In August, Evan Mathis was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was two years removed from being a first team All-Pro for the first time in his decade long NFL career. He was also unemployed.
Mathis spent August 2015 lobbying Eagles’ head coach Chip Kelly to be released.
“There were many things that Chip had done that showed me he wasn’t building a championship team,” Mathis wrote in an email exchange with Klis. “Two of the main issues that concerned me were 1. A never-evolving, vanilla offense that forced our own defense to play higher than normal play counts. 2. His impatience with certain personality types even though they were blue-chip talents.”
It was those signs that told Mathis if he wanted to win a championship, he would have to move on. After texting Kelly a video of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Please Release Me,” Kelly, who was confident Mathis wasn’t worth much on the free agent market, finally cut his star left guard and told him that they’d let him see if he could get the money he wanted.
Mathis replied, “Are you sure you want to do that?”
By the end of August, Mathis had narrowed down his free agent decision to the Miami Dolphins and the Broncos. The Dolphins were the trendy pick to make the postseason in most NFL circles. They had spent a boatload of money in free agency, had a developing young quarterback, and were offering $1.5 million more than Denver.
However, Denver had John Elway, an aggressive general manager who had invested heavily in the Broncos defense the year before. The Broncos were installing a zone-blocking scheme that Mathis felt comfortable in.
The Broncos also had Peyton Manning, who had become Mathis’ de-facto recruiter during the process. Manning had texted Mathis back and forth telling him about Denver and the organization. Mathis chose Denver. He is a champion because of it.
Mathis is confident getting away from Kelly was the right decision.
“The Broncos team I was on would have eaten Chip alive,” Mathis wrote. “I don’t think he could have handled the plethora of large personalities.
“Seeing my personal road to a Super Bowl Championship unfold is fulfilling,” Mathis wrote to Klis. “I’m a sports card and memorabilia collector and I just scored a game used Super Bowl uniform (it’s white with “Mathis” and the number 69 on the back).”
Mathis’ contract with the Broncos was a one-year, $4 million deal. He will be a free agent on March 9, will have ankle surgery on February 23, and is still unsure of exactly what his future holds.
Retirement is certainly an option for the 34-year-old. However, if he wants to play again in 2016, Mathis knows which team would be his first choice.
“There’s zero reasons why Denver wouldn’t be first on my list,” Mathis wrote.
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