2016 was a year of growth for the Philadelphia Eagles. With rookie Head Coach Doug Pederson calling the shots and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz at the helm, it was a chance for fans to see just how bright the future really is in the new era. For wide receiver Jordan Matthews, that statement could not be more true. With 73 receptions last year, Mat- thews rapidly emerged as a favorite target of Carson Wentz and was labelled as the team’s perennial receiving threat. But a lot of Jordan’s growth happened away from the Football eld. Something he was gracious enough to talk about.
This time 12 months ago, the Eagles appeared to be destined for a very different season. Sam Bradford was still the starting quarterback after signing an extension, and the team looked primed for success in the new West-Coast system. But then the front of ce laid all their chips on the table, moving up to draft the future of the franchise in Carson Wentz. What followed was a rocky situation that was well stabilized by the Eagles, who pulled the trigger on a trade for Bradford, sending him to the Vikings and recouping the rst round pick given up for Wentz. As important as it was for the Coaches to keep the Boat from rocking, players were just as responsible..and that’s something that wasn’t lost on the Eagles leading receiver.
“My first experience [with Carson] wasn’t as intimate at first just because he was trying to find his way. I still had a very close relationship with Sam, so I was gonna make sure at the time I had to spend most of my time getting reps with our starting quarterback. Once the trade happened with Minnesota and we knew Carson was gonna be the guy, it was like “okay well we gotta get this ball rolling.”
“I’m not the type of guy to build a relationship just because somebody is my quarterback. Youv’ve gotta know as a person as well whether you’ll mesh or not. That’s a totally different aspect. You don’t wanna be fake. This is a grown mans business. “
Mesh, they did. The duo turned up early to the team’s offseason workouts, working out alone inside the NovaCare Complex and building an early chemistry.
“There’s been a lot of QB/WR combos who weren’t friends. At the same time, I still wanted to get to know him and work out if this person is a friend, if this person is a brother. As time went on, we grew close man. I consider him a brother, we’re extremely close and he’s a great person outside of Football. The swagger, intensity and competitive- ness that he brings everyday to practice and games makes me like him that much more.”
Another relationship that blossomed in 2016, was that between tight end Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews. The two have grown closer and closer as time has passed. Something that at first was a relationship of pure competition, as Matthews recites.
“I’m actually going to his wedding. He’s almost like a brother now. When we first got to the team, we were so ultra competitive and playing around the same position, you take a tight end who’s a pass catcher and an outside receiver being moved inside and you end up doing similar things.
I wouldn’t say we didn’t like each other, but we were definitely competing hard against each other. But now we almost hit up each other every other day to talk about something or to send some bible verses back and forth, or even just to check in. I’m blessed to have him in my life, I’ve seen his growth and I know he’s seen mine..it’s a friendship that I can’t wait to continue to see blossom.”
With the core so close and an exciting new era beginning, the future certainly seemed bright. The season started in exactly the same fashion, with the Eagles bursting out of the Gate to a 3-0 record. The Offense was clicking and the Defense was running rampant. During the course of the opening three games, Matthews caught 15 passes for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns.
One of the biggest changes to the roster that year, was the addition of Coach Pederson, who after such a hot start was drawing plenty of praise. The Eagles sought to bring back an emotional connec- tion between their coach and players and it would be the former Kansas City Offensive coordinator that would take on that role. But it’s very easy for writers and fans to hype up this connection, without really knowing what it truly means from a player’s perspective. For Matthews, it encouraged a new sense of accountability.
“It means a lot” Matthews said of being able to open up to his Head Coach. “I think it puts more of a responsibility on players than people actually think. When you have a coach who gives guys the ability to be open, it definitely helps 1) with the camaraderie and the team aspect because we’re on the same mission. It’s not like they’re trying to do their thing and we’re trying to do ours, we’re the same unit. 2) the accountability level for players goes up.
“You’re not gonna go to coach and say “look, they’re playing Man every 3rd & 7 so you have to go with me with this route” because if you say that, you gotta go and make a play afterwards. So there’s that accountability aspect that’s added into it. If you’re a grown man and you say “throw me the ball”, you’ve gotta go and get it. There has to be a right time to say it, but I de nitely appreciate that. When you have a coach who trusts his play- ers, that’s huge in building a winning culture.”
A winning culture certainly seemed like what would be enveloping early on. But as the year progressed, there were natural hurdles that arose. The Eagles lost a total of 6 games in 2016 by one possession and the pressure on the receiving corps was only growing stronger. The oldest receiver at the position happened to be Matthews, who was in just his third season. Well aware of the situation, the former Vanderbilt star put the position on his shoulders and stepped up to the plate as a leader for a younger group of guys.
“Of course, I definitely feel like me being the oldest, there’s always that and to lead a group of guys because you’ve been there longer. You’ve seen a little bit more, you’ve experienced a little bit more but also at the same time, my biggest leadership quality is going out and playing hard.
If I go and play hard and practice hard, you’re learning from what I’m doing, not what I’m saying. Anybody can go out there and say something, but as a leader you’re not gonna recreate the types of players you want on your team through what you say, you’re gonna recreate people based on who you are. They wanna watch you and say “I like that, I wanna be like that person” and naturally fall in line. I wanted to make sure I was doing the right things so they can learn off that.”
“Unfortunately when I was dealing with my injuries, it took away one of those aspects for me because i couldn’t practice as much. I’d usually implement a lot of my leadership qualities into practice and that’s how I get the most out of the guys I’m around. So when you’re injured and not able to practice most weeks or most days, you’re solely dependent on gameday..and I’ve never wanted to be a player who is solely dependent on gameday. I feel like it’s a full product you’ve got to put out there on the eld to be a leader and practice is one of the main ones.”
Dealing with injuries was something Mattthews hadn’t previously experienced in his NFL career. A new hurdle that he would have to personally overcome if the Offense was to succeed in 2016. Being the Eagles top wide receiver, the injuries held even more weight,. but not just for those missing his presence.
“It was vastly different.” Matthews said when asked about dealing with injuries for the first time. “Before it was like okay you’re dealing with something small so I’d just play through it. It would be one week of taking an ibuprofen and i’d be back to normal. This was the first time when someone had to look at me and say you’re possibly gonna miss some time. That was hard at first, but at the same time it helped me appreciate that much more what it feels like to be healthy and so I could definitely there’s a lot of benefits that came out of it.”
Matthews would miss 2 games of the 2016 season, but also miss some significant time off the eld in terms of practicing. In what was such a crucial year for the team, you’d expect the natural reaction to be one of frustration. But instead, the 24-year old was able to view the world of Football through a different lens.
“I was able appreciate it a lot more for what it is as a whole and not just what it could give me. By the time I came back to play, even though I still wasn’t 100%, there was a different appreciation for it. I wasn’t going out there and playing games to see what I could get from it, it was more for the joy of actually being able to be out there again.
So now the whole goal is to get back to 100% and to still play with that same joy. When you have those two components mixed in together, it’s tough to somebody who goes out there and plays hard..and that’s what I plan to do.”
The Eagles went through a difficult mid-season stretch, suffering some heartbreaking losses and losing their grip on what seemed to be a likely playoff spot. For Matthews, not being a part of those games was even tougher.
“Those losses were pretty hard. The worst part was that the Bengals one was initially the game that put us out of it and not being able to play during that game really, really hurt. By the time we played the Redskins, there was a minimal chance that we make the playoffs. It wasn’t that great by that point and guys were playing out of strictly pride but they all hurt.
There’s not a time you walk off the NFL eld and think “that’s okay”. At the end of the day, we’re still trying to get to the playoffs and whatever games keep us out of that contention, they all hurt exactly the same.”
Dealing with injuries can be tough for any player, but through his entire NFL career, Jordan Matthews has had one constant in his life. Faith. His relationship with the Lord has been some- thing that has helped him nd strength in the dark times and stay humble in the light.
“My favorite thing that the word God brings is perspective. And so the problem is that honestly we live in a world with bad perspective. We’ll say something’s not fair and there are people in this country who are starving and don’t know where their next meal is gonna come from.
As a young man who plays in the NFL, I’m extremely blessed. Maybe working through an injury is a little bit of misfor- tune, but it’s not utter suffering. It’s not a reason for me to miss my calling, it’s not a reason for me to lash out on my fiancé when I come home or to be distant from my teammates or still not go about my mission of spreading love to people. If anything it brings perspective.”
But this year, that relationship became even stronger. Through all the outside noise and the injury setbacks, Matthews found comfort in his faith..and more prominently, the Audience Of One. While this has been documented lightly by many in the past, I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the term “AO1” truly represents.
“Audience of one has been the biggest thing as far as us pushing our team forward. We have a core group of guys that definitely highlight it, being Twitter posts or Carson’s shirts, the cleat game. It’s definitely a lot deeper than that and there’s a lot more to it, the last thing we would ever want is for people to think it’s associated with a clique or that we’re set apart, for some reason better than anybody.
The whole premise is that we do everything to make Christ’s name famous and by doing that, it removes the layers from ourselves. It removes the possibility of guys wanting to be sel sh players or guys wanting to put themselves above the team. To initially say that, you’re committing to a lifestyle of service and a lifestyle of humility and hard work.
To be honest, that’s the type of guy you want on a team anyway who are going to win a game but don’t ultimately do it for that. We do it because that’s what we’re called to do. We’re called to work for christ, we’re called to love others and we’re called to be humble. We’re called to make sure we don’t always draw attention to ourselves. The more we do that, the closer we become. Because it’s like “Okay, I know I’m not the only one in this race. I know Carsons’ in this with me, I know Trey is in it with me, I know Chris is in it with me” and we’re just trying to spread our love throughout our team and the NFL.”
Religion can be very polarizing, especially in today’s society. With political views tearing holes in relationships, religion can do the same. In a locker room of 53 grown men, it’s safe to say that not everybody will share the same views. However, this is something that is embraced by those who resonate heavily with the Audience of One sentiment.
“As polarizing as religion can be, that’s why we want to pull the veil back on the whole thing. Matthews said. Once you get into religion as a conversation, that’s what does create sepa- ration. We’re not talking about religion, we’re talking about a relationship we have with Jesus Christ and we believe that relationship is what causes us to be the men we’re called to be.
The second we try to break it up as far as reli- gion, then what happens is human pride comes into play and we start thinking “we’re better than this group of people or that group of people” and that’s not where we ever wanna take it. If somebody is from a different belief system, we’re still gonna be the same type of people to them as the believers on the team who are christians. We’re still called to do the same things. We’re still called to love, we’re still called for a service of humility and there’s no discrimination in that.”
The relationship shared between the players and God is something that not only helps them nd strength in times of adversity, but also keep them grounded.
“One of my favorite authors is Francis Chan and he said “The only time you think the world’s gone crazy it’s when you only see your world.” That’s huge for me. If I’m complaining or thinking things are awful, it’s because I’m being near-sighted and can’t see past my own hand. That’s one thing that the word God brings. There are kids suffering in parts of the country, there’s sex trafficking going on.
You can get lost in the football world, and football’s a great thing, but I have a group of guys and tell them “Good things turn bad when they take the place of God.” Football’s a great thing, it’s a great tool, it’s a great platform. But why is it there? It’s not there so I can gather a whole bunch of money and be set for life. That platform is there for me to make a difference in the world and if i don’t make a difference at all, but store all my money and die with it..what good have I done?”
As much as using the platform to make a difference is inspiring, sometimes it’s the little things that can impact an individual in huge ways. One receiver who struggled in a rollercoaster 2016 season, was sophomore wideout Nelson Agholor. The USC product opened up to the media about his struggles and how he was getting in his own way, which led to a uni ed decision to see him sit out the next game and see a sports psychiatrist to help him overcome those problems. But once Agholor had opened up, it be- came much easier for his teammates to help him as well.
“It definitely helps when you put it out there because it makes it easier for everyone to know how to help you. If you don’t address the problem then you don’t know it’s there. If you don’t know it’s there but everybody else does, then it’s even worse because the only person who can make a change is completely oblivious to it. When he opened up about it, we knew exactly what to do and the things to help him out with.”
It can be argued that much of the pressure surrounding Agholor came from the media. After a rookie season in which he ashed plenty, Agholor was expected to shine under Doug Pederson, but as the weeks went on and the media pressure grew, things only seemed to get tougher for the 23-year old.
“We obviously understand that there’s a lot of skepticism around our group that we can’t go out there and get the job done.” Jordan Matthews said of the outside pressure.
But 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 someone 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’tthe 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.”
It’s all about finding yourself when it comes to the NFL.. and playing true to your heart as opposed to aiming to ll somebody else’s shoes..and a large part of that is ensuring that both feet are on the ground. For Jordan, his Fiancé, Cheyna, and his new Puppy is what makes up the rest of the ever-compassionate persona and relentless work ethic.
“Having her in my life definitely helps me with that balance. I’m not perfect. It’s important that I have a partner in her because she’s able to help balance me out. The best part about it is we do have the same set of core values, beliefs and the same foundation. So when I’m off, she can be like “you know what the truth is” and help bring me back to that balance. She did bring a Dog into our life and he de nitely helps when I’m busy, because they just play the whole time. As we’re doing this interview, they’re on the oor playing. Having both of those two in my life, I can’t explain to you how blessed I feel each day.
He’s a little Golden retriever Puppy. He’s actually one of Carson’s Dog’s puppies. Carson’s Dog Henley had eight puppies, so he gave us one of them.”
The bond with Carson Wentz goes far beyond what we see on the eld. It blossoms past the handshakes and the touchdowns..and it’s that kind of chemistry that can propel a team and an offense to the biggest stage of all. A stage in which Matthews believes the team are not that far away from gracing.
“I definitely think that mission can be a reality. I don’t say this loosely, I’m extremely honest when I say this, I’ll start with our Defense. When our Defense is on..they are ON. We have talent on Defense to go out and compete against anybody.
Whatever holes people say we have to fill, I have complete faith in our front of ce that we’ll ll those holes. We have guys, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are world class safeties in the NFL. Brandon Graham is a beast. Jordan Hicks is a beast. You’ve seen with Vinny Curry, Fletcher Cox, Nigel Bradham, what those guys can do. There’s pieces on that squad. I truly believe that in the NFL, if you have a great Defense and a great quarterback, the possibilities are endless any year.
I say this loosely, if I had a to compare us to a team and say “we can be like that soon”…I’d say the Seahawks. When I look at the Seahawks and I see a great Defense and a great Quarterback, who is a leader and a winner. Carson Wentz is a winner. He does not like to lose. I even think at the end of the season, we saw a little bit of his mobility. That was something he kinda did a little bit at the start of the season, but at the end he was breaking off some big runs. When you’re in third and long and teams have to account for that, as opposed to going man, they’re playing zone and you can easily throw vs zone to convert those plays? It changes everything for a quarterback.”
“I don’t want to box us in to a comparison, but if I had say a picture of a team that I saw and I was like you know what, this team wins, they have a formula for winning..I like the Seahawks formula. Russell Wilson has a great group of guys that go out and do their job, we have to go out there and do it.”
It’s a mighty comparison to make..but one that is logical. The Seahawks found tremendous value in mid/late round draft picks and insisted from building from the ball out, fortifying the Castle for Russel Wilson. It’s a trend that has been replicated by the Eagles, after their bolstering in the trenches over the last two seasons.
As we all know, this offseason is set to be one of the most important in recent franchise history..especially if they are to make a real push for their second Super Bowl appearance of the NFL era..and for the 24-year old out of Vanderbilt, that’s no exception.
“l’ll still be rehabbing for the next month and then getting into some really heavy training and working out. The train- ing aspect is a whole other level that we go to. It’s pretty serious what me and my trainer Andy go through up here so, once I get over the hump of rehab and we get to switch into full training mode, it’s gonna really kick up so I’m ex- cited about that. Then we hit OTA’s, get that stuff done..and then comes the Summer. The Summer’s gonna be really big for us, for some of the guys getting together and working on stuff because next season we have to be on point.
Nobody ever just wants to go out there and not feel like their self, but it’s part of it. I’m taking it in my stride, I have way too much peace to be stressed out about something that I know is going to get better so I’m just rehabbing and praying for the best.”
By the time September rolls around, the Eagles will be raring to go when it comes to mounting a playoff push. But it’s not all about wins, losses and trophies. It’s about heart. It’s about faith..and it’s about the value of a family in the locker room. A group of guys who win together and lose together. When somebody falls down, you pick them up..and when the skies darken, there’s a reassurance that there will be nothing given to them that can’t be handled. That’s what the meaning of Audience of One truly is. That’s what the heart of Jordan Matthews says..and that’s what the Eagles locker room will look to instill as they embark on such a promising journey.
Mandatory Photo Credit: AP Photo/Michael Perez