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Packers Banking On Resurgence From Matthews

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Packers Banking On Resurgence From Matthews

Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III, affectionately known as CM3, turned 31 years old yesterday.  We've long known that age 30 represents a typical turning point in the careers of many a NFL player.  It's when players start to see their productivity decline and their reliability wane.  

Some positions see a more dramatic drop in productivity around this time, such as running backs as compared to offensive linemen, as one example.

Matthews has been an interesting case for most of his career.  Drafted with a second first-round pick in 2009, he burst onto the scene mid way through that season and ended the year with 10 sacks.  In 2010, Matthews posted his career high with 13.5 and helped make a pivotal play in Super Bowl XLV that helped the Packers bring home another Lombardi Trophy.  Green Bay had their defensive stud and franchise guy for the foreseeable future.

That was over six years ago and so now, the question is what can Matthews still bring to the Packers defense?  Let's first take a look at the time between then and now.

In 2011, Matthews sack total dipped to six but he posted three interceptions that season.  Questions began about whether Matthews had enough help around him.  

In 2012 and in just 12 games, Matthews stormed back with 13 sacks.  He did so with a supporting cast of Nick Perry, Mike Neal and Erik Walden.  Not exactly a "Top 100 list" if you ask me.  

He broke his hand twice in 2013 but still managed to appear in 11 games and rack up 7.5 sacks.  After that season, the topic on many forums was whether or not Matthews' style of play was going to lead to constant injury and shorten his career.

He played in all 16 games in 2014 and 2015, often fighting through ailments to stay on the field.  During these two seasons, Clay was moved inside more to make up for a lack of talent (and the diminishing skills of A.J. Hawk in 2014).  

The Packers added veteran Julius Peppers to man the outside and keep the opposing offense's respect.  Matthews shot up to 11 sacks in 2014 despite hardly playing on the outside.  He fell back to just 6.5 sacks in 2015 but was playing through various ailments most of the season.

He always seemed to be playing through bumps and bruises or missing a game here or there.  At inside linebacker, the Packers had Jake Ryan coming into his second season and had just spent a fourth round pick on Blake Martinez.  Matthews was moving back outside full time in 2016.  

That's when the whispers really began about how much longer Matthews would be the type of player that defensive coordinators needed to account for.  He appeared in just 12 games last season and posted a career-low five sacks and another career low in yards lost by tackle with 10.  

2016 bucked the trend of Matthews having a solid statistical season every other year.  It was his second-straight down year and much of that was attributed to injuries and lost time.  A shoulder injury suffered in November of last year was one that he played through and that seemed to greatly affect his play.  While his 2016 stats weren't on par with his norms, Matthews was credited with being a big factor to Perry's break-out success.  Perry had 11 sacks in 2016 after posting a previous career high of four.

So the question at this point is: can Clay Matthews still be a high-impact player for the Packers?

Speaking honestly, he's not an elite player anymore.  The chances of his being that again are slim.  Father Time has won more of those battles than he's lost.  It's reasonable to assume Matthews has lost a step or two (see this piece's feature image and how that might impact a game).  But it appears as though the Packers are taking the more optimistic side of the argument.

It wasn't until the fourth round that Green Bay added a linebacker, and the only linebacker they would draft, in Vince Biegel.  As we've seen with Ryan and Martinez (along with other fourth round defensive picks), it's not often that they step in and make a huge impact right away.  It's not realistic that Biegel can mitigate much that Matthews loses in the way of production in 2017.  

Beyond Biegel, the Packers have the newly re-signed Perry, Jayrone Elliott, Kyler Fackrell and a handful of undrafted free agent hopefuls as pure outside linebackers.  That tells me that the Packers still heavily count Matthews towards their pass rush strategy this upcoming season.

Money is also a factor.  Here's Matthews' current deal from OverTheCap.com.  He's scheduled to count $15.075 million against this year's cap between his base salary of $10.4 million, prorated signing bonus of $4.1 million and another $1 million in bonuses.  That's the highest cap hit over the life of his contract and it's also elite-player-type-money.  It's an extremely high number for a player who has question marks about what he can bring to the table.  

Clay's "dead money", or the money that would still count towards this year's salary cap if the Packers cut him, is just the bonus total of $4.1 million.  The cap savings would be almost $11 million.  Some say that between that, Matthews age and injury history, and uncertainty about what he still has left in the gas tank are enough to justify cutting him now.  "Let him go a year too soon than a year too late" is the common adage.

But from everything that we've seen and heard from the Packers so far, they appear to be set on letting Matthews finish out his deal, at least through this season.  They're taking the stance that they'd rather pay (or over pay) for Matthews, who they know and who could come to life and make a big impact, versus spending on a free agent who may or may not work out at all.  After 2017, the Packers can opt to part ways with him with no lost money or they can opt in for the final year of his deal.

It's not likely that the Packers will get $15 million worth out of Matthews this season, or any, for that matter.  But we've seen the Packers exercise extreme loyalty to guys who have reached elite level and helped the team accomplish greatness.  In Matthews' case, their latest Super Bowl title.  

Things can change, but for now and the 2017 season, the Packers are truly banking on a resurgence from CM3.

 

 

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (53) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Nick Perry's picture

" A shoulder injury suffered in November of last year was one that ultimately required surgery and that Matthews played through the rest of the year."

Hey Jason...Matthews didn't have surgery this offseason, he was able to avoid it. : )

jasonperone's picture

Good catch. This is how fast I forget the happenings with this team when it's the offseason

Savage57's picture

Matthews, Perry, Fackrell, Elliott, Biegel.

Not exactly a Murderer's Row of pass rushers. Look for the opposition to have healthy passing stats again this year.

RCPackerFan's picture

Fackrell had flashes last year. Expect him to take a step after a year in the NFL weightroom.

Elliott makes plays when he plays OLB. Problem was with Peppers and Jones he didn't get many opportunities to play OLB. He will now get his opportunity.

We will see what we have in Biegel. He should be a good rotational player at the very least.

Nick Perry's picture

There's a pretty good piece on Lombardi Ave about Biegel this morning. Dan Dahlke who did some work on the CHTV Draft Guide wrote a piece breaking down Biegel's game with plenty of film examples. Love TJ Watt but now that he's with the Steelers nothing would make me happier than to see Biegel be the better Pro. ...Sorry TJ

RCPackerFan's picture

I loved TJ. I thought he would have been a perfect fit for GB. But I do think the Packers did the right thing in trading back and essentially trading Watt for King and Biegel. (I heard the Packers weren't as high on Watt, so the trade was more fan oriented then team).

I will have to check that out. Thanks for sharing.

Packer_Pete's picture

Biegel had foot surgery. I wouldn't count on him anytime soon...

Ryan Graham's picture

Savage57, I assume this statement coincides with the assumption no improvement is made in the secondary? Or an inability to stay healthier than they were last year? This team was in the top quarter of the league in pass rushing last year. While they lost key players in Peppers and even Jones, I see the pass defense improving as a whole because of their acquisitions in the draft and free agency. I'm also still not sold they don't make a last minute move to get Dumervil or Freeney.

Lphill's picture

He is probably still the best defensive player when healthy on the Packers , Daniels is good but not a household name in the NFL . Let's see a healthy Clay dominate this year with more help around him.

RCPackerFan's picture

What I don't get is when people talk about the best DL in the league and they always bring up Aaron Donald. While he is very good, I don't see that much of a difference between him and Daniels.
Daniels has been an underrated player for pretty much all his career. Which isn't a bad thing either.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

I love Daniels, but Donald is a far, far better player. Simply a superior specimen. Another level.

CAG123's picture

Him not being a household name is irrelevant Daniels is our best defensive player easily. He's 6'0 takes on a lot of double teams and is still disruptive. I'm hoping Adams or Clark can make an impact so we can really see how dominant Mike Daniels can be.

RCPackerFan's picture

There has been a lot of people talking about Mathews not being an elite player anymore. When you look at his overall stats and performances its easy to say no.

Mathews is a player that is a completely different player when he is completely healthy vs when he is dinged up/hurt. When Mathews is 100% or close to it healthy, he is an elite level player.
Problem is he almost never is close to it.

One of the main issues with Mathews throughout his whole career has been hamstring injuries. In 2016 he suffered a hamstring injury early in the year and it basically lasted from week 3 until week 12. Week 12 he was finally healthy (recorded a sack and was getting back to himself) and he takes that wicked shot from Barbre and screwed up his shoulder, which basically haunted him the rest of the year.

My guess is with the hamstring injuries its from using his legs to battle OT's down after down and they eventually just get strained.
Coincidentally the only 2 years that he played all 16 games were the 2 years he played ILB. People want to say that he had a bad year in 2015 at ILB because he only had 6.5 sacks. While maybe true, he did lead the team in QB pressures with 27, and hits 14.

I will continue to say that the best way to use Mathews in this defense is to move him around. More similar to how they used him in 2014 after moving him to Hybrid ILB.
While they don't need him there like they did in 2014, I think he maybe more effective if playing from there more often. He has proven that he can stay healthier playing from there, and also it keeps offense from knowing where he is going to be coming to or from.

McCarthy said after last year that the plan was to move Mathews around more last year but due to the injuries they never got a chance to. So I expect them to do so more this year.

Nick Perry's picture

I agree RC, Matthews is best when moved around and I believe that's how they'll use him this season. McCarthy has said so but just looking at the last 3 seasons he's best when he's moved around. Hopefully Farckrell, Elliott, Biegel, or all of the above can produce so Matthews can be a bit more situational.

RCPackerFan's picture

I really wonder what kind of looks Capers is going to come up with.

With the depth they now have on the DL, Mathews ability to play inside and out, and using the Hybrid S/ILB position, I think we could see a lot of different looks this year.

Instead of using 2 DL on the field perhaps we will see more 3 DL and only 1 true OLB, with Mathews playing an ILB spot. Basically our normal defense the last few years has been the 2-4 front. Well what if they go to a 3-3 front?

I am definitely looking forward to seeing what our defense will look like this year.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

We definitely need more 3-3, and less 2-4, especially since the D-Line is deeper and more talented than the LB's. My ideal base alignment would be 3-3-1-4, with Josh jones being the "1."

But of course, there will be several packages, getting guys like Martinez, Biegel, and Fackrell some snaps.

RCPackerFan's picture

yeah, I think we might see it with having a very strong DL this year.

I think we could see a lot of different looks this year to be honest... But then we will see the same ones over and over.

I liked when Capers first came to GB because we saw a lot of different looks. Last year he seemed to get back to that a bit. Hopefully more this year.

Bearmeat's picture

RC,

"Mathews is a player that is a completely different player when he is completely healthy vs when he is dinged up/hurt."

When is he NOT hurt though? He was hurt in 2014 at ILB too. Remember the 4th quarter and overtime of that awful game? No CM3.

Look, I said my bit on him on the last CM3 article. I don't need to do so again. If anyone wants to go back and look at my stance, just look at 2 or 3 articles down.

The only thing that I'll repeat is that depending on CM3 to be an impact player is about as intelligent as depending on Wisconsin to provide the right weather to go to the beachfront. In February. It's not going to happen. And anyone who thinks it will is going to be disappointed.

Definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. This is my main beef with TT - although he's at least moderated his approach on offense this year. And it's my main beef with CM3. Dude. Will. Not. Be. Healthy.

RCPackerFan's picture

'When is he NOT hurt though? He was hurt in 2014 at ILB too. Remember the 4th quarter and overtime of that awful game? No CM3.'

From what I remember he had a concussion. If I remember right he didn't go back in because he didn't want someone to spot him and realize he had one so he would have been in the protocol and might have missed the SB.

Outside of that though, he was healthy. At least healthy enough to play in every game and have an impact in every game.
2015 he was healthy enough to play in every game.
That essentially is my point. He is able to play when he is playing more of an ILB role and not playing OLB down after down. His body can't hold up.

Bearmeat's picture

So then why draft JJ in the 2nd round? IMO JJ and CM3 would play the same run/cover/chase/blitz role. He's certainly not the thumper - even at 255 lbs. That position gets even more wear and tear than OLB.

It looks an awful lot to me like GB is expecting a lot of high quality snaps from CM3 at OLB to me. Which (again IMO) is insane.

RCPackerFan's picture

JJ as in Josh Jones? or TJ as in TJ Watt?

Bearmeat's picture

Josh Jones. The ILB/hybrid S/Slot menace that TT picked up! :)

RCPackerFan's picture

Ok. I wasn't sure. You said he was 255...

I love the versatility that they have now to be honest. With Burnett, Jones, Mathews all able to play a hybrid role it can create a lot of different looks.
To me it just creates a lot more opportunities on defense.

Bearmeat's picture

You're exactly right. There is a lot of versatility. And I'm bullish on the entire team. Except pass rush - for the reasons I've hashed out over the last week. Obviously, CM3 is a big part of that.

No, I was not talking about JJ. I was talking about CM3 being the run/chase guy at 255. CM3 is ok at that, but ideally, he'd be a little lighter for that job. But that is clearly his best non-OLB position, as being the thumper isn't really a good fit either. And it seems JJ has the first crack at that spot. So, where do they play him? It clearly looks like it'll be a lot of OLB. Not good IMO.

Man, if only TT had traded back last year and grabbed Dupre rather than Randall. Or perhaps traded back up in the 2nd round and gotten Randall and Dupre rather than Randall/Rollins. Hindsight is 20/20....

RCPackerFan's picture

yeah, we have discussed the OLB a lot.

Ok, i was just thrown off. I didn't know if you meant TJ... The JJ threw me off...

I think Mathews just needs to be moved around. Not be a designated ILB/OLB... Have him doing the Troy Polamalu thing.

I'm not sure who your refering to in trading back? Bud Dupree? He was drafted 8 spots ahead of Randall in the 1st round. I'm not sure who else you would be referring to.

Bearmeat's picture

Sorry. I meant Noah Spence. He was drafted in the 2nd round and I remember really liking him last year.

For some reason, CHTV isn't letting me post a link, but there was a good article on him on PFT yesterday. He plays for Tampa now.

Ferrari Driver's picture

Agree, but on the downside, empirical data would indicate that Mathews will be a little slower, more prone to injury, and will take longer to heal. That certainly doesn't mean he will be ineffective, but it does suggest that the Mathews that we saw on the field in his mid 20's is no longer available. It makes me think of Reggie White in his prime compared to his last year in New Orleans...father time is a tough opponent and is undefeated.

RCPackerFan's picture

Oh definitely. A step slower in the NFL means having a strip sack to, maybe a sack, or to the QB getting the ball out.

Nick Perry's picture

If the Packers had intended on letting Matthews go at anytime this year it would have happened by now. If that was the plan I think they would have drafted an OLB before the 4th round, and/or possibly signed someone in FA. Personally I think Thompson still signs another veteran OLB before the preseason is over.

For better or worse Matthews will be with the Packers this season. Last season when Matthews wasn't on the field it affected Nick Perry's sack totals. I don't have the exact specifics but IIRC 8 of Perry's sacks came when Matthews was on the field. Matthews played through a pretty significant injury last season. I've had muscle pulls in my shoulders and washing my hair was a chore. I can't imagine what it must be like to play with a separated shoulder for most of the season. Matthews numbers may have been down, but his heart was big as ever!

RCPackerFan's picture

'Personally I think Thompson still signs another veteran OLB before the preseason is over.'
There was the rumor of them looking to sign Dumerville. Perhaps they are taking the wait and see approach to what the OLB's look like in training camp, or waiting to see how Dumerville is injury wise. Regardless I would say that, this could be a position that they might not be 100% done with yet.

'Matthews numbers may have been down, but his heart was big as ever!'
Excellent point!

cheesehead1's picture

Agree, I think we need to sign a veteran OLB in case (when) injuries hit. Other than Dumerville, who else is still available?

RCPackerFan's picture

So far the only name I heard anything about is Dumerville. I have no idea if that is a realistic option even.

I honestly am not sure who is available right now. There might be someone that gets cut that they would look at also.

Ferrari Driver's picture

"Matthews numbers may have been down, but his heart was big as ever! "

I like that thought.

Handsback's picture

We can't say that the Packer's defense will be in sub-packages for 80% of a game and in the same breath expect CMIII to line up in his traditional position 80% of the time. In the sub-packages, they will move CM all around the LOS with the offense not knowing where he will be and if he will rush or not. So can he beat those LTs like he used to? i don't think so, but also don't think he will be running against them every play either. The Packers are going to bring pressure from many different areas. Jones is likely to have as many sacks this year as CM, because of the confusion the blockers will have trying to figure out whom to pick up. The difference is wherever CM is rushing from, there will be a blocker or two on him freeing up another Packer pass rusher to head straight to the QB. All of this predicated on the DBs keeping tight coverage for a few seconds. It has to work together. The last few years it hasn't been the case.
In hockey and lacrosse a good defense can stop a player from scoring, but they can’t keep him from getting assist. That is what CM brings to the table, focused attention on him allowing others to make the plays. That doesn’t mean CM won’t make his fair share of plays…..you just won’t see them as often.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

True, but if I were an Offensive Coordinator, I would never use 2 blockers on Clay. I wouldn't even look for him.

My bigger concerns would be Perry, Daniels, and now, Jones.

Bearmeat's picture

Right on ALP.

CM3 has been JAG for quite awhile now. He does not beat average LTs on any sort of a regular basis.

Finwiz's picture

Opposing offensive lines NEVER seem to have confusion about whom to pickup on blitz's because Capers is so predictable. I don't expect anybody to be running free through the line, whether it's Matthews, Jones or Elliot doing the blitzing. It's nothing like the old days with Leroy Butler shooting through a gap, or Doug Evans or Eugene Robinson. They called him "no blitz, Fritz" (Schurmer), but when he did blitz, they got home a majority of the time. Of course it did help to have White, Jones, Brown and Dotson on the defensive line, so that was an unfair advantage compared to the pedestrian guys we have today.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

One thing is certain: This is Clay's last season in Green Bay.

I see Capers using Matthews as a more multi-dimensional Peppers, limiting his snaps to slow his decline and maximizing impact while he's on the field.

We have a deep, albeit pedestrian LB core, so guys like Fackrell, Biegel, Martinez, and even Josh Jones should supplant enough of Clay's snaps to milk one last hurrah out of him.

But are the Packers "banking on him"? Though he certainly helps Perry, I wouldn't bank on what's left of Matthews. Just take him as he is: A horrible contract beset by injuries, soon to be shed after this season.

Whatever good plays he provides are gravy.

Bearmeat's picture

I agree ALP. But in TT's defense, CM3 wasn't pedestrian until immediately AFTER he signed his big contract.... verrrry fishy.....

Bert's picture

Hope I'm wrong but I think the injuries and wear and tear have taken their toll on CM3. I just don't see a resurgence at his age and the mileage on his tires. He can still be an effective player but probably not an impact guy anymore.

Lphill's picture

As Nick Perry pointed out, Clay was playing professional football with a badly injured shoulder , I had a difficult time pushing my lawn mower with just a pulled muscle ,lets evaluate Clay when healthy.

Ferrari Driver's picture

Jason,

Thumbs up! IMO you nailed this article, including the reason for keeping Mathews around this year.

I expect a pedestrian performance from him this year and also feel that the lack of an edge rush will be the team's major deficiency.

McKinley would have been a good value pick for the Packers, but the Falcons grabbed him a couple of slots ahead, but I do believe King will be a solid starter in the Dix mold.

The NFL draft and salary cap keeps every team from being solid from top to bottom and the Packers are like the cream in the old time glass milk bottles and will be one of the few that can go all the way.

Spock's picture

FD: I had to give you a thumbs up just for the "cream in the old time glass milk bottles" reference! I remember that well (as well as the milk nearly freezing solid when the milkman (!) delivered it to the outside box at my boyhood house in Wisconsin in late winter.)

PatrickGB's picture

The teams loyalty keeps FA's interested. I see CM3 here for another year. We kept Peppers one year too many but he still was productive. We even kept Perry when others were calling for his release and he produced. I am not sure about the idea that we release a good player under contract a year early. However, lesser players do get released. I expect another "wait and see" year on Clay. Yes, he seems to be overpaid but in many ways he has become one of the faces of the franchise. I say he is kept but we look hard at who is available next year when we have a ton of draft picks.

Tundraboy's picture

In my heart I think Clay has at least another great year left in him. His hamstring issues are hopefully in the past, but it can't hurt moving him inside if it keeps him on the field more. He is number one on my list of key players, other than ARod of course that we need a full, healthy season from.

If healthy we can win this year.

cheesehead1's picture

Any chance TT brings n Daryl Washington in for a look? Why not take a chance, can always cut him if it doesn't work. We need all the help we can get on D.

dcharlesc's picture

Pretty sure CM3 feeling the inevitable back-end decline of PEDs. That being said, I think we are good enough on offense to dramatically reduce his snaps to insure he is healthy for the playoffs. I have not problem sacrificing seeding for a healthy CM3 down the stretch. I think the key to the season will be to get out to 8-2 or 7-3 start and focus on getting the defense healthy for the stretch run. As much as people complain about resting in the NBA, I think it merits consideration for teams like the Packers that are in an incredibly weak division and have a productive offense.

dobber's picture

In the end, I don't care who gets the sacks this season or what position they're lining up from at the snap, as long as the Packers are getting sacks and getting sacks in key situations. Sacks are like strikeouts in baseball: they're rally-killers.

Ferrari Driver's picture

I used to hate it when we hit into double plays; seemed to take what little wind we had in our sails in those days.

JohnnyLogan's picture

I think I have more confidence in Fackrell than what I read here. He's fast and smart and if he has put on a little muscle he could be really good. I also have more confidence in Matthews than most, regardless where he plays. He's no longer the "Claymaker" but he's still a tough instinctual player who can disrupt an offense. My greatest worry, as always, is Dom Capers and his awful prevent schemes. He needs to be let go. There are always excuses, but at some point someone has to shout that the Emperor has no clothes. Or hair. I just don't understand why he gets to sit on his perch up in the booth and continue to orchestrate defensive disasters year after year. Every Packer fan knows what's coming. We'll need to average over 30 points a game because Capers will find a way to let every 4th quarter 3rd down play, no matter the distance, be completed. It can't always be the players because the players have changed. The only constant is the man in the booth. We have some tough games early in the season. If Atlanta blows us out again the new excuse will be Capers hasn't had time to integrate the new players. Or that old standby favorite, It takes time to learn his schemes. Blah, blah, blah. He's a disaster and I'd gladly pay to Uber him out of Green Bay.

Grandfathered's picture

I don't think that TT has a lot of emotion or special sentiment for players, regardless of their history with the team. I think CMIII could bring a motor in situational packages., and my guess is TT at least tries to renegotiate his contract.

Bearmeat's picture

Is it just me, or did a bunch of comments from this debate last week get deleted? I came back to see what others had said about my response to the article, and my original response was deleted??? Why?

Finwiz's picture

Yes - they CENSORED - DELETED a whole bunch of comments.
I know it got heated and a bit "colorful" here and there, but that's not excuse for censorship. I may have to re-evaluate my visitation to this site, if that's the case here.

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