Saints WR Rishard Matthews Looks to Make NOLA Final Stop On His Road to Redemption

Photo Credit: Jeffery Beall, Wikimedia

Redemption. As defined by the official Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it’s a word that means “the act of making something better or more acceptable”.

As the team heads into training camp, it’s also a word that appropriately describes the goal of recently-signed 8th year veteran WR Rishard Matthews, who, after a promising start to his NFL career several seasons ago, now finds himself trying to earn one of the final wide receiver spots on the team’s 53-man roster at the end of Pre-Season in late August.

Last month during the team’s annual 3-day Mini-Camp, Matthews was signed to a 1-year deal after receiving a tryout from Saints head coach Sean Payton, who undoubtedly was impressed after the former Tennessee Titans star and #1 WR made several nice grabs during the team’s final practice.

The signing of the former University of Nevada star should give the Santa Ana, California native (located just outside of Los Angeles) an even bigger opportunity to make the team’s final roster, especially since there are possibly two more spots that will be up for grabs in a wide-open competition for the next several weeks during training camp and the preseason.

With current Saints veteran starters Michael ThomasTed Ginn, Jr., and 2nd-year star Tre’Quan Smith all considered “locked-in” for the first three spots on the franchise’s current WR depth chart, Matthews will be competing against a handful of other players for the other two spots. Those players include fellow WR’s Cam MeredithKeith KirkwoodAustin CarrEmmanuel ButlerLil’Jordan HumphriesSimmie CobbsDeonte HarrisCyril Grayson, Jr.  and Chad Hansen.

If Matthews is able to have a few repeat performances of the one he had at Mini-Camp in June, it could boost the 29-year old’s chances of sticking around permanently when the team makes its final roster cuts on Labor Day Weekend.

That was something that Payton alluded to last month, although he stopped short of making any sort of commitment to the veteran star until he and the coaching staff can further observe and evaluate him in camp and the upcoming preseason games.

QUESTION: What was your first impression of Rishard Matthews, bringing him on board and giving him an opportunity?

Payton: “Today he did some good things. He’s smart, so he has some experience. It’s a chance for us to see him and see how he handles what we are doing from an install standpoint. I think he catches it well. I would say it’s really a two-practice evaluation. It has been pretty good.”

For Matthews, this will be a chance to earn some redemption and allow him the opportunity to demonstrate to everyone that he is now healthy enough to become an impact player once again. He only managed to play in five games last year for the New York Jets, with whom he recorded just two catches for 13 yards before being placed on injured reserve this past December.

Prior to playing with the Jets, Matthews spent two whole seasons with Tennessee after signing with them in 2016 NFL Free Agency. However, he only played eight games last season; three of them with the Titans. He eventually was given his release during Week #4 when he complained about a lack of playing time and targets.

Tennessee granted his request the next day and released him, and the 6-foot-even, 217 pound Matthews finished his time in Nashville with the Titans by tallying a grand total a total of 121 receptions, 1,751 receiving yards, and 13 receiving touchdowns. Matthews’ best season came in 2016 when he had 65 receptions for 9 TDs and 945 yards.

Matthews’ path to early stardom originally began at Saddleback High School in Santa Ana, where he lettered in, but also played, for the football team. He would subsequently go on to sign a letter of intent to play for the storied University of Oregon Ducks program as a 3-star high school recruit.

However, a perceived lack of opportunity and playing time while essentially being buried on the Ducks’ depth chart at WR, prompted him to withdraw from Oregon and he decided instead to enroll and attend Bakersfield College; a small community college institution in Southern California.

After spending the first two years of his college eligibility at Bakersfield, he then would enroll at the University of Nevada, where he caught passes from then Wolfpack QB (and controversial former San Francisco 49ers starting QB) Colin Kaepernick. With Kaepernick throwing passes his way, Matthews posted a solid stat line during his Junior season of 2010 with 56 catches for 879 yards and five touchdowns.

But it was during his senior year in 2011 when Matthews first caught the attention of NFL scouts. He managed to put up a very impressive 91 catches for 1,364 yards and eight touchdows and earned even more recognition as a 2nd-Team All-WAC (Western Athletic Conference) performer in the process.

Matthews tallied 147 receptions for 2,243 yards and 13 touchdowns during his time spent in Reno, which ultimately led to Matthews being chosen by the Miami Dolphins in the 7th round (with the 227th overall pick) of the 2012 NFL Draft. There he spent his first four NFL seasons and played in 49 games, putting up a grand total of 107 receptions for 1,396 yards and 21 TDs.

In his 8-year NFL career up to this point, Matthews has caught a grand total of 230 receptions for 3,160 yards and 21 total TDs.

Now the veteran NFL star will turn his focus towards earning a permanent role in New Orleans following the notable disappointment of last year. One thing that could potentially work in Matthews’ favor is joining forces with Drew Brees in the Saints’ offensive scheme, since playing with an above-average-to-good-QB (or an “elite” one in the case of Brees) seems to benefit him the most.

Matthews excelled and even had a career year during his time with the Titans, as he ultimately benefited from Tennessee drafting former Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, whose accuracy at quarterback turned out to be the catalyst for Matthews’ increase in production. He averaged 9.14 yards per target according to the folks over at Pro Football Focus.

Matthews clearly had his best years in Tennessee with Mariota, and it goes without saying how beneficial playing with a future NFL Hall of Famer like Brees would be for him; over the past 12 seasons as the team’s starting QB, Brees has made plenty of receivers look good.

Brees would easily be the best QB that Matthews has EVER played with, by far. Given the fact that Payton is one of the most “player-friendly” head coaches in the NFL and is well-known for getting maximum production out of his skill position players, it seemingly would bode well for Matthews and his chances of making the Final Roster.

At 29 years old (he turns age 30 in October), Matthews is considered by a handful of analysts to still be in his “prime”. He can potentially become successful in this next chapter of his professional career by remaining self-disciplined and even more importantly: remaining healthy.

All he has to do now is prove that he is capable of pulling it off, given the number of players he’ll be competing against over the course of the next several weeks.

Rishard Matthews isn’t giving up on his up-and-down NFL career without a fight — and he’s hoping that New Orleans will be his final stop on the road to redemption.

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