Welcome to another offseason series, this one a warm-up for free agency. Here, we’ll look at the best—and eventually the worst—Falcons free agents ever signed. We kick things off with a Falcoholic favorite, Terance Mathis.
Years with Falcons: 1994-2001
Stats: 573 receptions, 7,349 yards, 12.8 yards per reception, 57 touchdown receptions
Earlier this week, Evan Birchfield looked back fondly on Terance Mathis’ career in Atlanta. Today, I’m going to do the same with a bit of a spin, which is talking about why he was one of the best free agents the Falcons ever signed.
With the advantage of hindsight, it seems obvious that the New York Jets had no idea what they had with Terance Mathis.
That’s why after four years with the Jets, where he put up 93 receptions for 1,242 yards and four touchdowns, Mathis found himself launching into free agency. The Falcons were looking to add talent at wide receiver with stud Andre Rison in the fold and June Jones in charge of the team, and they would end up signing Mathis to a multi-year deal and adding rookie Bert Emanuel to the corps. Both turned out to be incredibly savvy moves—Emanuel managed 260 receptions, 3600 yards, and 24 touchdowns in just four seasons in Atlanta—but Mathis would end up going down as one of the greatest receivers ever to play for the franchise.
I doubt the Falcons had their sights set that high when they got him, but in retrospect Mathis’ skills made him a great fit even after June Jones was long gone. He was speedy, offered refined route running, and had good enough hands to make him a force as a volume receiver. Mathis was the trusted option for a series of Falcons quarterbacks from Jeff George to Chris Chandler, drawing more than 100 targets every single year he was in Atlanta.
That began in 1994, when the former Jets sixth-round pick exploded for 111 receptions, 1,342 yards, and 11 touchdowns, arguably the finest year of his entire career. He followed that up with 78/1,039/9 in 1995, 69/771/7 in 1996, 62/802/6 in 1997, and a huge 64/1,136/11 to help propel the Falcons to the Super Bowl in 1998. His last three years in Atlanta weren’t as spectacular, but he still managed 81/1,016/6 in 1999, 57/679/5 in 2000, and 51/564/2 in 2001, getting the opportunity to play with rookie Michael Vick for a short time.
Mathis played one more year with the Steelers, one of the quietest of his career, and then retired. When he retired, he held the Falcons franchise records for targets, receptions, receiving yardage and touchdowns. While he was eventually surpassed by Roddy White and has been or will be surpassed by Julio Jones, he’s still one of the best receivers ever to suit up for the Falcons, and one of the best free agent signings this team has ever managed.