Offensive guard Evan Mathis lasted past the initial round of signings but has found a new home with the Arizona Cardinals.
Albert Breer of NFL Network reported Mathis will receive a one-year, $6 million deal. Adam Caplan of ESPN noted the deal is actually up to $6,000,069 after Mathis wore No. 69 with the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network and NFL.com said the Cardinals were comfortable trading guard Jonathan Cooper to the New England Patriots on Tuesday because Mathis visited them. Rapoport also reported the Cardinals offered a two-year deal for Mathis.
The Patriots announced the trade Rapoport mentioned that sent Cooper and a second-round pick to New England in exchange for defensive end Chandler Jones.
Jones tallied 12.5 sacks in 2015 and helps the Cardinals address arguably their biggest need on a team that reached the NFC Championship Game last season. Arizona ranked a mediocre 20th in the league in total sacks in 2015, and the number would have been even worse without free agent Dwight Freeney’s eight sacks in 11 games.
Having Mathis as an insurance policy following the loss of Cooper is a solid plan for Arizona. He is a two-time Pro Bowler and, per Pro-Football-Reference.com, has 130 games and 90 starts on his resume since he was a third-round pick in 2005 draft. Mathis played for the Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos throughout his career.
Matt Claassen of Pro Football Focus recently ranked Mathis as the ninth-best remaining free agent of 2016 (following a March 10 update) and pointed to his run-blocking prowess as a primary reason why: “With a new team in 2015, his performance dipped a bit, but he still finished with the highest run-blocking grade among guards for the fourth time in five years.”
Football Outsiders ranked the Cardinals offensive line as the third-best unit in the league in run blocking and fifth-best in pass protection during the 2015 season. That ability to create holes and protect the passer helped an offense that featured quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd finish first in the league in total offense and second in scoring offense.
Mathis is 34 years old and likely past his prime, but he is a veteran presence who is fresh off a Super Bowl run with the Broncos. Ideally, he can serve as a leader on the offensive line for a team that could realistically capture its own Lombardi Trophy in 2016.