When the Eagles signed veteran guard Evan Mathis on July 31 last summer, little attention was paid to the transaction. Amid a whirlwind free agency period, Mathis, a self-described "journeyman" at the time, was lost in the shuffle of Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins and, eventually, Nnamdi Asomugha. And back then, Todd Herremans was firmly entrenched as the left guard, leaving little room in the lineup for Mathis to make an impact.
Fast forward about seven and a half months later to the NovaCare Complex. Herremans is now a right tackle after he took that job and ran with it following Ryan Harris' back injury and Winston Justice's extended knee rehab. Mathis is coming off a year in which he started 15 games, coinciding perfectly with his foray into free agency. And oh yeah, he's just signed a five-year deal worth a reported $25 million.
"My career has been a plethora of terrible timing," says the veteran of four NFL teams, "and in 2011, everything was perfect timing."
Who would have believed that the 30-year-old Mathis would make his way from last summer's point A to Monday's point B? Well, Mathis himself of course.
"I knew my goal was to be relentless," Mathis said. "I had been on the bottom, having been cut twice in a year and riding the bench for a long time. I just worked every day to get better, and I put in 28 straight days of training during the lockout to get in the best physical shape of my life. With the opportunity to come play under (offensive line coach) Howard Mudd, I jumped at that. I knew his history and I knew he was one of the best offensive line coaches in the history of the game. If he couldn't take my game to the next level, then it wasn't meant for me to succeed in this league."
Because Mathis had so suddenly gone from a reserve offensive lineman to highly sought-after free agent, you can understand him for taking his time in the free agency process. Mathis was wooed by the Baltimore Ravens, who hosted the guard for a visit. Testing the waters was a decision agreed upon by both Mathis and Eagles general manager Howie Roseman.
"Just to see what the market was for me, the situation I was in is a bit of a conundrum," said Mathis. "I'm a journeyman-type guy who ends up having a great year, so what's the market? Is it because of the system? Is it because I'm going to be good? So there are a lot of questions there."
So when the chips were on the table and Mathis was left to weigh the new in Baltimore against the known in Philadelphia, there was too much pulling him back to the Eagles.
"I knew exactly what I had here," said Mathis. "I knew the family atmosphere, the talent on the team, the talent on the coaching staff and the front office, and the direction the organization was headed. I knew exactly what was here. I know the history of the Ravens and that they're a good team, but being on the inside here and being able to resurrect my career here really put it over the top for me.
"My heart was just here."
Now, the five members of the Eagles' starting group of offensive linemen are all signed through at least 2014. With Jason Peters, Mathis, Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins and Herremans in the lineup and Michael Vick at quarterback, the Eagles were 5-1 last season.
"This is absolutely the best offensive line I've ever played with," said Mathis.
To be fair, Mathis plays a big role in the offensive line's success. ProFootballFocus' No. 1 rated guard in all of the NFL last season, Mathis believes there is still much room to grow. Despite the fact that he will turn 31 next season, Mathis has only started 37 games (among 73 total games) during his career.
"In my eyes, my career started last year," said Mathis. "No serious injuries, no tread on the tires. I know I'm 30, but this five-year contract will be no problem to play out."
Mathis' journey is an impressive tale of perseverance and self-belief, and it's a lesson he can one day impart on his soon-to-be first child, daughter Lee Ila, due in about a month.
"The lesson is be relentless," Mathis said. "If you believe in yourself, then be relentless."