Signing a five-year deal, Mathis finally got lucky

After six journeyman seasons, the guard got a chance, and struck gold with the Eagles.

Posted: March 20, 2012

Football is a business.

Teams cut longtime players with large salaries. Longtime players leave teams for bigger paychecks.

Evan Mathis was in a peculiar position for a free agent. He bounced around the NFL for six seasons until he landed with the Eagles last July. They gave him a chance, he capitalized on it, and the guard delivered the best season of his career.

But he spent just one season in Philadelphia, and not a particularly enjoyable one based on wins and losses. No one would have blinked an eye if the 30-year-old had thanked the Eagles for resurrecting his career and then signed with the highest bidder.

That scenario never took place, though, for several reasons, the most important perhaps being that the Eagles were ultimately the highest bidders. But Baltimore made an attractive offer, as well, and it's not as if the Ravens are run like that other team a little farther down I-95 South.

The Ravens have won 44 games in the last four seasons and were a missed field goal and overtime away from February's Super Bowl. The Eagles finished 8-8 last season, a misleading record that doesn't begin to explain a disappointing season.

And yet, when weighing both choices, Mathis chose the Eagles. Yes, you could say it was all about the money; or about offensive line coach Howard Mudd; or about the offensive line coach's system. But Mathis said that he wanted to be a part of the Eagles' future, and specifically next season's do-over.

"This offseason has been really different than last year," Mathis said Monday at the NovaCare Complex. "We're all looking forward to learning from our mistakes last year, capitalizing on the things we did well, and turning 2012 into a special year."

Last summer, Mathis was one of the Eagles' least heralded free-agent signings. This year he's been the only one so far. As expected, the Eagles aren't going to be major players in free agency. That was last year.

Keeping Mathis, though, was instrumental if the Eagles are going to make another run with most of last season's cast. By the end of the year, the line was a strength. With all five starters - tackles Jason Peters and Herremans, guards Danny Watkins and Mathis, and center Jason Kelce - under contract through 2014 it can be a strength for years to come.

"You know, I don't want another 'Dream Team' comment," Kelce said. "But I think we have a great opportunity to be one of the best lines out there."

You could tell Mathis wanted to be a part of the Eagles' future. The team knew that as well but respected his decision to test the market. And when he visited the Ravens and came back with an offer, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman made his move.

"Howie played it really smart," Mathis said. "He was kind of like waiting on e-bay until the last second so that he didn't bid the price up."

Still, Mathis signed for $25 million in base salary with $7 million guaranteed. Not bad for a journeyman who had only 22 career starts before he came to the Eagles.

"In my eyes my career started last year - no serious injuries, no tread on my tires," Mathis said. "I know I'm 30, but this five-year contract will be no trouble for me to play out."

When the Eagles contacted him he jumped at the chance to work with Mudd.

"He probably didn't even know who I was," Mathis said. "I heard through the grapevine that it might have been [former Eagles director of player personnel Ryan] Grigson or Howie that found my tape."

Extra points. The Eagles agreed to contracts with guard/center Mike Gibson (two years) and center/guard Steve Vallos (one year).

Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, or follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.