Over the last two seasons, the Eagles’ front office has been nothing short of spectacular. Moving up twice in the 2016 draft to grab their franchise quarterback; extending the contracts of their young, talented, core players; to re-structuring some not-so-friendly contracts to lessen their immediate cap hits, Howie & Co. have really turned this team around. They have put together a really talented, young core of players to build this franchise around. But all of this begs the question: Why didn’t the front office extend Jordan Matthews prior to his contract year?
The WR Overhaul
Sure – the Eagles completely overhauled the WR room, and for good reason. While this isn’t necessarily a reflection of Matthews, they were simply not getting enough production from the unit as a whole. We all know that the Eagles have been desperate for, and absolutely craving a true, #1 WR ever since the departure of TO. That type of presence on the field truly opens up the entire offense.
So what did the Eagles do? They went out and signed the top receiver on the market in Alshon Jeffrey. While nagging injuries and suspensions have plagued Jeffery over the last two seasons and limited him to just over 800 yards during each of those campaigns, there’s no questioning the 6’4”, 230 pounder’s potential as a number one, Pro Bowl type receiver.
Not content with just one high-profile free agent acquisition, the team then signed veteran deep-threat Torrey Smith. While his 2 year hiatus in San Francisco didn’t go quite as planned, when healthy and on the field, Smith provides the type of field stretching element every offense needs. Even when he’s not directly involved in the play, his vertical speed opens up the underneath, and middle portions of the field for the other receivers, tight ends, and backs.
The team still wasn’t satisfied after adding a couple of talented, veteran wideouts. The Eagles took to the draft to really solidify the WR room. The front office landed Mack Hollins, a big, lanky, vertical threat/special teams ace out of North Carolina. Next, they added Shelton Gibson – another kid who can stretch out a defense, and is really explosive with the ball in his hands.
To make matters even more intriguing, up to this point, incumbent Nelson Agholor has had a really nice offseason. Bryce Treggs, Paul Turner, Marcus Johnson are all names to keep an eye on as well.
It’s clear the Eagles approached this offseason understanding they had to add an influx of talent to their WR room. They added a couple of high-profile veterans, added some young speedsters to the roster, and they let go of talented players who, to put it plainly, weren’t exemplifying the type of work ethic the eagles want to build their culture around (*cough* DGB, *cough*). However, their most under-rated addition of the year could very well be WRs Coach, Mike Groh. In the short time he’s been in charge of the room, it seems he has really pushed these players to get better. The group seems more focused and organized than ever.
The Cap Stress
If you are reading this article, you probably already know that the Eagles don’t have a ton of cap room to work with at the moment. There are going to be some very challenging decisions that have to be made in the next year or so. Let’s take a look at some of the more prominent Eagles set to be free agents after the 2017 season:
- Alshon Jeffery
- Trey Burton
- Jordan Matthews
- Darren Sproles
- LeGarrette Blount
- Allen Barbre
- Chance Warmack
- Timmy Jernigan
- Beau Allen
- Nigel Bradham
- Marcus Smith
- Patrick Robinson
- Caleb Sturgis
That’s a lot of names, with a very limited amount of money to go around. Unlike with some of their other drafted, home-grown talent, the Eagles are apparently okay with letting Jordan Matthews play out his contract year.
The Eagles front office has been relatively quick to re-negotiate other contracts of their young stars; forming a very formidable young core to continue building this team around in the future. So why not Jordan Matthews? We have to believe the front office has contemplated long and hard about this particular decision.
Let’s take a hypothetical look at Matthew’s value based on some contractual comparisons from around the league (Per Spotrac)
These players have performed similarly statistic-wise to Matthews over the past couple years (see below), and were approximately the same age when they signed their deals. Going by this data, Spotrac’s estimated market value for Jordan Matthews is an annual salary of around $10 million/year. Can we really expect the team to fork out that much money to their starting slot receiver?
We know the birds have a long list of players to sign after this season, and while the likes of Alshon Jeffery and Timmy Jernigan are likely their top priorities, who’s next in line? Is it the versatile TE Trey Burton? Is it LB Nigel Bradham after the best year of his career last year? What does the future hold for LeGarrette Blount after this year, his first in midnight green? Beau Allen? Chance Warmack?
While I am a believer that Matthews could get $10 million/year elsewhere, I can’t be so sure he will get that in Philly, especially with the upgrades brought in at his position over the course of the offseason. To add to the fire, Nelson Agholor has filled in and performed really well in the slot through OTAs and minicamp with Matthews sidelined, maybe further proving the offense can function without the 6’3” slot man.
But enough talk about the mysteries surrounding number 81. Let’s dive into what makes the guy such a special player. While I think it’s silly to judge a player purely based on statistics, ever since his rookie season, Jordan Matthews has been nothing less than a slot-receiving phenom.
In terms of production from the slot since 2014, @Eagles WR Jordan Matthews has been unmatched. pic.twitter.com/N0qwdkAhsW
— PFF (@PFF) June 6, 2017
Since entering the league in 2014, Jordan Matthews leads the league in receiving yards from the slot with 2,389 yards. At 6’3”, 212 lbs, Matthews can use his body to his advantage and is simply a matchup nightmare for smaller nickel corners. With Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith on the outside, all of the sudden, the middle of the field could potentially look a lot less crowded for the soon-to-be 4th year man.
From a pure production standpoint, Matthews has been one of the most consistent receivers in the NFL since being drafted:
Let’s take a moment once again to compare Matthews to his counterparts above:
JM is trending upward in receptions for his career, which is a great sign. Matthews has had some big drops in big situations, however, he has continued to be targeted rather consistently despite essentially having a QB carousel around him during his first 3 years in the league.
Despite the most subtle downward trend, JM’s consistency shines through yet again.
Have I mentioned the word consistency, yet? Not too concerned here with another very subtle downward trend.
JM’s downward trend in receiving TDs is somewhat alarming. In his rookie and sophomore campaigns, he put up 8 touchdowns a piece, but was only able to manage 3 TDs last year. While it is concerning, the lack of playmakers on the Eagles’ roster can be somewhat to blame, as, defenses were able to really focus on Ertz, and Matthews in the redzone – not to mention a rookie HC, rookie QB, new offensive scheme, an under-achieving running game, etc.
Jordan Matthews is flat-out a phenomenal human being. Regardless of his murky future with the team (this is a business after all), I think we can all agree that Jordan Matthews has been great for the Eagles’ locker room. This is a guy that puts his head down each and every day, and gets after it. You want your younger guys to be around his work ethic, his professionalism, and just his everyday mentality toward the game of football. He is, quite literally, the epitome of the culture the Eagles are trying to build.
For the first time in his career, Matthews is set to play a second consecutive season with the same quarterback. He and Wentz have been working extremely hard to build the chemistry it takes to succeed in the NFL. With another year in the system, more chemistry developed around him, more talent on the outsides, a legit running game, and with quite possibly the best offensive line in the league, well, number 81 could be set for the best year of his young career.
More than likely, Matthews knows he can make more money elsewhere once he hits free agency. Also more than likely, the Eagles know that it’s going to be tough to pay him market value, with other needs along the roster. If the two sides are mutually interested, and if Matthews is willing to work out a team-friendly deal, the Eagles could solidify a significant piece along the young foundation they’ve already built. In terms of his on-field production, combined with his consistent work ethic and approach to the game, this guy is as consistent as they come. While Jordan Matthews is, quite literally, the epitome of Eagles football, the allure of hitting the open market might be too tempting to pass up for the Eagles’ slot maven.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports