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Evan Mathis said it 'was fun' to play for the Eagles

Before Evan Mathis' first practice with the Eagles, Howie Roseman walked up to the free-agent offensive lineman and asked, "Are you going to make me look smart?"

Before Evan Mathis' first practice with the Eagles, Howie Roseman walked up to the free-agent offensive lineman and asked, "Are you going to make me look smart?"

Mathis replied to the then-general manager, "I'm going to make you look like a [expletive] genius."

While the same couldn't be said of the Eagles' other acquisitions from that abbreviated offseason, Mathis would eventually fulfill his prophecy, especially because he was one of the more unheralded "Dream Team" additions in 2011.

The Pro Bowl guard would go on to have the best four-year run of his career, and despite a bitter contract dispute that ended his tenure in Philadelphia Mathis still considers the city "the most home of all my NFL stops."

And that it will remain. Mathis recently announced his retirement from football in a way befitting the former Eagles guard - ironically, and on Twitter.

"How do I announce my retirement?" Mathis tweeted Jan. 2.

Mathis had already told Cardinals reporters earlier in the day that his NFL days were over, "unless I can play defensive end." But his social media rhetorical question officially ended an unpredictable and colorful career - "a roller coaster of relentlessness," he called it this week. - 13 seasons after it started.

If there were any doubts, Mathis put them to bed in a wide-ranging Q&A with the Inquirer.  (You can read the whole Q&A here, including the part where Mathis says that he isn't officially retiring as an Eagle, but instead as "a member of the Island of Misfit Toys.")

His football life has ended, and he plans on spending his remaining years satisfying the many interests to which he can now devote more time.

There is his family (his wife and two daughters), his training facility (near his home in Scottsdale, Ariz.), and his vintage sports card collection ("I'm a nerd for that stuff"). Mathis, who answered questions via email, as is his preference, also plans on writing a book and screenplay, although he said he doesn't know what either will be about.

"The only fear I have," Mathis said about his post-football years, "is whether or not [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] will creep up on me."

Mathis has a sardonic sense of humor, but he doesn't believe CTE - a progressive degenerative disease found often in former football players who have had severe or repeated blows to the head - to be a joking matter. A series of injuries over the last several years ultimately led to his retirement, but he said, "I also don't want any more brain damage."

The 35-year-old Mathis said via text message that he doesn't know if he has any symptoms related to CTE, but he added, "There usually aren't symptoms this early." He may not have sons, but if he did, he said, he wouldn't want them to play football.

"I would let them know why . . . but the choice is theirs," Mathis said in the email.

During his time with the Eagles, Mathis was the most physically fit of the offensive linemen. But despite a sculpted physique, he said he would spend the next several months shedding pounds as so many big-bodied NFL players often do in retirement.

"I weighed 310.54 pounds on January 1st," Mathis said. "In April I plan on being in the 260s."

Mathis' comments to Arizona media about returning as a third-down pass rusher may have been said in jest, but he admitted that one regret was that he played on the wrong side of the ball.

"I should have been a defensive end," he said.

It's hard not to imagine the 6-foot-5 Mathis as an edge rusher, considering his athleticism and if he had played at 260 pounds. Because of his body type and training background, Mathis said that he is often asked if he thinks there are more players using performance-enhancing drugs than has been reported.

"I'd have to say no," Mathis said. "I'm sure there are plenty of guys that would do it if they knew how, but the testing is so advanced that I don't know how they could pull it off."

Mathis is under no illusion that many players use recreational drugs, but he said that the NFL's substances of abuse policy could evolve.

"Stop suspending guys for marijuana," Mathis said. "Seriously, stop it."

Mathis, of course, had a clean record. He played in 134 games for six teams, but he didn't become a regular starter until he came to the Eagles. He says now that he wonders what his career would have been like had he gotten his act together in "Year 1 as opposed to Year 7."

The 2011 lockout afforded him the opportunity to train "for around 30 weeks straight" and get into the best shape of his life. The Eagles' one-year, minimum offer at the start of training camp was the only offer he had.

"My back was against the wall, and I came in on a mission," Mathis said. "I was excited about playing for a coach of Howard Mudd's caliber and the fact that everyone would have a blank slate since it was his first year there."

Injuries and Danny Watkins helped, but Mathis wrested control of the starting left guard position by the season opener and held the spot for the next four seasons. It took a few years for the rest of the league to catch up, but by 2013 he had earned all-pro honors and was voted to his first of two Pro Bowls.

He began haggling for a new contract, but after a knee injury cut into his 2014 season, and after Chip Kelly assumed personnel control in 2015, Roseman's preseason offer was no longer on the table. Mathis skipped voluntary workouts that spring. But right before he was to report for mandatory minicamp, Kelly released him.

Mathis may have lost a few million dollars after he signed with the Broncos, but he said he had "absolutely" no regrets about how he handled his contract dispute. He left a team that would finish 7-9 and without its head coach for one that would go on to win a Super Bowl - his first and only.

Kelly landed in San Francisco in the same division as Mathis, who signed a one-year contract with Arizona last offseason, but the offensive lineman said that he never came in contact with his former coach. Mathis left the 49ers-Cardinals game in October with a fractured tibia, an injury that ended his season.

Kelly was fired by the 49ers on the same day Mathis announced his retirement. Mathis, who had called Kelly's offense "vanilla" last offseason, said that he hadn't given the coach's NFL end much thought, but he also didn't seem surprised.

"Chip is a smart guy," Mathis said, "but he continually failed to evolve."

Mathis said that he had no plans to officially retire as an Eagle. But it was clear that he missed the team ("We had the best dice game") and the city ("I love you, Philly, thanks for some of the greatest years of my life").

"There's a lot of pressure from the media and fan base in Philly, and it probably overwhelms a lot of guys," Mathis said. "It was fun for me to play well and earn the respect of people who don't pass it out easily."