Among the Marcus Mariota chatter that field social media before the draft was speculation that guard Evan Mathis would be traded. Many also thought that the Eagles, who released veteran guard Todd Herremans this offseason, and struggled with line depth in 2014, would select a lineman early in the draft.
Chip Kelyl and the Eagles surprised the media by neglecting the need altogether, and here’s why:
First of all, the perceived need for an interior lineman comes from the fact that guard Todd Herremans left this offseason. However, amid the shuffling of the line last season, Chip Kelly made it clear that he and the coaching staff were high on guard Matt Tobin. This was apparent when they inserted him into the starting lineup when he returned from injury, even though the previous guard had already had time to gel with the other linemen. Additionally, the Eagles signed Allen Barbre to a contract extension prior to last season, indicating they like his ability as a versatile lineman. The lack of moves clearly indicate Kelly aims to go with one of these two players as his starting right guard.
The question of Evan Mathis’ status still looms. Many wrongly assumed Kelly wanted Mathis gone due to his age, or other factors. Kelly revealed in his Saturday press conference that it was in fact Mathis who initiated trade talks, and that the Eagles allowed him to search for a move. Kelly and the front office must have been confident that Mathis, an aging player who is due an above-average salary, would come up empty in his search fro a new home. Kelly confirmed that the team hasn’t received “a single offer” for Mathis.
Aware that his trade value was negligible, Kelly went about his draft only looking for lineman that were either the best players on his board, or ones that he could sign as underrated free agents to fill backup spots. The team signed a few lineman after the draft, and paid one of them, Mike Coccia, a bit more money than the other UDFAs, a tell-tale sign that they value his ability as a blocker.
The Eagles knew full well that Mathis would be back at left guard this fall, and that he could do nothing about it. Having the leverage from lack of trade partners made this all possible, and will allow the Eagles to avoid paying Mthis more, and afford the big-money contracts they will pay to Bradford, DeMarco Murray, and Byron Maxwell.
A final offensive line question is one that remains with every team in the league: what to do with La’el Collins. Kelly stated bluntly that Collins “wasn’t on [the Eagles] draft board.” Barring an unexpected change of heart from the NFL, Collins will be forced to sign with a team as an underrated free agent. Under the new CBA, teams can give no more than a $75,000 signing bonus to an underrated player, a figure that, coupled with the league minimum base salary, is much lower than the one Collins would have received as a first-round pick. Whether Collins gets signed or not is based solely on how his meeting with local police goes this week, and even then, teams may wait until the true criminal in the case is found, to ensure nothing more can come of the questioning. The Eagles did bring Collins in for a pre-draft visit, and could potentially make a move if he is fully cleared. Don’t be surprised, however, if Kelly steers well clear of the Collins sweepstakes, in an effort to protect the locker room culture.