It’s been an interesting offseason for the Philadelphia Eagles, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The release of DeSean Jackson was by far the most notorious event, but a handful of players have seen changes in their contracts.
Center Jason Kelce earned a six-year, $37.5 million deal that makes him one of the highest-paid centers in the National Football League. Meanwhile, All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters was rewarded with a four-year extension worth over $10 million per season.
Mathis is entering the third year of a five-year, $25.5 million deal that will pay him $6.15 million in 2014.
The problem from Mathis’ standpoint is the guaranteed money. He can be released after this season with very little cap penalty, and his upcoming cap hits ($6.5 million in 2015 and $7.0 million in 2016) are traditionally too high for an interior lineman.
Mathis’ talent is evident, and that’s why the team should rework a contract that guarantees at least two more seasons.
Mathis isn’t just a Pro Bowl guard—he’s the best guard in the NFL, bar none. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Mathis was the highest-rated guard in the league in 2011. He was again the best in 2012, rating over twice as high as the next best guard.
He was the best guard again in ’13, giving him an unprecedented three consecutive years as the best at his position.
Mathis is 32 years old, which means he’s likely in the second half of his NFL career. However, he didn’t really get started until ’09, so he doesn’t quite have the wear and tear one would expect of a player entering his 10th season in the league.
It wasn’t until the 2011 campaign that Mathis became a star.
Since then, Mathis has started 47 of a possible 48 games. He earned his first Pro Bowl selection last year, but the analytics support how talented he’s been.
Mathis has allowed a grand total of two sacks in the previous three seasons combined. PFF (subscription required) indicates six-time Pro Bowler Logan Mankins gave up nine sacks last season.
Mathis is also vital in the running game. The Eagles led the NFL in rushing yards last season. They were just 13th in a lost 2012, but fifth in 2011.
There’s even more reason that the Eagles need Mathis around, and that would be Lane Johnson’s suspension. With Johnson out for four games, versatile backup Allen Barbre has been thrust into a role as a starter on the right side.
Mathis could easily use the Johnson suspension as leverage for a new deal, but Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes he’s taking a team-first approach to the situation:
Mathis said the Lane Johnson situation gave him leverage but he didn't to exploit it and didn't want to let down his teammates and coaches.
— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) July 25, 2014
The Eagles historically low-balled veteran players under Andy Reid, although that philosophy seems to have softened under Chip Kelly with the recent extension to Peters.
Why not do the same for Mathis?
Peters’ four-year deal really only added one year to his contract, while essentially giving Philadelphia the option to part ways after 2015, 2016, 2017 or 2018 (depending how Johnson progresses as Peters’ heir apparent).
There’s no young player waiting to take over for Mathis. Barbre may be a future starter for the team, but it makes more sense for him to replace Todd Herremans.
Mathis is significantly better and more durable than Herremans, and he’s not making much more money.
A three-year extension for Mathis worth about $25 million is reasonable. It’s a lot of money and would make Mathis the highest-paid guard in the game in terms of net value per year. It’s overdue, though.
Right now, he rates just 12th among guards at $5 million per year, putting him next to the likes of TJ Lang and Jon Asamoah.
A new deal at $8.3 million per season would put Mathis third among guards in net per season, trailing just Carl Nicks and Mankins. It would give Philly an expensive offensive line, with Peters, Mathis and Kelce all making at least $6 million per campaign.
However, the team is powered by the offense, and maximum protection for quarterback Nick Foles and running back LeSean McCoy is essential.
The Eagles can’t afford their offense to be without Mathis, and that’s why general manager Howie Roseman needs to give Mathis a new extension.