Carolina Panthers promote veteran playmaker, linebacker signs after Pokémon controversy

A playmaker from Frank Reich’s past is getting another shot at contributing to an NFL offense in Carolina.

Jordan Matthews, 31, was promoted to the 53-man roster Tuesday after linebacker Chandler Wooten (knee) was placed on injured reserve.

Matthews, a wide receiver-turned-tight end, played under Reich in Philadelphia in 2016, when the coach was the offensive coordinator for the Eagles. At the time, Matthews was the Eagles’ top receiver. But after several ebbs and flows to his 10-year career, Matthews has transitioned to tight end and is looking to fill the void left behind by a trio of injured players at the position.

“I feel extremely comfortable with it,” Matthews said about the position change. “I was really fortunate to make the change when I was over in (San Francisco), that tight end room, with those guys, you’re (getting) Ph.D. level learning with George (Kittle), Ross (Dwelley) and Charlie (Woerner) and those guys. And then obviously learning from (49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan), too, literally the way he knows football helped me out a ton.

“Still taking a lot of stuff that I knew from the wide receiver position over, but learning how to block and being more serviceable in the run game really helped me out. So it’s been a good transition.”

While Hayden Hurst and Tommy Tremble will take on the bulk of the work at tight end against the Chicago Bears on Thursday, Matthews will be asked to fill in on offense and special teams when necessary. With Ian Thomas and Giovanni Ricci on injured reserve, and Stephen Sullivan dealing with a shoulder injury, Matthews could see a solid workload against Chicago.

“Jordan’s an explosive athlete,” Reich said Tuesday. “Obviously, when we had him as a wide receiver, he was about 220 (pounds). He’s 230-plus now, so he’s put on a bit of weight and bulk and strength. He looks super explosive. You see his receiver skills, but yet ... he was a very physical receiver, so this transition to tight end was pretty natural, where he can hold his own in the run game and do what he has to do.

“Obviously newer here, but have a lot of confidence in Jordan. He’s a real pro, and he’ll be ready to go and play whatever role we need him to play.”

Matthews, who has played for the Eagles, Bills and 49ers, has caught 274 passes for 3,288 yards and 22 touchdowns in his 10-year career. But his special teams experience is quite limited, as he has only played 50 total snaps outside of offense in his career.

Matthews, who was on the 49ers’ injured reserve list throughout last season, is willing to do whatever he’s asked to make a difference for Reich and the Panthers. Most players don’t get to switch positions midway through their careers, or get the opportunity to jump back into the league after missing a season.

But here Matthews is, midway through the first season of the Reich era.

“It’s been awesome to around (Reich) in this capacity, and like I said, to have this opportunity to be under him, I want to do everything possible to help this team win, because I know Frank is the man for the job,” Matthews said. “He’s just an amazing leader — can’t ask to play for a better man.”

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, right, reaches out in an attempt to catch a pass as Green Bay Packers linebacker Blake Martinez, left, applies defensive pressure during second quarter action on Sunday, December 17, 2017 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, right, reaches out in an attempt to catch a pass as Green Bay Packers linebacker Blake Martinez, left, applies defensive pressure during second quarter action on Sunday, December 17, 2017 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC.

Panthers add veteran LB to practice squad after Pokémon controversy

The Panthers officially signed linebacker Blake Martinez to their practice squad Tuesday.

The 29-year-old defender entered the league as a fourth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers. He spent four years in Green Bay before signing a deal with the New York Giants in free agency in 2020. He was released in 2022, and signed with the Las Vegas Raiders before retiring midway through last season.

Following his retirement, Martinez created a business based around the selling of Pokémon cards, but was ultimately banned from marketplace, Whatnot, following accusations of scamming. His comeback to the NFL comes in the wake of that scandal, which was reported on by the New York Post.

“I don’t want to go too far deep into it,” Martinez told reporters Tuesday. “I think the main thing that I want to address is there are a lot of things out there that aren’t true. A lot of speculations, a lot of false claims. But still working through those types of things.”

Martinez has collected 706 sacks, 13 sacks, 22 pass breakups, four interceptions and four forced fumbles in his career.

Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and senior defensive assistant Dom Capers worked with Martinez in Green Bay, while linebackers coach Peter Hansen worked with the defender at Stanford.

Martinez said Hansen reached out to him after starting linebacker Shaq Thompson broke his leg in Week 2. That call served as the motivation Martinez needed to get back in shape for a comeback.

“There was still that itch every week that I watched the other guys play, I was like, ‘Oh, I can still do that,’” Martinez said. “So it’s awesome to be here and have this opportunity.

“The call (from Hansen) was a big component to me. It was one of those things where I missed it. But I kind of put that chance away a year ago. But once that came forward again, I said, ‘I gotta jump on this and not have any regrets.’”

Martinez’s familiarity with the staff has helped him settle into the defense immediately, though his status for Thursday is up in the air.

“Well, he’s really smart, so he’s already got the calls all down and all that,” Evero said. “We’ll see about (playing) Thursday, I’m not sure about all of that. It’s kind of hard to tell through a walk-through — physically — but in terms of the mental part, (he’s) pretty sharp.”

Carolina Panthers’ injury report

Below is Tuesday’s injury report:

Did not participate: OLB Brian Burns (concussion/elbow), WR DJ Chark (elbow), CB CJ Henderson (concussion), WR/RB Laviska Shenault (ankle), TE Stephen Sullivan (shoulder), OLB Luiji Vilain (knee), S Xavier Woods (thigh)

Full participant: S Vonn Bell (quad), RB Raheem Blackshear (ankle), OT Ickey Ekwonu (ankle), OLB Marquis Haynes (back), LB Frankie Luvu (hip), TE Tommy Tremble (shoulder)

Quick hits

Bears quarterback Justin Fields (right thumb) has worked in a limited capacity throughout the first walk-throughs of the week.

Carolina also brought back rookie linebacker Ace Eley on the practice squad. Eley was on the training camp roster this summer.

Evero complimented young safety Alex Cook and cornerback Dicaprio Bootle following their respective performances in the 27-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Evero said Cook and Bootle are two of the team’s best practice players.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Matthews wasn’t under contract in the NFL last season. He was on injured reserve with the San Francicso 49ers in 2022, missing the campaign on the reserve list. That error has been corrected.