Friday, June 12, 2015

Evan is hardly almighty in Chip's world

Former Eagles OG Evan Mathis - courtesy of Keith Allison
PHILADELPHIA - You either buy in or you don't.

That's the message Eagles head coach Chip Kelly sent Thursday as he officially parted ways with veteran Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis.

Philadelphia never officially announced the move, but Mathis took to Twitter to confirm it himself.

"Thanks for the memories Philly," the Alabama product wrote.

Despite what you might hear from LeSean McCoy or Stephen A. Smith, it's not about any kind of "ism" with Kelly, it's about the "Chip-tator's" my-way-or-the-highway belief system.

Mathis, of course,  had been unhappy with the five-year, $25 million contract he signed in 2012 for two years now and skipped all of the Eagles' "voluntary" offseason activities.

With three days of mandatory minicamp looming next week, two different sources close to Mathis told The Sports Network the 33-year-old veteran planned to show up, but Kelly pulled the plug before Mathis got the opportunity to air his grievances to the local media.

Why?

"Culture wins football," Kelly was overhead bragging while mic'd up during a shutout win over the New York Giants last year. "Culture beats scheme every day."

Some might spin that as trash talk against a struggling division rival after a heated week of preparation, but those close to Kelly know the truth: He not only wants to win, he wants to win his way with players who buy into his ethos.

And by skipping all of those OTAs despite the fact the Eagles gave Mathis and agent Drew Rosenhaus permission to seek a trade for two years running revealed a troubling character flaw to Kelly.

The coach wants team-oriented players and, rightly or wrongly, he placed Mathis in the same camp as players like DeSean Jackson and McCoy -- "me guys."

"Evan's been available to trade for two years now and we've never had an offer for him," Kelly said during the NFL Draft. "That's through his agent and him. They've asked if he could renegotiate a contract and see what he could get and we've obliged him with that, but we've never had an offer."

On one hand, that's a believable narrative because 33-year-old guards who make $5.5 million -- even really good ones -- aren't worth much on the open market in the NFL.

ProFootballTalk.com, however, reported the Eagles nearly traded Mathis during the draft but never seriously pursued a move after that, preferring instead to jettison a top-tier player with a history of complaining about money while getting nothing of value in return.

And that's Kelly's own character flaw.

It's also an eerily similar situation to the Jackson mess after Kelly's first season.

Reports that leaked ex-general manger Howie Roseman's offer of a slight raise to Mathis last September and the fact that Kelly, who is now in charge of personnel, pulled it off the table were apparently the last straw.

In a vacuum, neither side looks like a winner in this long-looming divorce between Kelly and Mathis. Philadelphia released a two-time Pro Bowl player who has arguably been the best guard in football during his stint in town, while the aging Mathis will likely get nowhere near what he was scheduled to make with the Eagles in his next stop.

But this is about far more than Evan Mathis.

Those who believe Kelly couldn't deal with the "big personalities" of stars like Jackson and McCoy have only been buoyed now that the third-year Eagles coach cut the cord with Mathis, a player with the same penchant for being a pain in the backside as "Jaccpot" and "Shady."

"Can't deal with big personalities" isn't the proper description of Kelly's fiefdom, though, it's "won't deal with."

The best players on the Eagles now are All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters, emerging five-technique Fletcher Cox and newly signed running back DeMarco Murray.

All of those men are understated and go about their business without ruffling feathers, an attribute they do not share with over-the-top talents like Jackson and McCoy as well as Mathis, who often took to Twitter to show off an acerbic wit.

So while racism and bigotry are not Kelly's issue, hubris is.

Culture is never going to beat talent in the NFL. That's the reason Bill Belichick deals with a knucklehead like Rob Gronkowski, and Pete Carroll puts up with Marshawn Lynch's nonsense.

If Kelly wants to add a ring to his resume, he must learn that lesson at some point.
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