By John McMullen
PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles' decision to release a two-time Pro Bowl guard was nothing more than a selfless act, at least according to the Mother Teresa of NFL head coaches, Chip Kelly.
Not surprisingly, the player who was jettisoned, Evan Mathis, has a different take.
Kelly said Tuesday that Mathis' release late last week before the team's mandatory minicamp was set to begin was a direct result of "multiple" requests by Mathis and his agent Drew Rosenhaus.
"We were asked by his agent for a release on multiple occasions," Kelly claimed. "We weren't going to come to a conclusion in terms of a contract extension. We weren't going to extend any contract or adjust any contract, so we granted him what his agent asked for."
Mathis has indeed been complaining about money for most of the past two years and even rejected a potential million-dollar increase to his scheduled 2015 salary of $5.5 million, a stipend proffered by ex-GM Howie Roseman,
When Kelly wrestled personnel control from Roseman that offer was rescinded, turning off the Mathis camp even further.
"He didn't want to be here," Kelly said, painting only half the picture. "I wanted him to get whatever he could get. I hope it works out for him."
Mathis, however, has every attention of attending the mandatory minicamp after missing the voluntary OTAs, according to two different sources close to the player.
Mathis confirmed that to CSNPhilly.com after Kelly spoke and also said he did ask for his release in March before the start of free agency. However, that was the only time he and Rosenhaus made such a request, according to Mathis.
"Yes, I would have played under the contract and been fine -- like last year," Mathis told CSNPhilly.com. "I can block stuff out and not let it be a distraction. I missed voluntary stuff, but I was still working hard. It doesn't mean I was going to be a bad apple. I would never do that."
Those close to Mathis believe that to be the case but the veteran, who is set to turn 34 this season, had already made his bed with Kelly, who demands his players buy into his vision.
"If you look at a lot of the cuts or things that he's happened since (Kelly) has been here, the most important thing that's trying to be established -- and I think it is established -- is a culture," center Jason Kelce, a good friend of Mathis, said.
"It's a workplace where everybody's in this together," Kelce continued. "Everybody's in this with
one another. People look at this like it's voluntary, and that's fine. But the fact of the matter is, Evan was one out of 90 guys that wasn't here. That's clearly not a part of the team."
Kelce has taken on the role of leader in Kelly's culture, along with certain others like linebacker Connor Barwin, safety Malcolm Jenkins and linebacker DeMeco Ryans.
"Nobody has anything personal against Evan," Kelce said. "I still consider him one of the best friends I've had throughout my life. This is just the nature of the business. The nature of what we're trying to build here. He's doing something that he's doing in his best interest and it didn't fit what the Eagles wanted to do."
And that's fine but sooner or later, another player is going to be unhappy with his contract. That's just the nature of professional football and Kelly could be setting a dangerous precedent by playing my way or the highway with players outperforming their deals.
"We deal with every contract on an individual basis," Kelly said. "(Mathis and Rosenhaus) obviously wanted a new contract and we weren't going to give them a new contract."
Jenkins respected both sides of the argument.
"I'm not judging Evan," Jenkins said. "I see both sides. If you want to move on and think you're worth that kind of money ... You're a grown man, making a grown man decision ... Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
For Mathis it didn't work in Philadelphia but he figures to have plenty of other suitors, including Miami, San Francisco and perhaps Andy Reid in Kansas City.
"I hope it works out for him," Kelly said. "He was great for us the two years that we had him. I like Evan a lot."
For now journeyman Allen Barbre is penciled in as Mathis' replacement at left guard.
"We obviously are down a good football player," Kelly said. "We're confident in the guys that we have. That's why we made the decision we made. Allen Barbre is an outstanding football player."