A year ago, Jordan Matthews was the unquestioned leader of a young and inexperienced receiver group, charged with not just carrying the load but also helping the rookie franchise quarterback acclimate to the NFL.
Now he's gone.
The Eagles traded away the 25-year-old Matthews, along with a third-round pick in 2018, to the Bills in exchange for cornerback Ronald Darby on Friday.
"This was a unique opportunity," Eagles de facto general manager Howie Roseman said. "We were not out there shopping Jordan Matthews."
Talk and rumors about the Eagles' possibly trading Matthews have been floating for months and it's those rumors — true or not — that actually led to the Eagles' receiving calls about him, Roseman said.
Matthews has been extremely productive during the first three years of his career. Since the Eagles drafted him in the second round in 2014 out of Vanderbilt, Matthews has piled up 225 catches for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Despite what some might consider inflated numbers, Matthews' production is unquestionable. He's one of just seven players in NFL history to put up those numbers in his first three NFL seasons. The others are Randy Moss, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins.
But Matthews was entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract and instead of trying to gamble on re-signing him next season, the Eagles decided to get something back for him — although in the process, they also had to part ways with a third-rounder.
"I think from our perspective and Jordan's perspective, everything's been incredibly positive with Jordan Matthews and our conversations with him and his agent," Roseman said. "It never came down to this guy's asking for too much money and we're not willing to do this so we better ship him out now. This all came down to this particular trade and this particular value for where our football team is now. Last year at this time, from where the group was, it would have been hard to do. It was still hard to do but when we looked at the overall needs on this team and what this guy could potentially do for us, we thought it was the right deal."
Getting a player back with two years left on his contract allowed the Eagles to pull the trigger. If Darby had just one year left, Roseman said it would have been hard for the Eagles to take him.
Roseman said it's not that Matthews wasn't in the team's long-term plans; it was just that the offer in return was good for the team. And he didn't rule out a possible reunion with Matthews, however unrealistic that might be.
"Theoretically, [Matthews is] a free agent in March so there's nothing precluding us from signing any free agent in March," Roseman said.
During his three years in Philadelphia, Matthews became a clear favorite within the Eagles' locker room. The Eagles upgraded the receiver position enough this offseason by signing Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery, as well as drafting promising rookie Mack Hollins, to feel comfortable making this move.
But Matthews' departure will still leave a void. His teammates flooded social media in the wake of the trade to wish him the best. It was clear he had a great relationship with his teammates, specifically franchise quarterback Carson Wentz.
Roseman said he had a "knot in his stomach" before talking to Matthews on Friday morning and certainly thought about the possible locker room ramifications a deal like this one might have.
"You worry about everything when you trade a professional like Jordan Matthews," Roseman said. "This isn't one where you're celebrating and doing a dance because you're giving up a good player and a good pick. In this league, you're not going to be able to get anything unless you give something. I think we have a really good character group, not just at the wide receiver position but on this team and on the offensive side of the ball. But it hurts when people you care about leave.
"The hardest thing to do was talking to Jordan about this. It never gets any easier in this business because however good he is as a player, he's a better person. But we've got to do what's in the best interest of this team moving forward and that's why we made the trade."