Despite considerable draft pedigree, youth and a mostly productive first four years in the NFL, the New England Patriots were able to sign wide receiver Jordan Matthews relatively late during the free agency period: Just last week, the Patriots brought the former second-round draft pick on board via a one-year, $1.0 million contract that includes a mere $170,000 in guarantees – a bargain deal for a player of Matthews' abilities.
After all, the 25-year old wide receiver caught a combined 250 passes over the course of his NFL career, gaining 2,955 yards in the process while scoring 20 touchdowns. Most of his production came during his three years with the Philadelphia Eagles, who made Matthews the 42nd overall draft pick in 2014. But despite a down year following his trade to the Buffalo Bills last August, Matthews is not worried about his future outlook.
“I was dealing with some issues as far as injuries last year,” Matthews said during his introductory press conference yesterday. “The thing is, though, I appreciate Coach McDermott for letting me have that time to go get healthy, so now I’m healthy and I’m able to get back to work and really get myself back to where I was before.” The before Matthews is alluding to saw him average 75 catches, 891 yards and six scores per season.
“I know that’s kind of a big thing to a lot of people – the numbers, the production and all of that stuff,” Matthews continued. “But for me, at this point in my career, I’m really just worried about going out there and being the best player that I can be and really just helping this team win.” Considering the turnover the Patriots had at the wide receiver position this offseason, a healthy and productive Matthews might play an important role in that.
Considering that he played primarily in the slot since joining the NFL out of Vanderbilt, where he played on the perimeter, Matthews is viewed as an option to help replace departed Danny Amendola. Seeing him inherit the veteran's old number 80 – after asking for Amendola's permission before taking it – only adds to this thought. However, Matthews does not want to limit himself to one role within New England's offense.
“I feel comfortable anywhere, honestly,” he said. “When I came into the league it was a situation where we had two guys that were very experienced on the outside in Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, so Coach Kelly really wanted me inside just to learn and to kind of help guys get situated, so that was a place where I had a lot of production early on [...] but I’m confident in both areas. Whatever the team wants to use me at, I’m comfortable with.”
The chance to be used both on the interior and the perimeter also appears to be a part of why Matthews opted to sign New England's offer: “Probably the biggest reason was I knew this was the best opportunity for me to grow as a player,” the 6'2, 215 lbs wide receiver said yesterday. “I had some other teams that contacted me that I visited. [...] I knew this would be great place for me to grow, not only as a player, but as a man in general.”
Personal growth aside, Matthews will need to establish himself playing in the Patriots' notoriously difficult offense alongside a quarterback demanding perfection from himself and those around him – a group that currently includes nine pure wide receivers. In order to make the team, Matthews will have to beat out at least three of them. However, he views the competition at the position as something positive.
“I think it’s the best thing ever,” Matthews stated. “I think that’s what’s really going to breed greatness in all of us. At the end of the day, if you don’t have that type of competition then that’s the easiest way that guys start saying, ‘OK, this guy’s a rookie. This guy’s young. This guy has no production.’ But I feel like we have a group of a lot of guys that are not just competitors, but they have had production in the league so they’ve proven it.”
The proved production Matthews is talking about is very much working in his favor: Of New England's current group of wideouts, only Julian Edelman and Kenny Britt have caught more passes in the NFL than Matthews' 250. Past production, however, means little when it comes to competing for a job on the 2018 Patriots – and while Matthews knows this, he is looking forward to the challenge of playing for the team.
“I think the competition, the expectation – both of those mixed together I think is what makes it a place that any receiver should be excited to get here and work in.”