Ask any Chargers fan if they want running back Ryan Mathews back for another season and half will say yes while the other half will emphatically say no. Give the fans some pros and cons and a little more time to think about it and those same fans may end up changing their mind the opposite way.
Ryan Mathews is the most polarizing player on the San Diego Chargers roster.
At least for the next couple of weeks.
When the 2015 NFL Free Agency period begins on March 10th, there's a good chance the Chargers decide to move on from the soon to be 6th year running back. Or they could re-sign him for what most likely would be an incentive laden contract due to his history of injuries. Mathews can also refuse that contract and test the free agency waters for something more lucrative somewhere else.
Last week, Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco stated that he would be meeting with Mathews' agent during the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, presumably to gauge what it will take to bring the Chargers 4th All-Time leading rusher back.
I'm in the company that says bring him back. He just needs to stay healthy.
And that's the conundrum with Mathews. Even he can't assure anyone that won't happen. Mathews has missed 20 games in his career while dealing with 2 broken collarbones, knee and ankle problems. His physical and upright running style isn't exactly conducive to an injury-free future. In fact, it almost welcomes injury.
But when healthy, Mathews also possess the perfect blend of power and quickness for the San Diego Chargers. In 2013, arguably his best season as a pro, Mathews rushed for over 1200 yards and averaged 4.4 yards per attempt while catching 26 passes at a 7.2 yards rate. For his career, Mathews averages 4.3 yards a carry and through 5 years of service has accumulated 4,061 yards rushing-this including three injury riddled seasons when he rushed for only 330, 707 and 678 yards respectively.
I think it's telling that the Chargers brass even wants to meet with Mathews' agent this weekend. The Chargers could have easily let March 10th come and go with no regard to Mathews' intentions this offseason if the plan was to truly move on from him. In talking with his agent, it shows there is still some interest in having No. 24 back in the fold for at least one more season.
Some would say that the Charges should try to lure one of the big name free agent running backs for the upcoming season. But that would entail San Diego spending some of their valuable cap space for a player that may not be a perfect fit for the Chargers, whereas Mathews could be signed to a prove-it-cap-friendly contract. That would also minimize taking away some of the monies away from solidifying other pressing position needs in free agency.
Drafting a running back would not be a bad idea, and I'm actually all for it. But we all know the draft is a crapshoot and in the event the Chargers came up on the wrong end of that gamble, the Chargers will be looking at another rushing disaster of a year ago. Same could be said that another Mathews injury next season would do the same.
In my dream scenario, re-signing Mathews to a one-year incentive laden contract and drafting a running back in rounds 3 or 4 would be the way to go. It would give the Chargers the chance to re-boot last year's anticipated duel threat of Mathews and Danny Woodhead, while seasoning Branden Oliver and the draft pick with the occasional spot-duty.
And one last thing, if you're into trends, luck or superstitions: Mathews has had his best seasons in odd years. In 2011 Mathews earned a Pro-Bowl berth by compiling 1,546 yards from scrimmage. In 2013, Mathews all but put the team on his back in the final half of the season in helping the Chargers snap a 3-year playoff drought. In both of those odd-year seasons, Mathews started at least 14 games.
FYI, 2015 is an odd-numbered year.