PHILADELPHIA -- When word came out Friday that Jordan Matthews had been traded to the Buffalo Bills, five of his teammates -- Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, tight ends Zach Ertz and Trey Burton, linebacker Jordan Hicks and safety Chris Maragos -- quickly arranged for a dinner at the Navy Yard near the team's training complex in South Philly to give him an appropriate sendoff.
"It was emotional -- obviously, we all were," Ertz said. "We lost a brother."
The "down" mood, as safety Malcolm Jenkins described it, carried over into Saturday's proceedings at the NovaCare Complex. Part of the somber vibe, he said, could be attributed to the fact that the Eagles were less than 48 hours removed from a preseason game and were put through a nearly three-hour, fully padded, live-hitting practice by coach Doug Pederson. But there is no question that Matthews' departure was weighing on the minds of many as well.
Wentz in particular seemed to be taking it hard.
"On the personal side, it's tough" an emotional Wentz said as he was coming off the practice field. "This is my first time experiencing this with someone that's one of my best friends. Seeing him yesterday, it's tough on him, too. It's kind of out of the blue."
There had been speculation about a possible Matthews trade for weeks now, but the timing "blindsided" Matthews, according to one of his teammates. The thought was that the window for a potential trade had passed. Matthews was finally feeling healthy and hitting his stride and expected to play out the final year of his rookie contract with the team that drafted him.
The Eagles weren't giving the impression that Matthews was in their long-term plans, however. Feeling good about the young receivers in the pipeline and in serious need of an upgrade at corner, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick to Buffalo for talented defensive back Ronald Darby. The 23-year-old Darby was at practice Saturday but could not participate because Matthews had yet to pass his physical with the Bills.
Eagles players expressed optimism about what Darby can bring to the team and, to a man, said they understood the business side of it. For many, though, there was a sense of personal loss.
"The only way I can really relate it is like when you're in elementary school or middle school and your best friend growing up, you're going to the same school and then one day his parents move to a different city and he's gone," Burton said. "And you're like, 'OK, what the heck do I do?'"
Matthews was part of a tight faith-based group within the team that attended the same church and regularly got together outside of work, as many did Friday for dinner. He evolved into a leader in the wide receiver room and for the team overall, earning a reputation as a teammate who would bend over backward to assist as many people as he could.
"From a personal standpoint, basically every time I do one-on-ones it's against Jordan Matthews," Jenkins explained. "If I stay after to do releases with a receiver, it's going to be Jordan Matthews. So for me, even in my daily preparation, I now have got to find a new Jordan Matthews. And I know he's kind of been that guy in a bunch of guys' lives, whether it be Carson Wentz or Trey Burton, Zach Ertz -- he's had a big role in a lot of guys' lives, not only just what he does on the field."
Showing just how tight they had become, Wentz was the one who drove Matthews to the airport. He said Roseman did not ask for his input before making the trade and notified him just before it went public.
"And he told me it was already done, so that's just kind of how that went," Wentz said. "I just said, 'That's part of the business.' Obviously he knew how I felt with Jordan being one of my best friends. On the personal side it's tough, and he knew that. He was prepared for that and I told him that, but keeping business business, that's part of this."
Wentz said the Eagles have quality options on the roster to help account for Matthews' production. And when it comes to shaping this team, he said he puts his trust in the front office.
"Ultimately they're the ones that make those decisions, and what they think is best for the team I'm going to be in support of 100 percent," he said. "They haven't let me down or haven't let this team down yet."
"But on the personal side," he added, "it's tough."
According to a source, the higher-ups were concerned about how a Matthews trade would affect the locker room. Chemistry is a fragile thing, and there's no telling how the dynamics will shift when a key component -- not to mention a best friend of the star quarterback -- is removed. Ultimately they decided to roll the dice in the name of adding balance to the roster. Most players understood the decision, but the football side took a backseat Saturday.
"For sure, yeah." said Burton, when asked if this was something that would take a while to bounce back from. "Might not."