Today's Philadelphia Eagles mailbag question comes from reader Steve:
There's been some speculation about Jordan Matthews' future with the Eagles lately. Do you think his days in Philly are numbered?
This has been a curious development to watch. Matthews has been a highly productive player since being selected 42nd overall in 2014. He ranks first in receptions (225) and third in receiving yards (2,673) among all-time Eagles in their first three years, and is one of only five players in NFL history with 65-plus receptions and 800-plus receiving yards in each of their first three seasons. The other four? Randy Moss, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and A.J. Green. Not bad. Still, there's an odd vibe when it comes to the Eagles and Matthews right now, and it seems fair to wonder whether he is in their long-term plans.
The first factor that needs to be looked at is his contract. Matthews is in the final year of his rookie deal and is scheduled to make a base salary of about $1.1 million. It does not appear that there have been any substantive extension talks to this point. That's telling within itself.
Executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman has a history of re-upping homegrown players early if they have been identified as part of the core. That's not to say the team doesn't value those who are not immediately locked in. Like with defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who was lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency this year, they're more willing to expose those players to the open market and walk away if the price gets out of their comfort zone.
Matthews is a difficult player to put a price tag on to begin with. His agents could make the case that there's no reason to dip below Kenny Stills (four years, $32 million) and that he's worthy of Tavon Austin money (four years, $42 million). The counter would be that Matthews is a slot receiver -- not an exceptionally explosive one relative to some others out there -- and paying big money for a player who might end up being the team's third receiving option doesn't make sense.
There is also a knee injury to consider. Matthews has struggled to get right since sustaining what was described as a bone bruise last August on a low hit during training camp. One ailment after the next has crept up in the months since. He is currently dealing with knee tendinitis, which kept him from practicing for a good portion of the spring. A recent report suggested some team employees believe Matthews could have practiced more but allowed his contract status to influence his decision-making, a charge that the Matthews strongly denied.
While sidelined, Nelson Agholor stepped into his role and shined. He is enjoying a solid training camp as well and is the favorite to man the slot this season, according to former Eagles scout and current NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah.
"Nelson Agholor has had a total rebirth," Jeremiah said on his podcast, via PhillyVoice. "He's in the slot. He’s going to live in the slot. He's going to be their slot receiver. I'll be shocked if he’s not. I don't know what that means for Jordan Matthews.
"Agholor is a lot more dynamic."
While Agholor's burst has stood out, some healthy skepticism about whether this will translate to the field come fall is very much warranted. He has struggled on the pro level to date due in large part to confidence issues. Ability has never been the problem. It would be unwise to make too big of a leap of faith until he does it when it counts.
Similarly, it's too early to say whether Alshon Jeffery (on a one-year deal and with a recent history of injury issues) or Torrey Smith will provide long-term answers for the Eagles at the receiver position. And while rookie Mack Hollins and Marcus Johnson, signed last year as an undrafted free agent out of Texas, have impressed (Johnson has had a very strong camp), they still have much to prove.
The No. 1 priority this offseason has always been to set up Carson Wentz for success. To that end, it makes the most sense to keep Matthews on the roster this season. He, at the very least, brings depth to the position. Remove him, and you begin relying on receivers with little track record.
The Eagles do have a variety of personnel options, though. They can go double and even triple tight end with Zach Ertz, Trey Burton and Brent Celek, or flex Darren Sproles or Donnel Pumphrey into the slot -- something we've seen quite a bit this summer. Perhaps there are enough options to ease any concerns about proven production out of the potential wideout replacements.
There is a school of thought that exists that dealing Matthews is the right play when you consider his contract status, the promising state of the position group and the fact that Matthews isn't projected as a special teams contributor, thereby reducing his value should he find himself in a reserve role.
Trading the 25-year-old Matthews seems unnecessarily risky to me, and could be a potentially complicated process given the medical uncertainties. But I'm not ruling it out.