How Much Does Clay Matthews Have Left in the Tank?
Going into the 2017-2018 season many believed that Clay Matthews best days were behind him. The 2014 season saw Clay perform at a pro bowl level as an edge rusher and 2015 saw him perform at a pro bowl level at middle linebacker.
The 2016 campaign saw Clay play in only 12 games and accumulate a career low of 5 sacks. Because of his decrease in performance, much of the spotlight had been pushed away from Matthews and was put on Nick Perry who had a career high 11 sacks in that same season. Going into 2017, some believed that there was a chance that Clay’s contract would be restructured or that he could even be released.
However, Clay proved the naysayers wrong and everyone watched as his initial burst of speed off of the line returned. The return of his explosive burst allowed him to tally 7.5 sacks, 27 solo tackles, as well as a forced fumble and a recovered fumble. Clay’s improved performance was backed up by his pro football focus grade of 83.4 and his overall ranking as the 27th best player at the edge position (LOLB) in the NFL.
This leaves us with the obvious question of what is next for Clay Matthews? To put it mildly, this will be a crucial season for Clay as well as the Packers. If Clay can continue to recapture his 2014 and 2015 form, he could be resigned to a two or three-year contract, finish his career in Green Bay, and maybe even end up in the ring of honor. However, if Clay’s performance regresses or, if he has another injury plagued season, the Packers may have to use their draft capital in the 2019 draft and trade up in the draft and select an elite pass rusher of the caliber of Nick Bosa.
Going into the 2018 season, the Packers have done all that they can to put Clay Matthews in the best position to succeed. They have fortified an already solid defensive front with the addition of Mohammed Wilkerson which should create larger lanes to create consistent pressure, hit, and sack opposing quarterbacks.
In order for his career to have a chance to continue in Green Bay, Clay Matthews will have to, at the very least, duplicate his performance from last season and display his value to the team. If he cannot create enough quarterback pressures, hits, and sacks, his time as an impact edge rusher will most likely be behind him and he will be forced into converting to the middle linebacker position to save his career, albeit for a different organization.
I have always thought that Clay missed a tremendous opportunity to transform his career by becoming, potentially, an all-pro middle linebacker and potentially cementing himself as a Hall of Famer. It was amazing watching Clay’s natural instincts take over at the middle linebacker position and it was just as incredible to watch how much it helped the team. If he embraced the transition he would have had 6 elite years as a pass rusher and could have had another 6 elite years as a middle linebacker.
Who knows, we could have been talking about how Clay Matthews is considered to be one of the most versatile defensive players of his time in addition to being a selfless team player and an invaluable team leader. Now, with Blake Martinez emerging as a fixture at middle linebacker for years to come, Clay Matthews is seemingly locked into the outside linebacker position and must have a solid performance in 2018 or he will suffer the same fate as Jordy Nelson.
Often times there is a defining moment in one’s career where they have to think outside of the box and step out of their comfort zone in order to become a transcendent player for their organization. It is these defining moments that separate great players from an indispensable hall of fame player.——————
David Michalski is a recent college graduate from Princeton New Jersey who has been a life long Green Bay Packers fan. Like the great Vince Lombardi, he values God, family, and the Green Bay Packers in that order. You can follow him on twitter at @kilbas27dave