Head coach Chip Kelly, tackle Jason Peters and tight end Zach Ertz might feint a lack of concern over his important along the Eagles offensive line, but the reality is that his departure is a potentially devastating blow to an offensive line that ranked among the league’s bottom half a season ago.
Now with quarterback Sam Bradford expected to be the starter with a twice-torn knee in tow, protecting him looks a bit more uncertain. Yes, the Eagles do boast one of the league’s better offensive lines. They are still the superior in the NFC East up front. However, the absence of Mathis as well as previously released guard Todd Herremans will take its toll.
Their replacements may have potential, but it’s doubtful anyone on the depth chart can replicate Mathis’ production. The 11-year veteran was the only guard on the roster with more than one year in the NFL. Allen Barbre, Mathis’ projected replacement, has been in the NFL for eight years while primarily playing tackle. He has started just eight games in his professional career---seven came with the Green Bay Packers in 2009.
From a financial perspective, Barbre is obviously a more preferable selection. Still, Mathis was guaranteed to give the Eagles bang for their buck...Barbre will only save them a few bucks. It’s not an accident he’s been a reserve player all his career, and it’s hard to imagine he will suddenly develop into an All-Pro lineman overnight.
All this is not meant to be a slight at Barbre, but when considering how vital guards are to offensive success under Chip Kelly, it’s a wonder why Philly was not more willing to work with Mathis to come to an agreement that worked for both sides.
Barbre’s opportunity is a vote of confidence by Kelly, entrusting his veteran lineman to step up and fill a pivotal role for a team largely dependent on high-powered offensive production. Should he fail, Kelly may have a lot of questions to answer. Should he excel, however, Kelly could come out looking like a genius, especially if the Eagles manage to ride into the playoffs with a team that looks nothing like the team the head coach inherited when he was hired in 2013.
And perhaps that’s really all Mathis’ release is about: a continuing change of culture from the Andy Reid era. Mathis is the ninth players who has been let go who was a holdover from Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia. What happened to Mathis has happened to a handful of players now, including superstars DeSean Jackson and, most recently, LeSean McCoy.
Tight end Zach Ertz said it best when he told Philly Mag’s Tim McManus:
If you kind of go against Chip, I think we've seen...If you don't buy in, we've seen what happens. Not to say that it's a threat in any way but we want guys that love the process each and every day whether it's June 1st or January 1st or February 6th, whatever day the Super Bowl is, we need guys that are going to come in each and every day and work and I think that's what we're building right now.
Kelly is building the Eagles the way he wants to. That became clear when he took over General Manager duties earlier this year. If a player doesn’t wish to be a part of the culture he’s creating, he has proven has no issue showing them the door.
Lou Musto is the publisher of WarNest.com. You can follow him on Twitter @LouisMusto.