Generally speaking; being selected to the NFL’s All-Pro First team, grading out in ProFootballFocus’s top ten players for three straight years, and being named the site’s top lineman of the year for 2013 would have to be considered solid negotiating points for a player wanting a new contract. Though he may not get the fanfare of Jason Peters, guard Evan Mathis is consistently the Eagles best offensive lineman. In fact, ever since being the lone gem of the fabled ‘Dream Team’ free agent class, Mathis has started 47 of 48 possible games (the last 32 in a row), and distinguished himself as one of the most unusual offensive line talents in the NFL.
At 32 years old and coming off his best season as a professional, Mathis isn’t coy when proclaiming his desire for a new contract. As fans, it is often a point of contention when an athlete, already making millions, decides to hold out for more money and create storylines that skew negative. Mathis signed a five-year/$25.5 million contract with the team prior to the 2012 including $7 million guaranteed. A year removed from having to earn his roster spot out of training camp, the multi-year deal was enough for Mathis to turn away heavy pursuit from the Baltimore Ravens and be a key fixture in the building of the Philadelphia Eagles.
For what it’s worth, Mathis already makes good money in relation to other guards around the league. According to CSNPhilly’s Andy Schwartz, Mathis’s $5.14 cap number ranks seventh in the NFL for guards and his $5.1 million per year base salary is 14th overall. Still, after seeing the contracts handed out early in the 2014 offseason to linemates Peters and Jason Kelce, it is no surprise that Mathis wanted to get in on the action.
For perhaps its strongest unit on the roster, the Eagles offensive line does have an Achilles heel. Lane Johnson‘s four-game suspension will already test the lack-of-depth along the offensive front a year after the same five players started all sixteen games. Allen Barbre figures to be an adequate replacement for the young Johnson, but the cast of characters after that are rather thin when considered in a starting capacity.
Evan Mathis would have had some leverage holding out. Maybe not as much as if a player like Peters or even Kelce for that matter did, but enough to have the organization listen. He is the fixture along the line and one of the most important personalities in the locker room for a team led by its offensive line. The Eagles are consistently among the most flexible in terms of salary cap room and could have easily stomached a bump in the veteran’s 2012 deal. There’s still no guarantee that Mathis won’t end up with a new deal by the start of 2014.
Instead of testing this strategy, Mathis joined the rest of his team arriving to Training Camp on Friday. For a city that knows all-too-well the long-lasting consequences of a publicized holdout (see Owens, Terrell), it brings a great deal of relief knowing a player as likable as Mathis won’t be painted in the negative light that those situations often bring upon the one seeking a new contract.
Especially for an offense like Chip Kelly’s, that emphasizes the importance of the offensive line, lack of reps could be the thing that derails an individual’s grasp. Mathis’s athleticism and knowledge of zone blocking make him an ideal fit for the uptempo attack. Instead of holding out, a tactic that would be hurtful to all potential parties involved, Mathis arrived in Philadelphia with a mindset that is especially refreshing when it comes to NFL players.
“When I was in elementary school and I got sick and I missed a day of school, I felt bad because I was behind. This is not the kind of stuff you want to get behind on…I’m not trying to strong-arm the team. I’m not trying to put them in a bad situation to get what I want. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m not really worried about it. Hopefully it works out. If it doesn’t, I’m still going to be the same football player…“It’s not something I was always able to do. I think it’s definitely something I’ve developed. It’s something I’ve always worked to develop — focus is a huge part of this game. You’ve got to be focused at all times during a game, and I used to let stuff creep into my mind — over think things. Now I just simplify it, focus on the task at hand and not focus on anything else.”
Imagine if T.O. had this stance. Granted, I thought the Eagles should have paid the mercurial receiver prior to his notorious 2005 holdout. Still, one could argue that the training camp of 2005 derailed any hope for a Super Bowl for the 2000s Eagles and set in motion a substantial roster and philosophy shift.
Mathis could realize that being a guard is not a position of power when it comes to these situations. The Eagles already pay more than the NFL average to the position, and Mathis is not getting any younger. For all we know, Chip Kelly could develop a similar reputation to a younger Mike Shanahan. Shanahan’s ability to plug and play offensive lineman in his scheme allowed a decade-plus of Broncos teams to avoid spending big money on the position. Kelly has only been in the NFL a year, but offensive linemen appear to be a position he may have an eye for.
Nevertheless, football players are prideful athletes and it wouldn’t have been shocking to have Mathis draw a line in the sand as far as his future in Philadelphia. Instead, he realizes he may be part of something truly special over the next couple of years. Ultimately, Mathis is sincere when he acknowledges the damaging effect he could have on the team with a holdout. By avoiding doing so, he is realizing the importance of the greater good when it comes to an NFL team with Super Bowl aspirations. I do not think that this well help him get a new contract before this season starts. However, if the team makes a deep playoff run with Mathis blocking for the league’s best rushing attack again, I imagine they won’t forget this gesture when next offseason rolls around.