Monday, June 15, 2015

Aftermathis: Chip Kelly Still Slicing and Dicing Eagles Roster - Evan Mathis

It came as little surprise to most that Evan Mathis and the Eagles had parted ways. Rumors and facts of serious disagreement between the Eagles front office and Evan Mathis have been well documented for the past two years. This looks to be the end of the drama show in Philadelphia. At least as far as front office drama is concerned.

Chip Kelly has carved out a great deal of the "diva attitude." He's allowed the disgruntled to walk and he's turned the roster over to more closely represent his prototype/scheme-fit player--the Andy Reid guys are basically all but gone.

Mathis was really a Howard Mudd guy. He came in and fit that blocking scheme perfectly--gaining instant recognition. The rise of Evan Mathis was curious. He spent years riding the proverbial pines around the league (7 years to be precise) and suddenly became a starter and pro-bowl player in Philadelphia (Deer Antler Velvet Extract?).

The loss of another pro-bowl player would see like yet another nail in the coffin in most situations. Yet, Chip Kelly's unwavering confidence and bold maneuvering throughout the offseason has added a strong element of blind faith amongst many fans. Particularly fans that see diminished value in the arguably selfish antics of many of the Eagles former star players.

Is Chip Kelly changing the culture for the better? - It would seem so if you believe that selflessness triumphs over selfishness in football.

Beyond the culture change, I found myself somewhat surprised to hear Tra Thomas suggest that Evan Mathis style of play was actually a problem.

“Evan is taking his guy right on the line and Jason Peters is about three yards behind him. He’s setting back and that puts them on two different levels which creates issues and problems when the rushers run games against them. Lot of times if you saw the film, you saw issues. They were on different levels.” - Tra Thomas

If you don't believe that Evan Mathis was a technical issue on the offensive line (which I also have a hard time with), you're likely in the majority. Mathis impressively ranked second among guards in Profootballfocus' analytics. While I am always skeptical of these kinds of advanced statistics that rate individual play in a team (cooperative blocking scheme) game, ranking second means you are probably pretty solid at least. I have a hard time buying that he was a detriment to the offensive line in any way. It is however worth recognizing that all things were not exactly as we may have thought.

Still, what kind of contract extension do you offer a well paid 34 year old football player?

I have to believe the Eagles will miss the presence of Evan Mathis on the offensive line, but I understand the Eagles position heading into this offseason. The Eagles reportedly attempted to trade Mathis and find a suitor that would accept Mathis' financial demands.

No such suitor was to be found (that should tell us something-follow the money).

“Evan Mathis has been available for trade for two years and there have been no offers" - Chip Kelly

Presumably, Mathis will not find what he's looking for from a financial perspective on the open market as evidenced by the lukewarm reception teams had in regards to assuming his salary in a trade. The Eagles knew this... Mathis knew this... and still he was apparently not interested in showing-up for practice. He's probably going to take a pay cut of some kind and lose out on some money himself while the Eagles are left with plugging the hole his release created.

So the Chip moves-on, releasing the complication!

For better or worse, Chip does not seem to want to deal with these types of personnel issues. Chip's statement by way of explicit personnel management is simply for players to be all-in with no conditions. That's very much a Belichikian approach.

In releasing Mathis, the Eagles also cleared an additional 5 million dollars in salary cap space. Most fans don't care about how much money a billionaire owner is saving, but the reality is that cap savings create opportunities and with the ability to roll-over unused cap space into pursuant seasons, it could create a rewarding and critical future opportunity.

While its fair to believe that Chip Kelly's inexperience in personnel management and plausible stubborness in contract negotiation has caused players like Jeremey Maclin, Desean Jackson, Lesean McCoy and Evan Mathis to leave the nest over a relatively small amount of money in each respective instance, retaining all of those players together would have taken over 40 million dollars of the Eagles cap space.

In hindsght, that's a lot of money and those players all wanted more.

What now?

With the void at receiver and running back being satisfactorily filled in the eyes of most Eagles fans, we turn our attention to the void at offensive line in the wake of the Evan Mathis departure.

Kelly and the Eagles must have known that Mathis was destined to leave and they still did not address offensive line in the draft or free agency. They even released another well-tenured Eagles offensive lineman in Todd Herremans who was coming-off an injury abbreviated season at over 30 years of age. Knowing what they had on the roster fairly well (as the offensive line depth was tested by necessity during the 2014 season) the Eagles opted to stick with what they had.

What do they have?

Allen Barbre is the strongest candidate currently on the roster and took the lions schare of first team snaps in 2014 (most impactfully in replacememt of recently departed guard Todd Herremans). He was penciled in at RG by most of my fellow armchair analysts, but has taken snaps at LG with Mathis out.

The Eagles will likely add a young veteran lineman for camp. Tommy Lawlor of suggests that Jared Wheeler has the eye of offensive line coach, Jeff Stoutland.

According to Tim McManus, Wheeler will be working out for the Eagles today.

If Barbre assumes the LG role on the offensive line, the competition for the RG spot will be interesting to watch. Players like Dennis Kelly and Matt Tobin have flashed competence in the past and the Eagles need an influx of developing and youthful offensive line talent anyway.

The big picture I see is that Chip is betting on himself here. All things considered, I find merit in all of Chip's contraversial offseason moves. That's no guarantee that they will work. The moves have not been without risk. But there is a common theme among releasing of highly paid, high maintenance players and filling roster spots with specific skill set personnel that are younger, cap-friendlier and most importantly: drama-free.

There is a definitive direction.

What we do not know is how the process will manifest in results. It will either be a wake-up call for Chip Kelly and his need to better understand the dynamics of professional football personalities and finances or it will be a defining moment for a coach to prove that his vision and no-nonsense approach to personnel management can create something bigger and better than individualized success.

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