Now that the Kansas City Chiefs have some cap space thanks to the Justin Houston deal, perhaps they revisit some of the free agent options that weren't an option before his signing. Andy Reid specifically said they were not pursuing former Eagles guard Evan Mathis -- this came way back in June when they had little cap space -- but that doesn't stop us from speculating on whether they SHOULD sign him and how he would fit on this team.
One could assume that you could plug an Pro Bowl-caliber guard on any offensive line and he could help. However, there are MANY nuances to offensive line play that MIGHT mean that Mathis is only a fit for certain offenses and maybe only a fit next to certain tackles.
There is a huge difference between zone blocking and man (power) blocking schemes (as explored by Augustine R. Harmon here).
Most NFL teams use some zone concepts, especially in the run game, but I do believe there's a distinct profile that each team looks for in their offensive linemen. Teams Like Denver, Houston, Washington, Seattle and Kansas City use zone blocking at the core of their offensive scheme. Man / power blocking teams include Dallas, Minnesota, and Arizona.
It's fair to say that teams that run primarily zone blocking schemes want their linemen to be quick on their feet and smart (able to recognize when to combo and when to pass off a defender). Zone blockers CAN be smaller but as long as they can move they don't HAVE to be undersized. These teams want guys who can work in tandem with other linemen and move / steer their defender in the proper direction to ensure they don't make a play.
Teams that are built on power or man concepts typically look for big, mauling lineman that can win the one-on-one battles with defenders, even if they can't move as well in space. They want guys who can "lock on" to a defender and dominate.
The Chiefs have drafted five offensive linemen since GM John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid took over. They also added two veterans this year. Is there a specific type of Blocker that they look for?
Eric Fisher (now 6'7, 315 pounds after adding 20 pounds of muscle), Eric Kush (now 6'4, 313 pounds after adding 10 pounds of muscle) and Mitch Morse (6'5, 305 pounds) are all lean, athletic guys who can really move. They are physically closer to the zone blocking stereotype.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (6'5, 315 pounds) and Zach Fulton (6'5, 316 pounds) are built more like traditional power blocking linemen (although I haven't seen enough of LDT to get a good feel for his style).
They've added Ben Grubbs (6'3, 310 pounds) who can play in either scheme and Paul Fanaika (6'6" 327 pounds) who is a power blocking guy for sure.
The consensus was that Andy Reid and John Dorsey wanted to build a more powerful version of their offensive line but with guys that are very athletic and can still move. They have rebuilt their line with (mostly) guys that are tall and lean, with the feet and speed to move ... and they've worked hard to add muscle to their frames.
Evan Mathis is a classic zone blocking specialist. He's 6'5 and between 298-302 pounds, depending on the source. He can get pushed back a bit by a bull rush but he's VERY adept at moving defenders in the direction he wants them to go, and he can absolutely move in space and get to the second and third level with the best of them.
Style of play / Who is next to you
Tra Thomas discussed the release of Evan Mathis in this piece:
"I know Evan is a two-time Pro Bowler, but he and Jason Peters play a different style of game" Thomas said. "Evan Mathis is a guy who likes to jump set and likes to take everything at the line of scrimmage. Jason Peters is a guy who likes to set back and let his guy come to him.
"When you go back and review the film and and look at how he has been playing I know he made the Pro Bowl, but when you look at his style of play. He doesn’t the play the way I would want my guards to play. I know it’s going to fit somewhere. But when you look at what was going on back out there on the field you could see Jason didn’t trust him. He creates a problem when it comes to protection. Evan Mathis likes to jump his guy on the line so if you have a guy that’s setting. It’s one thing if you have both the tackle and guard jumping at the line. When you’re on different levels so it creates problems."
So, in addition to the difference in schemes, it does matter who is lined up next to you. It not only matters if they are "good" or "miserably effin' terrible", but also their style of play could make a difference as Thomas mentions above. Spacing and teamwork are critical to offensive line play and you need each of the "best five" to be on the same page.
In watching Eric Fisher, he appears to play a similar style to Mathis. He's aggressive and likes to beat the defender to the punch. His challenge the past two years has been strength related (even when it's a technique issue). He can get overpowered by a bull rush or get himself in trouble by lunging at a defender too early (not trusting his strength / technique). I believe that some of these issues are going to be fixed day one in 2015 as he'll finally be at full strength and healthy.
So, if Thomas is correct above (and if I'm right about Fisher), Mathis could be a very nice fit at left guard for the Chiefs. But then again ... so is Ben Grubbs.
The Chiefs went out and acquired another Pro Bowl left guard in Ben Grubbs. Throughout the offseason, he's been lined up next to Fisher on the left side. Those two positions appear to be set, while the right guard and right tackle positions are clearly up for grabs.
The stereotypical right guard is a bigger, stronger player who is an anchor in the run game. The typical left guard is more agile and a better pass protector.
Mathis has traditionally been a left guard though he has played on the right side at times in his career. Mathis isn't a mauler but his reputation is that of one of the best run blocking guards in the league.
So, if Mathis is acquired ... is he the new left guard, with Grubbs moving to the right side? Or would Grubbs stay on the left and Mathis goes to the right?
Besides Grubbs, adding Mathis would affect the depth chart position (and maybe the roster spots) of a number of other Chiefs offensive linemen.
Zach Fulton would potentially move another spot back on the depth chart, Jeff Allen would only be competing to start at right tackle, Paul Fanaika would be a backup only, Mitch Morse would only be competing at center (though he got a few first team right guard snaps in minicamp). LDT would be buried further on the bench for another year or possibly off the roster.
My question continues to be: Will the marginal benefit of Mathis over the other right guard options be worth the cost?
It's not only the money that Mathis wants now that the Chiefs have the cap space to pay him but also the money that the Chiefs already have invested at the guard positions (Grubbs and Fanaika) and the draft picks (Morse, Fulton, LDT).
There's a potential "opportunity cost" of keeping guys like Fulton and Morse on the bench instead of getting them valuable experience on the field.
It's also very rare to see a team invest in TOP players at BOTH guard positions. There is presumably a limited budget that teams are willing to spend on offensive linemen. Perhaps teams agree with my point and allocate their money to "more important" positions like offensive tackles. Paying top dollar for two guards generally isn't sustainable when there are other "mouths to be fed".
Evan Mathis became a dominant left guard playing in Andy Reid's system. He's a tremendous run blocker, which you know Jamaal Charles would appreciate. He's arguably THE top guard in the NFL even at his age (33). He was cut for a reason ... but Chip Kelly's reasons aren't the same as every other head coach in the league (most of whom aren't insane like Kelly). Mathis will command some money but from a football standpoint he's most certainly a fit for what the Chiefs want to do. From a roster management / needs standpoint, Mathis would be a bit of a luxury addition in my opinion ... but the positives for this season would likely outweigh any potential negatives.