One day before the first full-team practice of training camp, Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews has suddenly and unexpectedly become arguably the team's biggest question mark.
Is Matthews' injury worse than the Eagles are letting on? Is the fourth-year veteran legitimately injured at all? Or is he simply showing his displeasure with his contract situation? Or, are the Eagles trying to protect Matthews from injury until they can trade him?
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Nobody seems to know, not even Eagles coach Doug Pederson.
On Monday, Pederson said Matthews has been "rehabbing all spring, all summer," yet "nothing" is wrong with the 25-year-old's knee. Pederson added he's not holding Matthews out of practice, even though the wideout missed multiple practices during the spring sessions, and supposedly will be limited in camp.
An Eagles spokesperson said Matthews is still battling knee tendinitis, according to Jeff McLane for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Matthews hinted in May his tendinitis was a symptom of the ankle injury he sustained last season.
Matthews missed the Eagles' Week 13 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2016, as well as the meaningless Week 17 contest with the Dallas Cowboys. He finished last season with 73 receptions for 804 yards and 3 touchdowns in 14 games.
The longer Matthews' recovery goes on, the more it fuels speculation that something is amiss – and the lack of clarity coming out of the NovaCare Complex isn't helping, per Les Bowen for the Philadelphia Daily News.
There is talk around the locker room that Matthews' issue is more serious than tendinitis. But there is talk elsewhere in the building that Matthews could have practiced more in the spring, that the real issue is his contract. This will be the final year of the rookie deal Matthews signed after being drafted in the second round in 2014. He will make $1,094,000, according to Spotrac.com. There has been no indication that the team, tight against the projected 2018 cap, has done anything toward extending Matthews.
Matthews denied his contract is an issue in May. Even if he is unhappy, sitting out with a phantom injury would be very out of character for Matthews, who has a reputation as one of the hardest workers in the Eagles locker room.
Holding himself out of practice isn't going to help his cause, either. The Eagles made significant investments at receiver this offseason, eliminating whatever leverage Matthews may have had. In fact, Matthews runs the risk of losing his job as the offense's primary slot receiver after Eagles wideouts Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollins impressed coaches during spring sessions.
All of which is breathing new life into trade rumors that sprang up prior to the draft. Back in March, Yahoo!'s Charles Robinson suggested the Eagles might be "open to dealing" Matthews "if someone makes a solid offer."
The same could be said of almost every professional athlete. Since then, there have been no reports confirmed or otherwise the Eagles are shopping Matthews, while the receiver called the rumors "fake news."
Still, the lack of corroborating evidence hasn't put a stop to the conjecture – particularly from those who don't value Matthews' contributions to the Eagles offense. And, in all honesty, a trade is not without some logic – assuming the Eagles have no intention of retaining Matthews beyond 2017, and the offense would be just fine with Agholor or Hollins in the slot.
These are very big assumptions. The Eagles could always choose to re-sign Matthews in 2018, after evaluating what he can do once no longer miscast as a No. 1 receiver. Furthermore, neither Agholor nor Hollins is a sure bet to replace Matthews' production, never mind the ramifications a trade would have on the depth chart were there an injury at the position.
There's another problem with trading Matthews. As of now, the rest of the NFL thinks he is hurt, and until he is practicing and playing regularly, and he says there is nothing wrong, league executives have no reason to believe otherwise.
Who's going to trade for damaged goods?
Matthews' case is curious, although there is a simpler explanation for the cloak and dagger. Matthews truly is hurting, and Pederson wasn't trying to be coy about it. Rather, a football coach thinks one of his players should be able to tough it out.
That doesn't necessarily mean Matthews will be a member of the Eagles in 2018, or even come September. The only sure thing here is if the Eagles are interested in shopping Matthews, all of the mystery isn't helping.