The NFL is a cold-blooded business in many ways, but perhaps no more so than when teams wait for players to get healthy just so they can get rid of them.
About 11 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, news started to break that Philadelphia Eagles running back Ryan Mathews had passed a physical after healing for months from neck surgery. Mathews was cut by the Eagles before noon, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.
When you bemoan a lack of player loyalty in professional sports, remember tales like this one too. NFL players have an “Injury Protection Benefit” in the collective-bargaining agreement. which ensures a player of up to 50 percent of his salary up to $1.15 million if he’s injured during a game and can’t pass a physical the following season (h/t to Philly Voice and Pro Players Insider). That was clearly the reason the Eagles kept Mathews around for months and then cut him about an hour after he passed his physical. They saved $4 million on the salary cap by cutting Mathews, who suffered a herniated disc in the C6 and C7 spinal segments of his neck late last season and needed surgery. Mathews was slated to make $4 million in base salary on the last year of his three-year, $11 million deal, but that base salary was not guaranteed. Keep this in mind when players fight for guaranteed contracts in the next CBA.
Mathews has dealt with many injuries during his career – that’s a big reason the Eagles were so eager to move on – but teams will probably be interested. Mathews is a former first-round pick with two 1,000-yard seasons. Last season he had 661 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games. He has averaged 4.4 yards per carry in his career, which is good. He’s 30 years old and unlikely to be an every-down player or make it through 16 games, but can offer some help. Teams with depth issues at running back like the Baltimore Ravens, who lost starter Kenneth Dixon for the season already, could take a look at Mathews now that he’s free.
The weird saga of the Eagles waiting all offseason for Mathews to get a clean bill of health just so they could immediately tell him he’s fired without any further compensation is over. Now Mathews can try to find work again, likely at a much lower salary than he was scheduled to make with the Eagles.
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