Eagles Wake-Up Call: Questionable Call By Kelly
A quick survey of the landscape reveals that there are contract disputes occurring all across the NFL this offseason.
Dez Bryant is threatening to be a no-show for the season opener if he doesn’t have a long-term contract by July 15. Unhappy with the team’s decision to place the franchise tag on him, Demaryius Thomas boycotted Denver’s offseason training program — including last week’s mandatory minicamp.
Seahawks’ defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who signed a four-year, $28.5 million deal ($16 million guaranteed) in 2014, wants Seattle to give him a new contract that will make him one of the top-eight paid players at his position. He missed OTAs. Ditto Chargers safety Eric Weddle, Bears tight end Martellus Bennett and Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.
Evan Mathis, in other words, was not alone in his contractual protests. The only thing that makes him unique among this group is that his team — more precisely, his head coach — responded to the protests by cutting him.
The message is as clear as ever: fall in line behind Chip Kelly or you’re out.
“If you kind of go against Chip, I think we’ve seen…If you don’t buy in, we’ve seen what happens,” said Zach Ertz early last week, forecasting the move.
The latest example seems to illustrate just how little tolerance Kelly has for boat-rocking of any kind. Because Mathis did “buy in” by and large. There were never any signs that he was resistant to Kelly’s methods. He put in the work, went along with the program, seemed like a pretty good teammate and thrived under Kelly’s tutelage to the tune of two Pro Bowl appearances and an All-Pro nod. Far as we know, the contract was the only issue.
“Do I worry about Evan? No. Evan, you talk about go-to-work lunch pail mentality, that’s Evan Mathis. I don’t worry about Evan from that standpoint,” said Kelly last offseason when the issue first came to light.
“Evan has been since Day 1 since I got here, just outstanding, whether it’s in the meeting rooms, in the weight room, on the practice field — he practices every day. He may have played the most snaps in the league last year…I don’t worry about the player. But I don’t think there’s one player in the league that will say, ‘Nope, I’m good. I don’t need anything else.’ But they don’t bring that to work.”
Kelly’s tone changed when speaking about Mathis this offseason — his first with total control. It’s understandable if he grew tired of the player’s continued discontent or Drew Rosenhaus‘ pestering for a new deal or a ticket out of town. He probably didn’t take too kindly to Mathis skipping the voluntary portion of the training program, and may not have been thrilled that word of a previous offer — reportedly pulled off the table when Kelly took command of personnel — leaked last week.
Clearly, this relationship was not going to last barring a change of heart from the organization. But that’s not to say they couldn’t have made it work for one more year. Mathis said that he was planning on reporting to minicamp this week. Safe to say he would have been in attendance for training camp as well. And while he probably wouldn’t have been thrilled, as Kelly himself said, he isn’t the type of player that would “bring that to work” with him. Worst case, the contract squabble impacts his attitude or performance and you cut ties. Best case, he allows his professionalism to rise above his unhappiness and crushes it on the left side once again.
Instead, Kelly acted swiftly to remove the piece that fell out of formation. By doing so, he weakened an offensive front that already had some question marks surrounding it. While the staff is higher on the likes of Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin than most outsiders, the fact remains that two generally unproven guards will now be charged with keeping the bulldozers off Sam Bradford.
Then there is the precedent that the move sets. The next time a player is unhappy with his contract and wants to force action, he knows what to do, right?
And there undoubtedly will be a next time. As the above shows, contract disputes are not all that uncommon. Players have little in the way of leverage. One of the few ways they can try to gain an ounce — or at the very least make a statement — is by sitting out of team activities. Ultimately the team and the league holds the hammer, and the threat of massive fines generally ensures that the standoff won’t last long. Flare-ups have a way of fading as summer marches closer towards fall.
Out-and-out defiance is one thing. Resistance for business sake is another. You wonder, based on his actions, if Kelly differentiated between the two when making his ruling.
WHAT YOU MISSED
Weekend Reading: Domo does a deep dive on Bradford.
OTAs wrapped last week. A look back from the vantage point of our photographer Jeff Fusco.
More on offensive lineman Jared Wheeler, who will work out for the Eagles Monday.
“So it stands to reason that the Giants could use a player of Mathis’ ilk on their o-line.” NFC East roundup.
A friendly reminder to preorder your Eagles Almanac today if you haven’t already.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Jeff McLane believes Kelly’s decision to cut Mathis is tied to his belief in his system.
The latest discarding by Chip Kelly has resurrected the familiar trope about the Eagles coach – that he whacks those who dare to cross him, all in the name of “culture over scheme.” But what that line of thinking often overlooks is Kelly’s stringent belief in his offense.
It was likely a confluence of factors that led to the release of Evan Mathis on Thursday. But Kelly would have never parted with the two-time Pro Bowl guard unless he was convinced the offense could function at a high level with what on paper looks like a weaker offensive line.
PFT on where things stand with Mathis’ search for a new team.
His agent Drew Rosenhaus said that Mathis might not sign with that team in the immediate future. While appearing on The Joe Rose Show on WQAM in Miami, Rosenhaus said that “at least half a dozen” teams have already reached out to him about Mathis’s services and that they would take their time weighing their options.
“It’s wide open and there’s a lot of interest in Evan,” Rosenhaus said. “Between now and the start of training camp, I definitely expect him to have a new home. I think we’ll be methodical, we won’t necessarily rush into signing immediately.”
Rosenhaus wouldn’t name any of the teams, saying only that he’s heard from “the usual suspects” when asked about interest from the Dolphins, and wouldn’t say what would be the most significant factor in Mathis’s ultimate decision. Given his desire for a contract that would pay him more than the $5.5 million he was set to make with the Eagles this year, however, it seems likely that he’ll be trying for more and that may be part of the reason for an extended timeline to find his next home.
Minicamp runs from Tuesday through Thursday this week.