The Miami Dolphins, still in need of offensive line help after addressing only two of the line’s four openings in free agency, are expected to internally discuss the possibility of trading for Philadelphia Eagles left guard Evan Mathis.
The Eagles have made it known that Mathis is on the trading block. He’s certainly not available because of declining play, though. Pro Football Football Focus has tabbed Mathis as the NFL‘s top offensive guard three years running and his +40.2 run blocking efficiency rating was twice as high as the No. 2 most efficient run blocking guard in the league last season.
Mathis’ age on the other hand — he’ll be 33 in November — and his price — he’ll accumulate $19.65 million in salary cap charges over the next three seasons — are what Philadelphia is eager to move.
The Dolphins would obviously prefer to build a new offensive line with longevity, but an instant, massive upgrade like Mathis might be too tempting to pass up. The thought of Shelley Smith, who has a high ceiling as a zone blocking guard, Mike Pouncey, who is one of the most athletic centers in football, and Mathis comprising Miami’s interior offensive line is surely alluring.
The potential of the Dolphins’ running game, which finished 26th in total yardage last season, would skyrocket regardless of who the team signs or drafts to carry the football. And unlike an unproven rookie or a remaining free agent guard nobody is lining up for, trading for Mathis would be the seemingly safer route as far as 2014 is concerned.
The future, however, would take a backseat to the present. Acquiring Mathis would equip the Dolphins with a bulldozing run blocker this season, but given his age, there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to provide them with a high level of play beyond this year. And starting Mathis at left guard for the Dolphins in 2014 would potentially stunt the growth of a young lineman, who is either on the roster now or will be after May’s draft, or would prevent the addition of a possible long-term answer during the draft all together.
The Dolphins’ objective should be constructing a new offensive line that has the ability to grow together. Mathis wouldn’t provide them with that; he’s just a temporary fix. Chances are the Dolphins will be in the same boat next year that the Eagles are in this season — looking to rid themselves of an old, overpaid interior lineman.
Mathis was dominant for the Eagles last season at 31 and 32 years old. But there wasn’t a guard 33 years old or older who finished in the top 25 of Pro Football Focus’ rankings at the position in 2013. Not that Mathis will be incapable of playing well the minute he turns 33, but his decline, while unpredictable in timing, is imminent.
Mathis would make the Dolphins better today, but he assuredly won’t be worth his paycheck or potentially even his roster spot down the road. For that reason, Miami shouldn’t send a mid-round draft pick to the Eagles for Mathis’ services — not at his age and not at his price.
Besides, if the Dolphins are going to nab an older guard this offseason, free agent Travelle Wharton would arguably be the better choice. Unlike trading for Mathis, signing Wharton wouldn’t cost the Dolphins a draft pick, nor would they have to take on what’s left of a pricey multiyear deal.
Like Mathis, Wharton is 32 years old and graded as one of Pro Football Focus’ top five guards in 2013. As far as stopgap solutions go, Wharton would be the more reasonable investment while not sacrificing much quality in return.
Although Wharton has voiced his interest in playing for Miami, that interest hasn’t been mutual thus far. And if the Dolphins aren’t seriously interested in Wharton, chances are they aren’t seriously interested in Mathis either.
That could certainly change if the draft doesn’t turn up a potential starter to pair with Shelley Smith at guard. For now, though, the Dolphins aren’t in a position where they should be desperate for an expensive, aging player who’s been deemed replaceable by his current team.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.