Note: This column was originally written before the Eagles traded Jordan Matthews to the Buffalo Bills in the NFL’s most shuddering Friday-afternoon news dump to date. It has been adapted to reflect Matthews’ departure.
Before we discuss anything, let’s call Jordan Matthews exactly what we all know he is: A decent wide receiver.
Forget, for a second, his numbers. The ones that, whether like misleading Mark Sanchez completion percentages or rightfully recognized all-time yardage marks from Donovan McNabb, give him good standing in the Philadelphia Eagles record books.
“Decent” shouldn’t be too generous a title to award Mr. Matthews. We won’t even dabble with “good” or “great,” although you’d be hard pressed to find many “good” wide receivers who were as steadily productive, with the same slew of quarterbacks, receiving counterparts and general circumstances, as No. 81 was in Philly.
And yet, still, even commending Matthews as mildly competent, let alone making mention of the fourth-year veteran’s career highlights, seemed guaranteed to elicit backlash during the dark days of Internet-expert wide-receiver analysis before J-Matt’s trip out of town to Eagles North — er, the Bills — no less.
In case you’re an Eagles fan who also happens to take up offseason residence beneath a rock, Matthews wasn’t exactly a unanimously beloved member of the team leading up to his abrupt departure. Now, the mid-2000s version of all of us — the ones leeching to every Anquan Boldin trade rumor to hit the streets — may have embraced a solid, if unspectacular, wideout like Matthews with open arms. Heck, we all did just that in 2014. But there were intriguing opinions out there about why the Eagles should have been willing to move on from Matthews, an impending 2018 free agent.
Then there was me and about three others. (Or so it seemed.)
Let me be clear in noting that, with Ronald Darby (!) now in the fold at a cornerback spot that needed an upgrade like no other, Matthews heading to the Bills isn’t sour as much as it is bittersweet — with a heavy dose of long-term sweetener. Let me also be clear that, come March 2018, I may very well have been OK with the Eagles and Matthews parting ways anyway. By that point, Alshon Jeffery, the big-bodied all-star receiver this city has been craving since the era of everyone’s favorite (or disdained) Hall of Fame snub, might turn a Pro Bowl year into a big-money extension.
But those clamoring for J-Matt to be exiled from the WR depth chart — for the Eagles to thrust proven depth out of town — just to prove a point about Matthews being overrated? I hope, now that their scapegoat is actually gone, they will respect who and what Jordan Matthews was for this team and this city. (The fact that he was merely a three-year, semi-starting receiver here should speak volumes, too.)
How did factions of fans so suddenly develop distaste for Matthews? Maybe, with a glimpse at an unusually talented WR lineup, they saw no need for any remnants of a flawed and underwhelming past. Maybe, for reasons nowhere to be found in other free-agency plunges, they were worried about a future hurdle for Howie Roseman’s cap management. Maybe, with some degree of sense, they wanted the Eagles not to overvalue a guy who’s had some untimely drops and didn’t warrant the No. 1 job he was forced to shoulder early in his career.
But just because Matthews was an imperfect wideout and has now been shipped elsewhere doesn’t mean he isn’t worthy of some respect. It doesn’t mean Eagles fans shouldn’t, you know, be thankful they could root for him. And, really, beyond those statistical debates or financial concerns, was there an Eagle outside of, say, Matthews’ handshake buddy Carson Wentz who made himself more likable?
The in-game hiccups were frustrating, but you’re telling me the no-nonsense, team-first attitude that accompanied his 225 catches, 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns in three years stood for nothing?
If Matthews were wearing midnight green in 2017, I know I wouldn’t have been so bummed about it. Maybe, just maybe, he would’ve even won back a few fans with a redefined role on a supremely restocked offense.
Now, Jordan Matthews leaves to fill in for Sammy Watkins out in Buffalo, high-fiving the Eagles’ newest starting cornerback as he arrives. He departs amid some polarizing and often unnecessary debate, but he leaves behind a trail that I respect.