Changes keep coming for Philadelphia with Ryan Mathews, Walter Thurmond
The Chip Kelly transaction train continues to chug along at unprecedented speed. Having already this off-season traded away LeSean McCoy, traded for Sam Bradford, signed Byron Maxwell to a monster deal and allowed Jeremy Maclin to test free agency, the Philadelphia Eagles kept at it Wednesday by reportedly agreeing to deals with RB Ryan Mathews and CB Walter Thurmond.
Mathews's addition will be met with some scrutiny (what isn't at this time of the NFL year?), as he'll likely be the first up as Philadelphia attempts to replace McCoy. Leading into free agency, ex-49er Frank Gore was ticketed for that job, but he turned heel and headed for Indianapolis instead.
The 27-year-old Mathews has been one of the league's most frustrating players since San Diego drafted him No. 12 overall in 2010. At his best, he is a dynamic, three-down back—see: 2011 when he rushed for 1,100 yards and caught 50 passes or a 1,444-total yard '13.
"Ryan is a talented football player," San Diego GM Tom Telesco said last month. "And as everyone can probably see, we're a different team with him on the field, with his speed and physicality and his talent level."
The operative phrase there being "with him on the field." Mathews too often found himself sidelined by injury throughout his Chargers career, finishing last season with just 74 carries in eight games.
Darren Sproles's presence will allow the Eagles to limit Mathews's snap count, in hopes of keeping him healthy for all 16 games. But, for the moment, Mathews also has a bead on the starting RB spot, which often comes with a high-volume workload in Kelly's offense. Case in point: McCoy averaged 313 carries during his two seasons with Kelly.
Thurmond has proven to be rather fragile throughout his NFL career, too. With the Giants last season, he made it all of two games before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury. Worse yet, Thurmond played a combined eight games in 2011-12 for Seattle and has yet to suit up for more than 14 games in any one season.
After joining the Giants last off-season, Thurmond told the New York Daily News that he was "the best slot corner in the league." Whether or not there's any justification for that remark, Thurmond's arrival could push the Eagles' incumbent slot guy, Brandon Boykin, out the door.
Thurmond (5'11", 190 pounds) has an inch and five pounds on Boykin; neither guy necessarily fits with Kelly's desire to have size at the outside cornerback spots.
Of course, in what is a necessary footnote to most of Kelly's recent moves, Thurmond is a former Oregon Duck. Kelly continues to stockpile players who played under him back in Eugene.
Grade for the Mathews signing: B (updated after Philadelphia signed DeMarco Murray)
OK, so all of that chatter above about Mathews being the Eagles' lead back? Scratch that for now with DeMarco Murray arriving. Instead, Mathews will join what is, for the moment, an overcrowded backfield alongside Murray and Sproles, among others. Having Murray and Mathews should help Philadelphia keep both guys healthy—Mathews stands to take on far more carries than, say, Joseph Randle did in Dallas last season.
A healthy Mathews on his own would be a 1,000-yard threat, easily, in Chip Kelly's offense. Playing a 1a role to Murray, Mathews could be a dynamic complement, with Darren Sproles (assuming he's still around) then pressuring defenses on passing downs.
I guess the question here has to be: Did the Eagles need to spend even more money at RB? Chris Polk already had a place on the roster, so he could have served as Murray's backup. Having a fragile back like Mathews as the safety net is an interesting use of resources.
Grade for the Thurmond signing: B-plus
In general, these one-year, "prove-it" deals are a wise idea for NFL teams. They often bring to town a motivated player who has shown potential in the past. That is the case here with Thurmond, who—while he may not be the league's best slot corner—is a decent playmaker.
Can he or Boykin step outside if no other additions are made? Squeezing out Boykin entirely would feel like a waste of upside, even if Kelly is intent on molding this roster in the image he wants.