BETHLEHEM, Pa. Evan Mathis had a hunch he wasnt going back to Cincinnati. He sent a text message that pretty much confirmed it.
When Reggie Bush sent his widely-circulated farewell to Saints fans Its been fun in New Orleans Mathis followed with a message of his own. His read: It hasnt been fun in Cincinnati.
The Bengals are a broken and dispirited organization and after three frustrating seasons, Mathis wanted out. On Saturday, his agent Drew Rosenhaus called with welcome news.
Drew said Philadelphia was interested, said Mathis, a 6-5, 300-pound offensive lineman, so here I am.
Mathis watched the Sunday morning practice at Lehigh in shorts and a green No. 69 jersey. As a free agent signee, he is not allowed to workout with the team until Thursday but already he feels the camps positive vibe. He knows he is not in Cincinnati anymore.
I can see this is a well run organization, Mathis said. Andy Reid is a good coach. He has a very good staff. You have to be impressed with some of the moves theyve made. Everything seems to be going in the right direction.
It is a different world from the one Mathis left behind. The Bengals are coming off a 4-12 season and quarterback Carson Palmer vows to retire rather than play for them again. Team president Mike Brown refuses to trade Palmer even though Brown knows he could get something for the 31-year-old quarterback.
The standoff epitomizes everything thats wrong with the Bengals and why they havent won a playoff game since 1990, the longest drought in the league. Mathis was tired of it so when he had a chance to hit the free agent market, he did not hesitate. He hoped to sign with a contender and the Eagles certainly qualify.
The Mathis signing didnt have the headline-grabbing impact of, say, landing Nnamdi Asomugha, but Mathis may prove to be significant addition. He is a versatile veteran who can play every spot on the offensive line and in case you hadnt noticed, the Eagles have some issues there.
First round pick Danny Watkins, the projected starter at right guard, still has not signed a contract and is not in camp. Winston Justice, the returning starter at right tackle, is on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury and King Dunlap is filling in for now, but he is not exactly filling anyone with confidence.
Mathis gives the Eagles flexibility. He can play right guard for now until Watkins signs and gets up to speed with the offense. He also can slide into left guard (where he started seven games in 2009) and allow the coaches to shift Todd Herremans to right tackle.
Mathis played tackle for three seasons at Alabama so perhaps the plan is for him to play right tackle until Justice is back on the field. At the moment, Mathis doesnt know what the coaches have in mind, but he is willing to do whatever they draw up on the board.
I just got here this morning, Mathis said. They handed me a playbook. I barely had a chance to look at it. Whatever the coaches want me to do, Ill do it. Ill adapt.
This is his seventh season in the NFL and it has been a largely frustrating journey. Mathis was a third round pick by Carolina in 2005 and he started 15 games for the Panthers the following year. He went to Miami in 2008 then to Cincinnati where he was stuck in a backup role last season.
Cincinnati likes big linemen, Mathis said. I didnt really fit in there. Here (with the Eagles) they like smaller, more athletic linemen, guys who can move, and that suits me better.
Mathis was asked if he would have trouble fitting into the Eagles pass-heavy offense.
Whatever play is called, you just play your (butt) off, Mathis said. Its pretty simple, you just dont let your guy get to the quarterback.
The Eagles are changing their approach under new line coach Howard Mudd. Like the Bengals, they favored the wide-body, road-grader approach in the past, but Mudd brings in a new style that stresses speed and technique. Mathis, who actually looks lean at 300 pounds, fits the new design.
Asked to describe his assets, Mathis said: Strength and speed. I try to finish (blocks) hard downfield. I play hard all the time.
He is excited about playing for Mudd, who established himself as one of the best line coaches in the business designing pass protections for Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.
I asked Paul Alexander, my line coach in Cincinnati, about (Mudd), Mathis said. He said he was the best. I look forward to working with him.
In pro football, a lot of it is about being in the right place at the right time. Thats how you have success. Ive come a long way since my rookie year, but Im still looking for that (right) situation. Im hoping this is it.