By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — Evan Mathis is the quintessential “Philadelphia story.” He was a camp body, someone Andy Reid and the Eagles signed from the scrapheap when he was released by Cincinnati after the 2010 season. He wasn’t supposed to be anything but a stopgap if someone went down. Nothing more.
In three years with the Eagles, the 6-5, 305-pound left guard has turned into more. Much more. The nine-year veteran has developed into one of the best guards in football, coming off an All Pro season in which the Eagles torched their offensive record book.
Now Mathis, who the Eagles got at a bargain base salary price of $5.15 million, wants the commensurate salary for what an All Pro guard earns. In many ways, he deserves it, not just for what Mathis does on the field, but what he represents to the Eagles off of it.
After starting 15 games for Eagles in 2011, Mathis was a stalwart during the Eagles’ 4-12 season in 2012. He was the only starter left on a patchwork offensive line and he still had a Pro Bowl-caliber season. Last year, Mathis graded out as the Eagles’ most consistent offensive lineman. It earned him first-team all-pro and Pro Bowl honors, but his salary dips below the NFL’s highest-paid guards.
In 2014, the Buccaneers’ Carl Nicks ($7 million), the Saints’ Jahri Evans ($6.8 million), and the Titans’ Andy Levitre ($6.5 million) will have the highest base salaries.
Mathis, who originally signed a one-year deal worth $700,000 with the Eagles, certainly belongs in that group.
He’s emerged as a leader on a team that needs leaders, with veterans like Michael Vick and Jason Avant gone. What’s more, he’s handled his contract demands professionally. He hasn’t whined to the media. He’s shown up to the voluntary workouts. He continues to be an example to the younger players on the team.
In other words, he’s been Evan Mathis.
“Evan has been since Day 1, since I got here, just outstanding, whether it’s in the meeting rooms, in the weight room, on the practice field—he practices every day,” Eagles’ coach Chip Kelly said about Mathis during the March owner’s meetings.
Mathis has received the unfair knock that he’s a “system guard,” though he’s excelled playing in two different offenses in the last three years. Former Eagles’ line coach Howard Mudd loved him, and he flourished in Kelly’s system under coach Jeff Stoutland last year.
It’s an example of the 32-year-old Mathis’ versatility to adjust.
This offseason, the Eagles have extended the contracts of left tackle Jason Peters, who will receive a four-year, $41 million extension, with $18 million guaranteed. Center Jason Kelce got a six-year, $37.5 million deal with a $13 million guarantee.
To keep a keystone to arguably one of the best offensive lines in the NFL happy, it may be an idea that the Eagles ante up and keep a solid soldier in the fold—and content.
Ask yourself this: Will the Eagles’ offense be as prolific in 2014 without Evan Mathis protecting Nick Foles and creating space for LeSean McCoy?
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.