There are several, “hot button”, issues concerning the Chargers right now. How can San Diego get a stadium built? What should they do with all of the cap money they have to spend? Can Philip Rivers take them to the Promised Land? Should they emphasize offense or defense in the draft? Those are all great debates, but the hottest topic right now is whether or not the Chargers should re-sign running back Ryan Mathews. The reason I call this the hottest topic is because it brings out the most emotion from Chargers fans. Yes, Ryan Mathews has become a polarizing figure within the Chargers fan base.
As usual, my opinion on this matter waffles from day to day. On any given day, I can argue for and against the signing of Mathews for 2015. On Wednesday, I’m totally convinced that it would be a mistake to let such a talented player go, especially after trading up to get him! Then on Thursday I’m ready to kick him to the curb and search out the next in a long line of talented Chargers running backs. I guess it is time I wrote all of this down and decided what side of the fence I am on. I wonder which side I’ll end up on. Let’s find out!
Let’s start out positive about number 24. Mathews was drafted number 12 of the first round of the 2010 NFL draft. AJ Smith, the Chargers GM (who could forget him?) traded up to make sure that he got Mathews, despite many believing that he would be available for the Chargers when their pick came up. Right away, Mathews was thrust into a nearly impossible situation—Replace LaDainian Tomlinson. In fact, Tomlinson was Mathews’ hero growing up. He even wore LT’s number in college and tried to adopt a similar running style and appearance. The problem was that no one could replace Tomlinson in Chargers fans eyes.
His first couple of years were inconsistent, to say the least. He battled injuries that held him out of six games and he also battled a terrible disease called, “fumbleitis”. Yes, he coughed the ball up nine times in his first two years, losing four. Those four lost fumbles equaled the total that Tomlinson had in his first two years, but in all fairness to the future Hall of Famer, LT had greater than 300 more carries over the same period of time. That being said, Mathews did show some brilliance during those years and managed to break the 1000 yard mark in just his second year in the league, despite missing two games, and averaged just less than 4.7 yards per carry. Not too shabby.
Year three did not work out as he battled injuries and missed four more complete games and several partial games. Only averaging 3.3 yards per carry in year three was not impressive but at least he was able to hold on to the football, only fumbling twice.
Fortunately, Mathews bounced back in 2013 and managed to play in every regular season game for the first time in his career. He took advantage on his mostly healthy body and racked up over 1200 yards and only gave the ball away one time! I think it’s safe to say that Mathews can now be trusted to tote the rock without laying it on the ground. Unfortunately, many Chargers fans will not let him live down his fumbling problem of the past.
2014 was a big year for Mathews. Although he played in every regular season game the year before, he did manage to miss the Denver game in the post-season. That was very disappointing. Carrying on the disappointment was the fact that Mathews only played in six games and carried the ball just 74 times. Most players turn their contract year into a human highlight film; not Mathews. Although he ran hard when he was in there and started to make fans believe that the Chargers could run the ball despite a lack-luster offensive line. The problem was you never knew when he could go and when he could not. One minute he was breaking a nice run, the next he vanished. Fans frequently had to ask during games, “What happened to Mathews? Is he hurt again?” Ryan Mathews is the one Chargers player who I keep watching after the play is over. Is he limping? Is he slumped over or favoring one side of his body? It seemed every time he carried the ball, fans must hold their breath and pray that he was going to be available for the next play. It’s hard to have someone as your featured back who you cannot count on to be there day in and day out. For that matter, play in or play out!
This would be an easy decision if Mathews was not talented, or if he still had his fumbling issues that he started out his career with. The fact is that he is very talented and hasn’t had a fumbling problem for several years (despite what many fans think). The fact is that he is the most talented back on the roster and if by some miracle he can get, and stay, healthy, he is a force to be reckoned with. The problem is that no one knows if he can stay healthy. It would be a shame to see him leave San Diego and then have a career year for someone else…say Oakland, Denver, or Kansas City.
No way he can stay healthy, you say? Let’s take a look at the outstanding running back of the Dallas Cowboys, DeMarco Murray. Believe it or not, their two careers have many similarities. Murray has a ton of talent, but until year four (2014) his potential was never realized due to injuries and he even had some key fumbles that worried many Dallas fans. In fact, in Murray’s first three seasons, he missed 11 games due to injury. He managed to play in all 16 games in year four (just like Mathews) and somehow managed to stay pretty healthy. He has some health issues, but managed to run through them and amass over 1800 yards on nearly 400 carries!
So, with Murray you are looking at a guy who is up for a new contract and is coming off an incredible season. Dallas has to weigh their options very closely where Murray is concerned. There is always a chance that he will turn around in year five and get hurt, just like Mathews did for the Chargers. No one knows the future so time will tell if Dallas is willing to gamble. Considering that Murray will demand top dollar for his next contract, I believe the decision Dallas has is more difficult than the one the Chargers face with Mathews.
That brings up another point – Salary. How much will Ryan Mathews ask for as a free agent? How much will other teams be willing to offer him to leave San Diego and have a fresh start somewhere else? How much are the Chargers willing to gamble on a guy who hasn’t been physically reliable? No one knows the answer to all of these questions, but I believe my opinion of whether or not Mathews gets an offer to stay in San Diego lies within those answers.
In my humble opinion, unless the Chargers are going to go out and possibly over pay for a big time free agent, they need to make an offer to Mathews. Not a big offer. Not a long-term offer, but an offer. If he would be willing to take it, I believe the Chargers should offer Mathews a one year deal for around $1.5 to $2.5 million dollars. That would be a dramatic decrease from the $4.7 million he is currently bringing in. I would make the contract incentive laden and see if he will be motivated to earn the extra money. I would make it quite clear that if he could stay healthy and produce on the field, a long-term deal would be discussed. If he spent much of the season on the sidelines, next season would be his last in San Diego. Would he accept such a deal? Who knows? My guess is that it will depend on the other 31 NFL teams and what they offer him, if anything.
On the bright side, if the Chargers can sign Mathews to an affordable contract, they can still pick up a back in the mid rounds of the draft, or through free agency. That would free up some money to sign players to fill larger needs like offensive line, defensive line, strong safety, etc.
Well, I guess I’m making Mathews an offer (at least today I am). What would you do, if you were GM Tom Telesco?
Thanks for reading and please leave comments below. Remember, “…I’m Just Sayin’:” is an opinion and not intended to be anything more than a tool to create discussion and debate among Chargers fans.