When the Eagles announced Evan Mathis had agreed to a five-year deal, reportedly for about $25 million, I thought about how for most of last August's training camp, nobody would have envisioned such a possibility.
It wasn't until the final week or so of the the preseason that Todd Herremans was moved from left guard to right tackle, with Ryan Harris experiencing back issues that led to him being placed on IR, and then eventually being released. Mathis was going to get a chance to prove he could start in Herremans' vacated spot, after Mathis had briefly filled in for Harris. Mathis hadn't started any games in 2010 for Cincinnati, which hardly fielded a dominant o-line. In fact, while bouncing from Carolina to Miami to Cincinnati, Mathis had only been a fultime starter once, for Carolina in 2006, the year after the Panthers drafted him from Alabama in the third round.
In a story about how the offensive line was shaping up, right after the Birds moved camp from Lehigh to NovaCare to prepare for the season opener, I identified Mathis as a "veteran, plug-in type of guy" who was unlikely to hold down a starting job for 16 games.
Well, he didn't; Mathis started only 15 games, missing the Arizona loss with turf toe. Otherwise, though, I was completely wrong, as the $7 million guarantee in the new contract attests.
Mathis indicated during camp that he was excited to come here -- a signing much less heralded, but ultimately much more important than that of Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith or Vince Young, by the way -- because of offensive line coach Howard Mudd. Mathis felt he'd been miscast on other o-lines, big beefy units on teams like Carolina, under former coach John Fox, that aspired toward a power running game. Mathis' edge was athleticism, not bulk. He is listed at 6-5, 302. I wouldn't swear to either number. There is no extra bulk on Mathis -- he is a rarity, the "cut" offensive lineman. Herremans, who came into the league with extra weight, now fits that mode as well, but Herremans, a legit 6-6, looks like he could play power forward in the NBA. Mathis looks like a slightly overgrown linebacker.
I've made the point before that because the Eagles were such a disappointment overall, the good stuff that happened in 2011 probably didn't get enough attention. The o-line started out a confused mess, with a rookie center in Jason Kelce and a last-minute fill-in named Kyle DeVan at right guard because rookie Danny Watkins wasn't ready. Left tackle Jason Peters was the only guy starting in the same slot he occupied in 2010. But the unit finished really strong, allowing only 32 sacks and powering Shady McCoy's breakout season. Mathis was very solid at left guard, which he feels is his best position.
The fact that he played under the veteran minimum last season meant the Eagles couldn't sign Mathis until after the 2012 league year, and free agency, began. Going in, I assumed this would happen almost instantly, but Mathis indicated that he at least wanted to take a look around.
I wondered last week how the Eagles were taking that. They aren't big on competing in the marketplace for their own free agents. Hey, they'd revived this 30-year-old guy's career. Wouldn't they expect a little gratitude? But in the wake of the DeSean Jackson signing -- he and Mathis are both clients of agent Drew Rosenhaus -- I was able to talk to a team official who was not up in arms about Mathis testing the market. He made the point that while Mathis visited Baltimore, he didn't sign before leaving, which the official felt was an indication the Ravens hadn't offered the moon and the stars. The Eagles were willing to be competitive. So after that, I kind of expected Saturday's announcement.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh is a great guy and Baltimore is a playoff-level team, but I'm not sure their o-line approach fits Mathis as well as what he found here. The Eagles now have all their 2011 starters signed at least through 2014, and that unit figures to be one of the team's real strengths going forward.
Plus, Mathis is really funny and engaging on Twitter. It would be a much more boring team without him.