The Eagles kept Casey Matthews, right, over Chris McCoy, left, who some believed had a better preseason. (USA Today Images)
If cutting offensive lineman Danny Watkins was expected, then keeping linebacker Casey Matthews might have been one of the Eagles’ most surprising decisions.
When the Eagles released nine players Saturday (see story), thereby trimming the roster to the regular-season limit of 53, Matthews remained employed. Instead, the Eagles dismissed linebacker Chris McCoy, who some people believed had a better preseason and training camp.
So why Matthews over McCoy?
“When you talk about a Casey Matthews, possibly, if you got in a bind in a game, he could play outside [linebacker],” general manager Howie Roseman said at the NovaCare Complex on Saturday. “When Chip [Kelly] talked about the versatility at the back of the roster, we didn’t want to duplicate a lot of skills.
“So that’s what made some of the choices at the back of the roster -- maybe some guys who played well during the preseason, but maybe they were duplicating the skills of some of the guys we had -- it didn’t make sense to keep them or try to find guys that did some different things.”
Matthews, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, went from being a starter to a backup to, recently, a seeming afterthought.
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound linebacker started three games as a rookie, recording 37 tackles (28 solo) and one sack. Before long, however, he lost his starting job and dropped on the depth chart.
Last season, Matthews started just one game. He posted six tackles all year (three solo).
Special teams is the one area where Matthews has contributed at times. In his rookie season, he made 11 special teams tackles. Last year, he was second on the team in that category with 14.
“When you talk about Casey, and back-of-the-roster guys, versatility is a plus,” Roseman said. “He can play inside or outside. He has some experience with the defensive system we’re going to be running from his days at Oregon. [He] can play on special teams.”
One reporter, not satisfied with the answer, stopped Roseman at that point and asked the general manager “has [Matthews] played well on special teams?”
“He’s a core member of the special teams,” Roseman replied. “He can play on all four phases. And, again, when you talk about versatility, play inside or outside and play on special teams.”
Here, again, the same reporter pressed Roseman. Has Matthews “played at a high level inside and outside? Have you seen that? Did he have a good preseason?”
“Yeah, I think he played at a level on special teams that you look for in your linebackers,” Roseman responded. “He can play multiple spots. You have some linebackers on your team that are on your team primarily for special teams. But I think he’s here right now because of the versatility he brings.”
When training camp opened, Matthews admitted his decreased playing time last season was “tough at first.” And yet he said he never doubted himself.
“Even when they took me out, you know what you can do,” Matthews insisted at the time. “It’s obviously why they drafted you in the first place. I came into a different situation, just the lockout, not having an offseason, to learning the defense and stuff and being thrown in as a starter.
“It was a little hard at first. You get used to it. But I know what I can do. I know my abilities. Obviously you just want to go out and show the coaches that you can play.”