The Jordan Matthews vs Nelson Agholor slot-battle has Eagles fighting the wrong war

Since being drafted by the Eagles in 2014, Jordan Matthews has simply been an integral cog in the ever-changing Eagles Offense. From the rollercoaster Chip Kelly era to the rookie season of Carson Wentz, Matthews has been one of the few reliable playmakers to transcend the transition. But after amassing more receptions in his first three years than any receiver in the history of the franchise, the team appear to have had a change of heart.

This year was always going to be big for Matthews. Coming off of a year in which he received for 804 yards and 3 touchdowns, many wondered whether the team would work on an extension with their former 1st round pick. It made sense, right? Of course it made sense. The Eagles wanted to build continuity in their offense and create a team that will grow with their prized franchise quarterback. Lane Johnson, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz all received extensions in the offseason beforehand, so surely Matthews would be the last domino to fall…especially when he received for 412 more yards than the next closest receiver…and for context, that receiver isn’t even on the team anymore. Matthews was the only continuous source of production for the Eagles offensively in the last three years…but if we’ve learned anything in the last few years, it’s to expect the unexpected.

First, the cap-strapped Eagles went out and snagged one of the most prolific free agent wide receivers in Alshon Jeffery, pairing him up with another free agent in Torrey Smith. Finally. Finally the chains would be removed from the Eagles wide receivers, allowing Matthews, who at 24 was the oldest receiver on the team and very much a mentor to the unexperienced and struggling, to break free. Defenses could no longer focus all their attention on Ertz and Matthews over the middle and had legitimate concerns outside, finally giving the Vandy product the mismatches he has craved since the end of the 2014 season. The future seemed bright…but then the word future became “present”.

Matthews missed significant time during OTA’s with an apparent injury, but perhaps the biggest injury was the lack of certainty. The contract extension never came. The talks never came. And all while Matthews was sidelined with a nagging knee, Nelson Agholor was enjoying the offseason breakout he needed after a tumultuous 2016 season. Taking over Matthews’ slot reps, Agholor rekindled his USC days as he sent cornerbacks and Safeties dizzying with the route running that has gone so ciminally underrated as the world focused on his drops. Agholor was being viewed as a savior just months after a disheartening 2016 campaign that saw Aggy deal with and overcome some mental hurdles.

With the confidence issues behind him, Agholor was snatching the spotlight and there wasn’t a thing Matthews could do about it except watch and wait. Agholor’s speed, size, and catch radius were being showcased more consistently than they ever have before. All of a sudden, there was a legitimate slot competition. Agholor wasn’t facing Torrey Smith anymore. He was now facing the wideout who had mentored him up to this point in his career…and it was do or die.

After Daniel Jeremiah’s comments were joined by what felt like a flash flood of praise from names who had rarely previously spoke on Agholor’s talent, the conversation of who takes the slot reins began to open. It makes sense for Agholor to at least be a contender. His prowess at USC was what the wideout earn his first round label to begin with. His route-running is crisper than any wideout on the roster, his frame is perfect for terrorizing mismatches inside, and his footwork can only be compared to some of the most agile in the game. In comparison to Jordan Matthews, who doesn’t have such intricate strengths as well as suffering from a lack of speed, Aggy seems to have the edge. His contract outlasts Matthews, meaning the cap space-craving Eagles can get production over the middle without paying what could be anywhere up to $10M per year on an extension for Jordan Matthews. Then today, Agholor was listed as a slot receiver in the team’s first unofficial depth chart. The battle had officially begun. But here’s the problem.

When the dots were finally connected, a growing consensus seemed to emerge surrounding the idea of trading Matthews and giving that responsibility to Agholor. And that’s where things began to get silly.

To start with, the last time the Eagles made a move this late in the offseason, they gave up Dennis Kelly for Dorial Green-Beckham. Traditionally, a move made this late would signify an ever so slight sense of desperation from both parties. It took DGB a solid few weeks before he began contributing on a somewhat regular basis as he got the playbook down. The same would go for whichever cornerback or player that the Eagles would seek in return. If it’s draft picks, then that’s where the debate grows even sillier.

At most, teams would likely be willing to give up mid-late round picks for Jordan Matthews. So let me ask you this. Would you prefer a future slew of mid-late round picks, or a receiver who is GUARANTEED to produce. The thing with draft picks is that they’re subjective. Drafting a player based on what he’s done previously in the hopes he can replicate it in the future at a higher level and in a new environment. I’m not saying Jordan Matthews isn’t worth that compensation, but there are several things to consider.

The entire point of bringing in the likes of Jeffery and Smith wasn’t just to give Wentz a devoted #1 wideout, but to help stretch the field and divert attention out wide, finally giving the playmakers in the middle (RB, TE, WR3) a chance to produce and take advantages of mismatches instead of fighting double teams. In a West-Coast Offense, slot wideouts are key. If you connect the dots, with less pressure on the likes of Matthews and Agholor, the two have the potential to put up big numbers…enter problem A.

Jordan Matthews has been the guy. Since 2015 he’s been the Eagles go-to wide receiver because there’s simply been nobody else. The argument that Matthews has had his numbers inflated due to volume is ridiculous. I mean, if Matthews wasn’t a reliable option then there would be NO wideout putting numbers on the board for the Eagles and I for one would much rather see inflated stats than deflated ones.

But while the rest of the Eagles wideouts have struggles, Matthews has had 2,389 yards out of the slot…the most in the NFL since 2014. Despite a change in Offense, a quarterback roulette and a year in which Kelly’s offense crashed and burned, Matthews has averaged more yards per reception EVERY year than Keenan Allen, as well as significantly more than Marvin Jones until last year. The guy produces. The receiver underneath him? There’s still that cloud.

Yes, Nelson Agholor has had a sensational Summer. An offseason of growth, sharpness, and spikes in confidence under new WR coach Mike Groh. But on gameday, and even in camp, those same problems have still presented themselves. It all comes down to how he rebounds from them, that’s the difference. But such a strong training camp is naturally going to draw attention, especially with heavy praise from the likes of Daniel Jeremiah. In fact, one of the main reason’s the world rallied behind an Agholor breakout was due to the pressure being taken off, allowing him to run rampant as many hoped he would since entering the league. But flashy doesn’t win games…consistency does and until Agholor proves that, starting him in the slot is naturally going to draw some attention after a stellar offseason. If Agholor produces, fantastic. If he doesn’t….uh-oh.

If Agholor continues to underwhelm (which is looking increasingly unlikely), behind him is almost like a flash into last year. If that depth chart is anything to go by…there is a severe drop in talent after the Aggy/Matthews debate. Shelton Gibson? A fifth round pick who has struggled with drop problems of his own. Greg Ward Jr.? An UDFA who may not make the final roster.  Sure, Agholor brings some much needed speed in the slot, and sure, if he does fail to produce it’s not the end of the world as there are more prominent targets to carry that load…but is it not worth keeping at the very least an insurance policy around for one more year? As opposed to banking on potential the Eagles can bank on security and allow that potential to turn into production.

Does a rotational tandem of Matthews and Agholor not sound like the dream scenario? One receiver who can body up bigger defenders, and another who can make them pay with elusive moves. One receiver who is a reliable target in intermediate situations, and another who can create separation in the blink of an eye? One receiver who can turn a dead play into a big gain, and a receiver who is a big play waiting to happen? What’s wrong with simply being content. What’s wrong with letting Agholor learn under Jordan Matthews and slide into games against unsuspecting Defenses, preparing to take the reins when Matthews potentially hands them over in the offseason? Nothing. That is the absolute best scenario. As a mentor, Matthews is unquestioned. As a leader, he is clinically underrated. Speaking exclusively to us for the first issue of – = +, Matthews opened up on how he tried to impact the younger wideouts looking up to him.

I’ll be honest, I don’t spend too much time worrying about what people think because at the end of the day, we gotta go out there and do the job. 

I tell guys the biggest thing about this is to understand your identity. If you’re trying to be something that you’re not, or spend the whole offseason trying to conjure up this person who doesn’t exist, or you’re trying to be like some- one else in the league, you’re going to end up wasting your time. Whoever you are, you be comfortable with that and you go all out, balls to the wall and be the best thing you can be..and that’s gonna be enough. 

“The hardest part is when we have this expectation of ourselves and there’s a reality of who you are. Knowing the reality of who you are isn’t bad, because then you just know “these are strengths, these are my weaknesses” and can become a master of that one trade, knowing someone else is gonna pick up the slack in the areas you aren’t
the best at. That’s why in a team, there are guys that are strong in different areas. 

Now you have a group working together where every- body’s trying to gure out who they are, do this person’s job, or he’s trying to be like this guy..that’s when you have disfunction..and guys need to be accountable of who we are, go out there, play our best and see what happens.” 

So what would you rather? Some trade compensation that would likely exceed that of if the Eagles lose Matthews to free agency next year? Or not only the potential of another 800+yard season, but one more year of stability right before the start of the regular season. One more season of development for Nelson Agholor before he enters his own prove-it campaign in the slot where he belongs? One year where Agholor can truly catch Defense by surprise out of the slot rather than a shock move forcing him into a spotlight he’s worked so hard to shine away from? The choice is yours…but if you’re aiming to build a championship winning roster, the answer is obvious.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

One thought on “The Jordan Matthews vs Nelson Agholor slot-battle has Eagles fighting the wrong war

  1. There is no war, this is practice and what did Allen Iverson teach us? Practice! Agholor will be the same drop heavy receiver he’s been since he’s entered the league. I can’t believe anyone cares about this subject. It’s what you do in games not practice. What has he done in games???????

Leave a Reply