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Jordan Matthews says knee issue, not contract concerns, kept him from Eagles' spring practices

PHILADELPHIA -- During team drills Thursday, Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews took off down the field, tracked a long toss from quarterback Nick Foles, leaped into the air and wrestled it away from defensive back Randall Goforth in the end zone. After slowly making his way back to the sideline, a bit of a hitch in his step, he was greeted by a number of enthusiastic teammates who seemed to recognize the moment for being about more than just a highlight catch.

A number of elements have come together to cloud Matthews' situation, including a report that surfaced recently suggesting his absence from the practice field this spring was contract-related. Matthews refuted that notion following Thursday's session.

"I would literally never do that," he said. "If you guys know me any from the time I've been here, I go to work. This is a privilege to be able to play football regardless, whether it's the Philadelphia Eagles or it's anybody, to play in the NFL, I've always wanted to do this. So any day I can come out here and play, I'm going to do that. I believe that when you go to work, you'll end up seeing the fruits of your labor get paid off.

"I would never sit out to try and force somebody's hand. That's just not me. I'm going to come out here and go to work. I wasn't able to, that was the breaks, but I'm out here now ready to go. "

Matthews was absent for a good portion of the spring because of a lingering knee issue that the team has described as tendinitis. He told reporters after Thursday's practice that "I hate putting a specific word on it because then people say, 'Oh, well I've played with that before,' " but refused to elaborate on the exact nature of the injury. The 25-year-old did allow that surgery was discussed early on, but he decided to let it heal more naturally.

When asked what was wrong with Matthews' knee earlier in the week, head coach Doug Pederson said "Nothing. Just rehabbing it and keeping it healthy." When pressed further, Pederson deferred to the team doctors and trainers, saying he was "not a medical guy." A source later told ESPN that Pederson had forgotten the specific nature of the injury in the moment and did not want to give out the wrong information.

A couple of days later, a report surfaced raising the question of whether Matthews' absence during the offseason training program was contact-related.

"There is talk around the locker room that Matthews' issue is more serious than tendinitis. But there is talk elsewhere in the building that Matthews could have practiced more in the spring, that the real issue is his contract," the Daily News reported this week.

Matthews is in the final year of his rookie deal. There have been no signs to date that extension talks have gotten serious. Typically, the Eagles like to lock up homegrown talent early if they have been identified as core pieces. That has not happened in this case, which is a little curious.

The former second-round pick out of Vanderbilt has averaged 75 catches, nearly 900 yards and six touchdowns over his three years in the pros. Part of a historic wide receiver class that includesOdell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin,Davante Adamsand Jarvis Landry, Matthews has held his own. He is also considered a quality teammate and has grown tight with quarterback Carson Wentz.

Matthews primarily works out of the slot, however, and there are a number of players on the team -- from running backs Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey to tight ends Zach Ertz and Trey Burton to receivers Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith-- who could see some looks there. Agholor had a very good spring inside during Matthews' absence, though it's very much in question whether he can be relied on during the season.

Identifying Matthews' value could be a bit tricky. His numbers are strong, but he could be the third wide receiver option now that Alshon Jeffery and Smith are in the fold. Can the cap-strapped Eagles afford to give significant money to Matthews, especially with a potential big deal for Jeffery on the horizon?

"I think things change by the year depending on what our team's salary cap looks like and any of that stuff," Matthews said of the lack of serious contract talks to this point. "There's so many things that go into it. I basically say, if you go out there and make plays, you'll get paid ... so I don't really try and worry about all the other stuff. My biggest thing is, I am going to come out here and help the team win. If I do that, I feel like that's going to set me up in the best position to be here long term."

The injury further complicates matters. Matthews first hurt the knee last August when he was hit low in training camp. Labeled a bone bruise, the ailment lingered into the regular season. Later he suffered a high ankle sprain. Back spasms also cropped up. Though he wouldn't say the current issue is directly related to that original knee injury, Matthews did allow that this has been an ongoing saga brought on in part by overcompensation.

While there were moments when Matthews didn't look quite 100 percent, he was back on the practice field as full-team practices began Thursday. He plans to play and play hard, he says, despite his contract status.

"When I grew up, my parents were affluent. I never needed anything so when I played football, I played football for respect," he said. "It was never, 'OK, I've got to get to the league to get money to get my mom a house.'

"I respect anybody that has to do that, but I never had to do that, so I never really played for money. I went across the middle because I wanted to make sure the guy across from me respected me. That's not going to change. If anything, it just grows the older I get and the better competition I see."

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