against Re-Signing Evan Mathis”. I encourage you to read it in order to better understand my rebuttal.
Brian makes some excellent points. He discusses how LG is generally one of the easier OL positions to play, according to former NFL offensive linemen. He also mentions that runs to the left last season weren’t as good as they were before when Herremans was playing at LG. Brian also warns about the caution of overrating a player’s ability due to his likeability. I agree that this can easily happen to fans, and I do believe Mathis is very likeable, which I explain later in this post. However, I support the Eagles before I support individual players, so I’d like to think I’m not overrating him due to likeability in this situation.
Where I disagree with him, though, is about the following:
Furthermore, Mathis just never passed the eye test that a supposedly top-five-type guard might. He gave up few negative plays, but I also never found myself saying “wow” after one of his highlights. With Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews in recent years, the Eagles have had guys on the interior that could lay claim to the “dominant” descriptor. As solid as Mathis was, to my eyes he was never that.
I think the “eye test” might be subjective and misleading. Although he may not appear to dominate to Brian on tape, 0 sacks given up and 0 penalties recorded is very impressive to me.
All of this is not to say the team absolutely shouldn’t resign Mathis. I’m actually in favor of that move in theory. But if he has other offers for significant money, would the Eagles really be wise to get into a bidding war for his services? I think not.
It’s important to understand the argument of Brian’s post. To rehash it in my own words, he’s not saying we shouldn’t re-sign Mathis… he’s just saying we shouldn’t pay a lot of money for him. I agree with Brian to an extent… but there’s always a point where a certain amount of money becomes too expensive for any player. And for the reasons I listed in the previous section, I don’t think there’s too much reason to believe he’ll cost a ridiculous price. I could be wrong, however, especially since Mathis can’t re-sign a deal right now and will hit the open market on March 13th when the new league year (and subsequently, free agency) begins… but I think Mathis has good reason to stay.
WHY MATHIS WILL WANT TO STAY
There are three non-money related reasons that I believe will contribute to Mathis staying. Obviously, money/contract will be the biggest deciding factor, but I believe these three things are nice bonuses:
1) Howard Mudd – Mathis has gone on record saying that:
Howard Mudd [has had the most impact on my career]. I’ve always had the ability and I’ve always had the desire. The one thing that was really missing was the guidance. I can do anything a coach tells me to do, I just need to be told how. Howard is the type of guy who knows exactly what works in this game. He’s really done a great job of helping me improve each week. The longer I spend playing under him, the better I will become.
Mathis likes Mudd’s zone-blocking scheme because as an OL in this scheme, he gets to attack defensive lineman more as opposed to waiting for them to come at him. This fits Mathis’s aggressive style of play.
2) Andy Reid – Mathis said the following about Reid:
Andy Reid is the most professional and organized coach that I have been around. He is a very smart guy and cares about his players. There’s a reason he’s the longest tenured coach in the NFL.
Andy Reid gave Mathis a chance to start again in the NFL, and I think Mathis won’t be soon forgetting that. He also infamously defended Reid shortly after Jeff Lurie’s end of the year presser by saying “If you think Andy Reid should be fired, you are an idiot.” By these indications, Mathis seems more than loyal to the Eagles organization.
3) Camaraderie with fellow offensive lineman, teammates – If you follow Mathis on Twitter, you know what I’m talking about. Mathis constantly interacts with his fellow o-line buddies on twitter and seems to be very good friends with Eagles C Jason Kelce in particular.
EVAN MATHIS, (SUPER) HUMAN BEING
I’ve already discussed Evan Mathis: the elite NFL LG. But there’s another Evan Mathis worth knowing, and that’s the Evan Mathis who’s constantly interacting with fans. Whether it’s playing a game of Words with Friends (username: Ergoism), being a sit-down comedian on Twitter, or answering EVERY question people asked him on Reddit… Mathis is hard not to be an instant fan favorite. He wrote an article for PFF about what it’s like to be an offensive lineman. He also even responded to an e-mail I wrote him back in the fall. This is exactly the kind of player that every fan can appreciate – a guy who plays well and goes out of his way to interact with the fans.
- Evan Mathis has had an unusual NFL before joining the Eagles.
- He is an elite LG.
- There’s reason to believe he will be signed to a contract that is both fair to the Eagles and him. The Eagles should do what it takes to bring him back – he’s worth it.
- The case for signing Mathis is stronger than the case to not sign him.
- Aside from money, there’s reason to believe Mathis will want to come back to Philadelphia.
- He is not only an amazing player, but an amazing human being.
All this said…