Del Rio Wants to Be "All-In"
Granted the OTAs are voluntary team sessions. Players can't be fined or suspended for missing these practices. And few players report to camp each year in better shape than Mathis, a hometown hero who has been a mainstay of the defense for the past seven seasons. He's started every game he's played in and has been a team leader, on and off the field.
But Mathis wants to be compensated like the top 10 cornerbacks in the league, whether he belongs in that group or not. At one time, he probably was in the elite status among the league's top pass defenders. But he's only played in one Pro Bowl (2006), has finished the last two years on injured reserve missing 10 games the last two seasons and has been burned for long scores on a number of occasions in recent years.
Neither Mathis nor his agent, Mike Sullivan, has spoken publicly about Mathis' contract demands. But the veteran cornerback, who will be 30 when the 2010 season opens, told Del Rio by phone that he would not be present when the team opened its OTAs on Monday because of his contract situation.
Two years into Mathis' original four-year contract in 2003, he signed a five-year extension that took him through the 2011 season. That contract was worth $25.5 million and included $9.4 million in guaranteed money. It has two years left to run with Mathis scheduled to make $3.95 million this season and $4.45 million next year.
But the past several seasons, several of the NFL's elite defenders have signed lucrative deals that will pay them in excess of $8 million a year, twice as much as Mathis will make each of the next two seasons.
The Jaguars aren't likely to budge with Mathis. He's their top defender, a team leader and someone who holds a young secondary together, but they are likely to maintain a firm position with regards to drawing up a new contract or extending his current. When asked if there were any on-going talks with Mathis or there were any plans on making him a new offer, Del Rio offered a clear, concise "no" on both questions.
"We're all free to make choices. In the end our choices lead to consequences," Del Rio stated. "I'm not happy with it; he knows that. He did let me know (he wouldn't be at the OTAs). We've certainly been together a number of years and I appreciated that, but I also intimated to him that I don't agree with it and I don't support it.
"We're going to continue to focus on the guys that are here and the work that needs be done and (we're) pushing every day to be as good as we can be. So I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about it."
So while Mathis may skip all 14 of the Jaguars OTA practice sessions, the real test will come in late July when the team opens training camp and everyone under contract must be there or risk fine or possible suspension. How far Mathis takes him contract demands remains to be seen.
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