Since being drafted number 26 overall in 2009, Clay Matthews has made it his mission to make opposing offenses suffer.
A four time pro bowl selection, Matthews already has an impressive resume. Third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2009, second in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2010, 42.5 sacks, good for fifth all time in Packers history, along with regularly making quarterback’s lives miserable, he is by far the best player on the Packers defense.
As he prepares to enter the final year of his rookie contract, one which will pay him a mere $3.7 million in 2013, Matthews figures to cash in at some point in the near future. He, along with Aaron Rodgers and BJ Raji, are all due new contracts, and are the cornerstones the Packers need to continue to build around for sustained success.
While there is little doubt that Matthews deserves to be paid for his services, there may be some doubt about exactly how much the Packers should pay him. Perhaps the Packers should even wait to pay him until after the 2013 season.
In his four year career, Matthews has been plagued by hamstring problems. This recurring problem has forced him to miss significant preseason time in 2009 and 2010, as well as regular season action in 2010 (1 game) and 2012 (4 games). While he has been able to put up good statistics despite this ongoing issue, it has been an issue since he entered the league. If it has been an issue since he was 23 will it still be an issue when he is 30? 31? When he will be making substantially more than he is now? His fragile hamstrings are something that may play a part into just how long and for how much Ted wants to resign Matthews.
The more interesting question mark surrounds the defensive scheme the Packers operate.
Matthews is the prototype 3-4 outside linebacker. Fast, relentless with a knack for making the big play, he IS the Packers pass rush at the moment, and far and away their best player on defense. However, this is a defense which has suffered two colossal playoff failures in the past two seasons. Dom Capers seat may not be on fire as a result, as McCarthy did back him after the playoff loss to the 49ers. But is is possible the Packers are one playoff loss away from moving away from the 3-4 defense?
Let’s speculate for just a moment: the Packers sign Clay Matthews to a long term deal, the team fails to win the Super Bowl, and Dom Capers is fired. It is possible that McCarthy hires another 3-4 Defensive Coordinator (he has said he likes the aggressive nature of the 3-4), or they begin a switch to a hybrid or back to the 4-3. While I personally think this may not seem impossible with current personnel, the contract he is going to sign is as a 3-4 outside linebacker, somewhere in the $12-15 million range. Is paying him that much to play a 4-3 OLB a smart decision? Could he even play with his hand on the ground and still be productive making that kind of salary? It is all speculative at this point, but it is something that Ted Thompson has to consider.
Don’t get me wrong-Clay Matthews is a hell of a player. One of my personal favorites, one of the best in the league. And he absolutely deserves to be compensated for his performance on the field during his first four seasons. But ongoing issues with his hamstrings and potential question marks regarding the scheme the Packers operate might make Ted delay his signing just a bit. Perhaps he should wait until late in the 2013 season to resign Matthews, until some of the uncertainty is gone, before making such a large financial investment in one of the cornerstones of the current Packers roster.
John Rehor is a staff writer at PackersTalk.com and co-host of Cheesehead Radio. To contact John follow him on Twitter @jrehor or email firstname.lastname@example.org