When a Pro Bowl caliber player is let go, you would think most teams would at least want to kick the tires on him if they have even only a slight need at the position. This theory holds true in regards to G Evan Mathis, who has apparently gained a lot of interest since being released by the Philadelphia Eagles.
The San Francisco 49ers were reportedly one of the teams that are considering Mathis, and his addition would make sense on multiple levels.
First and foremost, even at 33-years old, Mathis can straight out play. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s been the highest graded guard in three of the last four seasons with +41.3 grade in 2011 (1st), +52.0 in 2012 (1st), +48.3 in 2013 (1st) and +25.8 in 2014 (2nd). It should be noted that Mathis only played nine games in ’14 which may hurt his grade a bit.
Mathis is also a two-time Pro Bowler (2013, 2014) and was named a First-Team All Pro in 2013.
So while there’s no doubt what kind of player Mathis is, the question is how would his possible arrival effect the 49ers and their offensive line?
The unit is in flux for a number of reasons, and it’s possible there could be some movement between now and when the season starts. T Joe Staley, C Daniel Kilgore, and G Alex Boone are locked in if healthy, but there is a huge void at right tackle since T Anthony Davis retired. Right now, veteran T Erik Pears will slide over into that role, but there’s no guarantee he stays there. Beyond that, there looks to be a competition at the other guard position between G Brandon Thomas, G Joe Looney and C/G Marcus Martin (who will also be in the mix at center should Kilgore not be 100 percent).
The arrival of Mathis would not only improve this group, but also give the team more flexibility. Pears is a nice veteran addition depth wise, but probably isn’t ideal choice to be your starting right tackle. Boone, however, may be.
With Mathis providing a veteran presence at one guard spot, it would allow the 49ers to move Boone over to tackle, which was his original position. They could then let the Looney/Thomas/Martin competition play out as planned, and slide the best of the bunch in without worrying too much about inexperience. If Boone goes to tackle without someone like Mathis, they might find themselves with too very green guards.
The starting line under this scenario would then be Staley-Mathis-Kilgore-Thomas/Looney/Martin-Boone, with Pears around for depth. Granted it doesn’t solve the 49ers long-term need at right tackle since Boone is a free agent after this season, but he’s certainly worth more to the team on the outside then his is at guard if he wants to stick around.
It will be interesting to see just how hard the 49ers push for Mathis, and their pursuit could be somewhat of an indication of how they truly feel about their chances in 2015. If San Francisco really does think they can compete this season (and I believe they’re in better shape than people are giving them credit for), adding Mathis would show the team is still in “win now” mode, despite the tumultuous offseason.