After four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a special teams ace, the Philadelphia Eagles should bring home Temple Owls legend Tyler Matakevich to push T.J. Edwards on the inside.
Tyler Matakevich is Philadelphia personified.
The ‘tuff’-est of all Temple Owls of the Matt Rhule-era, Matakevich brought leadership, grit, and, most importantly, a lumbering presence to the middle of the field as a coach on the field for the better part of four seasons. Despite lacking the elite athleticism required to become a starter at the next-level, Matakevich’s intangibles and tireless work ethic were encouraging enough to transcend his meager measurables and become a seventh-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
And after four years lumbering away as a special teams only player with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Matakevich is finally set to hit the open market for the first time as a pro.
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Now right from the top, Matakevich is not the kind of player who will make or break the Birds’ roster in 2020. He hasn’t played a defensive snap since 2017 and only has 22 defensive snaps to his name despite having appeared in 67 games. That being said, Matakevich has recorded 77 tackles in 67 games of action, a virtually unheard of stat for a special teams-only player.
If the Eagles were to sign Matakevich when free agency opens up, he would instantly join the conversation as the team’s best special teamer and seamlessly replace Kamu Grugier-Hill as a four-core contributor on Dave Fipp‘s coverage unit.
That alone could make Matakevich an intriguing option to improve the Eagles roster on the margins, but here’s the thing, I think Matakevich could fill an even bigger role moving forward. You see, if the 2020 season started today, the Eagles have Wisconsin UDFA T.J. Edwards slotted in as their starting middle linebacker. Now by all accounts, Edwards was very well last season and looks to have found a home for the next few seasons, but is he really the player fans feel comfortable trusting in the middle of the defense for a full game – or the 30-40 percent of any given game the Eagles play their base defense?
Maybe so, but not without a little competition.
To truly succeed at running an attacking 4-3 scheme, especially one lacking in elite speed rushers on the outside, the Eagles need big, range-y linebackers who can take on an offensive lineman and make an impact against the run. Nathan Gerry can fill that role, despite being undersized as a 230-pound Will linebacker. But who else can? Edwards? Alex Singleton? Duke Riley?
In an ideal world, the Eagles would sign a player like Matakevich to not only play as a special teams ace but also to compete for a role as a base-package thumper to combat the run and make solid decisions in zone coverage.
That role will probably never be available to Matakevich in Pittsburgh since they only deploy two inside linebacker in the base package, but in Philly, where four different linebackers played at least 25 percent of the team’s snaps in 2019, there’s a bit more of an opportunity to see the field as a defender.
Matakevich reportedly loves Pittsburgh, and all signs point to a potential return to the Steelers in 2020, but would he seriously turn down a chance to return to the city that made him and play a few more seasons at the Linc? If the money is close, I imagine that decision becomes a decision if you know what I mean.
Fun fact, if that were to come to pass, it would mark the second straight offseason where the Eagles poached an under-utilized linebacker from Pittsburgh. Hopefully, a deal for Matakevich lasts longer than the doomed L.J. Fort experiment.
After undervaluing the linebacker position over the last few seasons, the Philadelphia Eagles are going to have to overhaul the unit going into 2020. While that could include signing a marquee(ish) player like Blake Martinez to fill an every-down role moving forward, it could just as easily include investing on the margins to swap out underperforming, undersized linebackers like KGH for a hometown thumper like Tyler Matakevich. His special-teams ability will keep him gainfully employed for the foreseeable future, but this may be his final chance to compete for a starting role.