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Should the Eagles hold on to Ryan Mathews?

An opportunity or a cost?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Godot will arrive before the Eagles release Ryan Mathews (I eagerly anticipate them releasing him within hours of this going up), so at this point are the Eagles just better off keeping him through camp and seeing what happens?

#### happens

LeGarrette Blount has replaced Mathews, which should give the Eagles a big upgrade. But injuries happen in football, and as we saw last season when Mathews missed time, the rest of the Eagles running backs aren’t capable of replacing the tough between the tackle running that Blount and Mathews provide. Corey Clement might, but 26 running backs were drafted this year and none of them were Clement. It was surprising that he wasn’t drafted, and UDFA RBs can carve out a role, but expecting one to is asking too much. All it takes is one injury, and suddenly having Mathews on the roster is a positive.

And it doesn’t have to be in-house. Nearly a year ago Teddy Bridgewater went down, and the Eagles pounced on a trade from their surplus of QBs. With a surplus of running backs, they are in a position of strength should a trade opportunity arise. They won’t get a first round pick, but Howie Roseman has made a few player for conditional or late round pick trades, and players do get dealt at the end of camp. Something’s better than nothing. It seems highly unlikely a team would trade for Mathews, since his $4 million in salary (and giving up a draft pick) is a hefty price to pay for a running back who can’t stay healthy, but people don’t make rational decisions in moments of panic.

Mo money, mo problems

There is one big and obvious risk in keeping Mathews: cutting him saves $4 million in cap space, if he gets hurt the Eagles have to eat it. The Eagles currently have the fourth least amount of cap space for 2018, which is to say they have the fourth worst starting point for 2018’s salary cap. And they have a lot of players who are on the last year of their deals. $4 million in cap space would be a nice addition for 2018. Mathews’ injury history makes keeping him a larger than usual risk. They only need him to stay healthy through the first three weeks of the preseason, a small window, but small windows being broken can be a costly opportunity.

We should know what the Eagles plan is next week when training camp starts. The expectation remains that Mathews, once he is healthy enough to pass a physical, will be released, though if he isn’t the team could reach an injury settlement. But the team should at least ask itself if it’s willing to take on the risk of keeping him through camp and seeing if someone is willing to part with something for his services or if they’ll need him themselves.