49ers roster: Different year, same story for Jordan Matthews

Aug 14, 2021; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end Jordan Matthews (88) jogs on the field before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 14, 2021; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end Jordan Matthews (88) jogs on the field before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports /

Back again on the 49ers’ offseason roster, Jordan Matthews now hopes his conversion to tight end can make him an X-factor in 2022, but it’s still a long shot.

San Francisco 49ers fans are well aware of the affinity and seeming love affair the team has with veteran cornerback Dontae Johnson, who despite whatever changes the Niners make at the position, always seems to find his way back to the roster even if he’s removed from it.

While not quite as extreme as Johnson, a similar storyline is now playing out with wide receiver tight end Jordan Matthews.

Matthews, who broke into the league as a second-round NFL Draft choice of the Philadelphia Eagles back in 2014, came over to San Francisco as a free agent in the spring of 2019, and some of his early performances during offseason workouts were promising to the point where it looked as if he’d make a dent.

Jordan Matthews Receiving Table
5 yr5 yrPHI6239386249300612.121142784.048.564.5%3
3 yr3 yrSFO400000000.00.00
1 yr1 yrBUF107362528211.3113472.528.269.4%1

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 7/3/2022.

It didn’t happen, though, as Matthews didn’t make the 53-man roster, although he did sign back on with the 49ers twice that year, interluded by a brief stint back with the Eagles once more.

On and off the Niners’ rosters in 2020 and 2021, Matthews ultimately elected to add some weight and change positions, moving from wide receiver to tight end.

Amid a crowded San Francisco wide receiver room, that might free up his chances to hang around in a bigger role this season.

But will it be enough for him to play an entirely new position?

Why Jordan Matthews improves as a 49ers tight end

The road to making the 49ers’ roster as a tight end is much clearer than at wide receiver, and the depth chart here is pretty fluid behind George Kittle.

Now officially listed at 236 pounds, the added weight could mean Matthews is much more capable of lining up opposite linebackers and safeties as opposed to just cornerbacks, and his abilities as a route-runner could potentially give head coach Kyle Shanahan that long-sought-after No. 2 option to complement Kittle.

And at 29 years old, it’s not like we’re talking about Matthews being “over the hill” and merely going through this position to hang around the league for another year or two.

Why Jordan Matthews’ switch to tight end is a flop

Even the football novice understands there’s more to playing tight end than just being bigger than a wide receiver.

Matthews’ prowess as a blocker, either an inline one or out on the perimeter, was never overly exemplary, and it’s important to acknowledge whatever assignments he had in the blocking department at wide receiver are going to be entirely different at tight end.

It won’t be shocking at all to see Matthews proverbially “blown up” during training camp as he tries learning the other nuances of the position.

With other options on the offseason roster, Matthews won’t be able to cut it solely on receiving accolades carried over from when he was far more productive than he has been since 2019.

Chances Jordan Matthews makes 49ers’ 53-man roster

Matthews re-signed with the Niners on a one-year, $1.035 million deal, but none of it is guaranteed. Should San Francisco cut him once more, there’d be no dead money involved, so Matthews is far from safe from a financial standpoint.

The veteran’s prior reputation as a good wide receiver for the Eagles is still present, although the 49ers haven’t exactly needed him outside of a back-end-of-the-roster option in any of the last three years, instead just essentially keeping him around to round out the depth chart amid injuries elsewhere.

Related Story: Tyler Kroft has a real shot to make 49ers’ 53-man roster

This could be the plan again in 2022, albeit with a focus on tight end.

At least in training camp, Matthews will have to contend with plenty of less-known but still-viable reserve options behind Kittle, namely Ross Dwelley, Tyler Kroft, Tanner Hudson and Charlie Woerner. Should the Niners keep three tight ends on their regular-season roster, Matthews will have to showcase his ability to at least serve as a modest blocker, which is still a glaring question mark.

What’ll be more likely, though, is the same path Matthews has had with San Francisco in recent seasons, jumping back and forth off the roster and on the practice squad.

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