Film Review: Clay Matthews

News broke earlier this week that Clay Matthews and the Packers have had initial discussions towards a contract extension for the 32-year-old linebacker. Whether those contract discussions evolve into an actual extension for the longtime Packers’ playmaker remain to be seen. Maybe the bigger question for a lot of Packer fans is whether or not Green Bay should be looking to bring back Matthews and just exactly how much value does he add at this point in his career?

There seem to be two differing camps on Matthews. The first believes that Matthews is nowhere near worth his $11,368,750 salary cap hit this season and that Green Bay would be better served releasing Matthews ($10,868,750 savings) and using that money elsewhere. There is another camp that seemingly feels that Matthews is the same player he’s always been and that he’s still a premier edge rusher and dominant defensive player at age 32. As usual, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Clay Matthews is not an elite edge rusher or linebacker anymore; but he’s a really good football player that adds a lot of value to the Packers. When I graded every player last year on the Packers, Clay still graded as my third best defensive player behind only Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels.

Pro Football Focus ranked Matthews the 22nd best edge rusher in football a season ago (ahead of players like Danielle Hunter, Justin Houston, Brian Orakpo, Olivier Vernon, Nick Perry, Jadeveon Clowney, Jerry Hughes, Cameron Wake, Julius Peppers, T.J. Watt, etc…) and Bleacher Report had him as the 15th best 3-4 outside linebacker.

I’d firmly put Clay Matthews in a 2nd tier of edge rushers. You can see the list I’ve made below. All of these edge rushers are on at least their 2nd contract, aren’t quite elite players anymore, and all graded in the same realm by Bleacher Report and PFF. In fact Clay had the 2nd best PFF grade of anyone on the list below besides Jones. As you can also see, Clay isn’t making this ridiculous amount of money when you compare him to his peers at the position; in actuality he’s at or slightly below what he probably should be getting paid based on the contracts of the below players:

The biggest thing with Clay Matthews is that everyone probably needs to recalibrate a little bit to see exactly what he is worth is on the Packers’ roster. The biggest sticking point for a lot of people seems to be his exorbitant cap hit but as we can see above, he’s really not being vastly overpaid in comparison to others who are very similarly rated at his position.

Now… to those who still say he’s a high caliber edge rusher who wreaks havoc and should be making the Pro Bowl, unfortunately I don’t believe that’s quite the case, either. Zach Kruse did a fantastic workup earlier this year of Clay Matthew’s sacks and near misses: https://packerswire.usatoday.com/2018/06/27/reviewing-all-of-clay-matthews-sacks-in-2017/

What you can see here is that when Matthews was getting sacks, he wasn’t exactly beating premier NFL tackles. In fact he only had one sack all season against a left tackle and that was against James Hurst who really is probably better suited to play guard and either way isn’t a starting caliber left tackle.

Statistically, Matthews has declined as well. He hasn’t had double digit sacks since 2014, and hasn’t had back-to-back double digit sack seasons since 2009-2010—his first two seasons in the league. Matthews also continues to struggle to stay healthy. While he’s played in double digit games in every year of his career, he’s only played in all 16 games three times out of his nine seasons. His last 16 game season was back in 2015. He also isn’t making the flash plays that he used to either. He hasn’t had an interception since week one of 2015 and has only forced two fumbles in his last three seasons combined. For comparison sake he had three interceptions and three forced fumbles in 2011 alone.

Here’s what I see on tape:

High Effort / High Intensity

Playmaking ability

Excellent Hand Usage

Can’t consistently win against starting tackles

Versatility

Dominant Edge Setter / Run Defender

What really stands out above to me is Clay’s versatility. He puts highlight plays on tape in coverage, run defense and pass defense. He can win as an edge rusher, edge setter, a linebacker in coverage, as a blitzer, or with just about anything else you ask him to do. He can bring so much to a team that it’s always incredibly tough to replace him when he’s out due to injury.

Matthews is a really good football player at age 32, heading into his 10th season with the Packers. He’s not as good as he used to be and he’s not a Pro Bowl caliber player anymore; but he’s still a top three defensive player on the team and he consistently helps the Packers win on defense. His value could be debated forever but as the chart above shows he’s certainly not egregiously overpaid, at least in comparison to similar players around the league. Is he worth another big contract? That answer will largely be up to how Matthews performs in 2018; and let’s hope for all parties involved that he has one more dominant performance left in him for 2018.   

Make sure to tune in Friday’s at 9:50am on WDUZ: http://www.thefan1075.com/

__________________________

Andy is a graduate of UW-Oshkosh and owns & operates the Pack-A-Day Podcast. Andy has taken multiple courses in NFL scouting and is an Editor for Packer Report. You can find him on WFRV's Green Bay Nation and every Friday on the Friday Film Room on WDUZ . Andy grew up in Green Bay and is a lifelong season ticket holder - follow him on Twitter @AndyHermanNFL!

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Comments (39)

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Savage57's picture

August 24, 2018 at 06:31 am

Nicely done, Andy.

Good journalism should make the reader consider the author's position while reflecting upon their own.

Mission accomplished.

3 years, $25M, incentives to $30M, with 50% guaranteed, roughly a 2 year deal with a let's see 3rd.

Peppersish.

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stockholder's picture

August 24, 2018 at 11:39 am

Sign him! 10 mil Bonus. Then your numbers. peppers got 7.5 up front.

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NickPerry's picture

August 24, 2018 at 06:47 am

The thing I'll always respect and love about Matthews is his effort. Never will you see Matthews give less than 100%. Is he the same guy as the player who helped the Packers win the SB in 2010? No, but how many OLB in the NFL are doing the same things at 32 as they were when they were 22 or 23?

Matthews is STILL a very important piece to this defense. Those who want him cut need to ask themselves just who are the Packers going to replace him with? Lets face it as great of story as Reggie Gilbert is he hasn't done it in the regular season. Not really. Frackrell has shown next to nothing and Biegel even less. The "Homer" in me predicted 6-8 sacks out of Biegel this year. The "Realist" wonders if he even deserves a roster spot. Personally I don't want VB going anywhere and am still holding out hope even though everything I've read suggest there's not much there to garner much hope.

The Packers are a better football team with Matthews on it. I for one hope they can extend him past this year (for a lot less). I think Matthews will have his best season since 2014 this year because I think Pettine has a very specific plan how to best utilize Matthews skills and by about mid-season we'll all be happy Matthews is still a Packer.

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Mojo's picture

August 24, 2018 at 02:08 pm

NP you hit on a part of CM3's game I always appreciated and that is the hustle. Maybe he doesn't have the bend to get around the corner like he used to, but I remember many a play where I'd see him chasing the action downfield sometimes on the other side of the field.

I'd be OK resigning him out for maybe two more years after this one. He should retire a Packer. Similar to what Peppers got, maybe just a little more. Hopefully he'll consider that enough.

And I'll never forget the first time he made an impression on a large group of people I was watching a game with. In a game against the Eagles there was this man-beast with a long flowing mane and huge biceps chasing down anything in the backfield including squishing their unsuspecting QB Kolb near the sideline. I thought he was straight out of X-Men or something. Finally, someone on our team kicking ass for a change. The group I was with went nuts and the excitement about the Packers was palpable. Within a few years of his arrival GB won the SB.

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NickPerry's picture

August 24, 2018 at 08:51 pm

I remember the game your talking about well. Matter of fact I watched it on You-Tube this past Winter. That was week 1 of the 2010 season.

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PAPackerbacker's picture

August 24, 2018 at 07:46 am

Clay Matthews may not be the player he was but is still a disruptive force. However, one can not be compensated for past performances. He should be compensated for what he is worth to the team today. The very reason Jordy is no longer a Packer. I do believe the Packers are better with Clay Matthews than a replacement, but also believe that once your skills are noticeably diminished that commanding huge salaries because of past performances is unrealistic. Probably why Jordy was not offered more compensation. But who Knows? Maybe the new defensive scheme will be the key for more success. I hope when Clay Matthews retires it's in a green and gold uniform.

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Packer Dave's picture

August 24, 2018 at 07:44 am

I think this puts a little cold water on the Mack trade. Not that the pack wouldn't do it, who knows what the Raiders are asking? It would make sense to keep him on a contract where he is situational pass rusher ala Peppers. He can still fly around the field and would be a mentor for younger edge players. If he spends most of his time inside he may have 3 years left. Pay him ILB market value.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

August 24, 2018 at 07:13 pm

Yes, it does. Both in terms of the value we should ascribe to CM3 and in terms of entering into contract extension talks. For all intents and purposes, short of a large hometown discount from AR, either Cobb or CM3 probably has to be cut in 2018 to make the space available for Mack. Probably neither can be on the team in 2019 unless an RT other than Bulaga proves himself in 2018.

Note that none of these "monster" deals with pass rushers has a huge signing bonus. Von Miller: $17.5M; Houston $20.5M; Chandler Jones $15M; Olivier Vernon $20M; Melvin Ingram $10.5M.

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CheesyTex's picture

August 24, 2018 at 08:16 pm

Couldn't an extension with a large bonus actually help the cap this year?

It would be nice to average Matthews out over a 3-4 year period at a number below this year's cap hit.

Would love to see him in Green and Gold for his entire career.

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CheesyTex's picture

August 24, 2018 at 08:34 pm

Oops! Sorry Reynoldo. You fully answered this in a later post.

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Handsback's picture

August 24, 2018 at 07:48 am

Thanks Andy for the article this morning. I think you nailed it, an older OLB that can still bring the heat and make the offense wonder where he is....how much is that worth, I have no idea. I'm pretty sure that's why the Packers are doing his contract now. They expect him to be better with a better line in front.

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Bure9620's picture

August 24, 2018 at 08:27 am

Clays still has his suddeness, probably one of the reasons why the Packers want to do a deal. An extension now could save more in '19 and '20. Interested to see what he has left this year.

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DraftHobbyist's picture

August 24, 2018 at 08:39 am

Unlikely. Even if Matthews produces, his value is likely going down due to age. And if his value does go up that much, then he'll be wanted around the league, and we can trade him.

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dobber's picture

August 24, 2018 at 09:08 am

Can't trade him if he's unsigned. His deal is up this year.

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DraftHobbyist's picture

August 24, 2018 at 09:38 am

Still have the option of tagging him.

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

August 24, 2018 at 08:31 am

Clay only beat one tackle--a bad one--for a sack all year. That's not good enough, but perhaps his sacks will jump with better CB coverage this season.

What these clips don't show are the endless litany of plays where Clay did the O-Tackle waltz. He's also not the running game killer he once was. I don't understand how he "grades out well," but hey, I'm open to learning. But from the eye test of when I watched, he seemed to be very low impact most of the time. Very low.

I don't think I'd tie up any major money in him long term.

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Mibster's picture

August 24, 2018 at 08:46 am

I'm one of those that always have liked Clay and the effort he brings to the D. I think he did an OK job alternating between OLB and the ILB position and have always given everything he got, injured with his hand in a Club or in a position hes not used to. I agree that the passrush needs some new blood but Clay is useful nevertheless. Now when Ryan is injured he can help Martinez if needed (Martinez is an wreckingball, like him a lot). OK, he isnt as effective as before but worth a lot in my opinion and has much experience that can be transfered to the new linebackers!

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dobber's picture

August 24, 2018 at 09:07 am

I agree with you on most counts. This quote above by Ben Fennell fits best:

"I always liked Clay off-ball bc he did everything full speed - he sees it, he hits it. He's fast, athletic, wreckless.. Let em play in space"

I think this is true. He's always been a 'see ball, get ball' kind of player. He sometimes lacks discipline, but even still at 32, he's likely the second best athlete among all the Packer LBs (to Burks). You can talk tested numbers, but, when healthy, he's just better on the field than most of those guys. I think that's the biggest knock people will have on him: his inability to avoid nagging soft-tissue injuries. He was able to do it as an ILB, and more time there might make a big difference.

As for an extension, I'm not going to pretend to know how to pay him...as an ILB? Edge? How many years? I like the idea of using base salary over guarantees so he's more cuttable. At his age, he needs to expect that. If they're talking extension already, I hope that augurs toward his showing well and impressing the new staff. I think if he performs well in Pettine's defense--which he seems well-suited for--it makes sense to use him as a bridge to the next generation of OLBs. Gilbert helps, but otherwise those players just aren't on the roster right now, and pass-rushers in general are hard (and expensive) to get on the open market.

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porupack's picture

August 24, 2018 at 08:55 am

Great article, and a pragmatic sensibility. Refreshing realism and appreciation for what Matthews still does for the D compared to the KMack wetdreams.

Smart to start discussions w Matthews, while simultaneously with Rodgers. Seems prudent to signal to Rodgers that GB will try to take care of key players (to compensate for that seemingly quick release of JNelson), and that GB needs cash to take care of players around Rodgers. Smart GM.

If the CBs emerge in 2018 even as moderate upgrade over last year's corp, Matthews stats on paper will be more matched to his value as a disruptor. If the CBs reach their potential by November, then Matthews will have 13+ sacks.

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dobber's picture

August 24, 2018 at 09:05 am

Even when we go back a couple years, when the secondary was stronger (Shields, Hayward, TWill, House, etc.), the pass rush was more of an eventual unit than a sudden one. I agree: I think having a more solid and deep secondary will have those same kinds of effects here.

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Since'61's picture

August 24, 2018 at 09:08 am

Clay is a good football player but not a force any longer.
I have 2 problems with Clay. 1. He has always taken himself out of many plays. 2. He gets to the QB and misses the tackle as shown on the play where he loops around and the QB slips away and throws a TD.

What is the point of beating your man and/or getting to the QB if he doesn't finish the play and bring the QB down? I would not extend him until we see how this season goes. We could end up keeping him one or two seasons too long. When the 2019 draft gets here we better draft 3 edge guys like we drafted 3 WRs this season. Thanks, Since '61

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Tundraboy's picture

August 24, 2018 at 09:19 am

I'm with you Since 61. I just see absolutely no reason to extend him at this time. None. Later in the season maybe.

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croatpackfan's picture

August 24, 2018 at 04:42 pm

When Aaron do the same (slip through arms of best pass rushers in the league) than it is just good play from Aaron, Well sometimes, eventually other QBs can escape like that. It is not always LB mistake, just excellent move made by opponent player...

No one wins on every occasion, we should know and accept that ...

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Ken Parrish's picture

August 24, 2018 at 09:13 am

It doesn't matter how much talent you have when you can't stay healthy. No one has mentioned how much time he misses every year because he's fragile. You should post a highlight video of him standing on the sidelines in street clothes. I say trade him while you can still get something for him. Or cut him and go find someone who can stay on the field.

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AndyHerman's picture

August 24, 2018 at 09:25 am

Seriously, why doesn't anyone talk about how he misses time.

*Inserts exact quote from the article you are commenting on*

"Matthews also continues to struggle to stay healthy. While he’s played in double digit games in every year of his career, he’s only played in all 16 games three times out of his nine seasons. His last 16 game season was back in 2015."

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PatrickGB's picture

August 24, 2018 at 09:34 am

61, The man has taken himself out of plays when he finally gets exhausted. I don’t fault him for that. The way he plays makes ME feel exhausted. The team doesn’t need an exhausted player on the field regardless of who he is. The fault is really on the staff to find a suitable replacement when he goes out. Dom’s scheme did not help. I see Claymaker as a key to Pettine’s new defense. Hence the extension talks.

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Mibster's picture

August 24, 2018 at 11:02 am

I dont think the term "injury prone" label is valid at all. In that case we have a O-line that all (more or less) should be released. In my opinion the injuries comes with dedication and giving everything you got. Sometimes the situation just makes something in your body to break. Injuries is just part of the game. If you dont like it, watch Chess instead ;) Ofcourse you want the starting lineup to be healthy but rarely that is the case. Lets see how Clay plays and Im sure he will be playing all 16 games (hopefully more) this year.

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Tarynfor12's picture

August 24, 2018 at 11:07 am

A ' highlight reel ' is what it says it is and this one is no different than those of college players enhancing their draft status.
Like a stat sheet, certain things can be massaged to make certain aspects stand out.
I have little doubt that Matthews can be more productive via a stronger DL push/control or if the secondary can stay attached to the receivers for4-8 seconds. The former can be more often the benefit needed but the latter is absurd.
Matthews is getting paid to be the play maker and not one who might make a play.
I would wait for the season to end and see what offers he gets elsewhere. Supporters of Matthews will see he's more about money (guaranteed) than staying in GB.

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dobber's picture

August 24, 2018 at 12:26 pm

"Supporters of Matthews will see he's more about money (guaranteed) than staying in GB."

Why wouldn't he be? Most players are.

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Tarynfor12's picture

August 24, 2018 at 12:48 pm

I believe Matthews said he'd love to end his career as a Packer and this needs to be factored into his asking price . If authentic, it will be revealed via contract negotiations and hindering salary cap going forward....being in the neap tide of his playable years and likely leaning to calmer waves still.
Wait until December the earliest and see whats NOT in his future play.

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dobber's picture

August 24, 2018 at 03:41 pm

Just because he says he'd like to finish his career as a Packer player doesn't mean he's willing to offer a discount to do it. The two have little to do with each other.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

August 24, 2018 at 05:21 pm

I agree with Dobber. As for the highlight reel, yes, it is, but it also shows the kind of plays that don't show up in the stat line after a game.

I firmly believe that a dominant DL (as I think we have) that forces QBs off their spot will lead to a chase/burst player like CM3 having a really fine year statistically.

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Lphill's picture

August 24, 2018 at 03:55 pm

The Packers defense is better with Clay on the field, he is at his best when moved around , maybe use him as a pass rush specialist on passing downs only keep his legs fresh , but use him , I think with better players around him this season he will have more opportunities to make plays.

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EdsLaces's picture

August 24, 2018 at 04:21 pm

Its funny to me how people make jokes about a player who is 250 pounds of pure muscle calling him fragile . Especially if said person hasn't hit the gym in a decade. Not trying to point out anyone purposely, you just see it all the time . Clay would crush us ...all of us lol.

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4thand1's picture

August 24, 2018 at 05:02 pm

Football is a fragile sport, look at all the players on the injury list around the league. I can't understand why they even wear padding.

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4thand1's picture

August 24, 2018 at 05:05 pm

Remember the play when he diagnosed the play at the line that Cam Newton called last year. Newton looked at him and said, "that was good".

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

August 24, 2018 at 06:55 pm

I worked on an article about extending CM3 and Cobb last March, but never submitted it. It tried to look through the eyes of the player.

"Clay Matthews is scheduled to earn $11.4M in cash in 2018. He can hope to receive perhaps as much again in cash in 2019 when he signs another long-term contract. [This means CM3 assumes the risk of a career-ending injury, but he can probably obtain insurance for that risk.] So, if I am CM3, I have an expectation of receiving $20M to $22M over the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Less than that sounds like a pay cut.

Put another way, let's assume that CM3 has a FMV in the $8M to $9M AAV or $24M to $27M over three years. Add in the $11.4M for 2018, and his realistic expectation is $35M to $38M over the next 4 seasons.

25% to 33% for a player of CM3's age seems reasonable as a signing bonus. That's a $9M to $12M range, roughly. Call it $10M signing bonus, plus a minimum of $1.1M base salary for 2018 = the $11.4M expected cash under his current contract for 2018 and gives a $3.6M cap hit (cap savings = $7.8M). It is hard to get cash of $11M more in 2019, but perhaps a base of $8.5M, workout of $500K, and game-active bonus of $500K more might suffice. Cap hit is $11.5M for 2019, but the two-year cap hit is $15.1M, so an average cap hit of $7.55M (since GB can roll over the 2018 cap savings into 2019, after all). $7.55M cap hits in each of the first two years is not a hardship. GB might have to guarantee some of the 2019 base salary or guarantee a roster bonus."

That still leaves $14M to $17M in cash for 2020 and 2021 combined. That might be $7M in base salary, $500K workout, and $500K in game-active bonuses, which works out to $10.5M cap hits in 2020 and 2021. Dead money would be $2.5M in 2021, $5M in 2020.

Mr. Herman suggests that CM3 might be worth more than $9M. Cameron Wake is on a 2 year deal due to age. Houston has a $20.6M cap hit, as far as I can tell. Ryan Kerrigan (13 sacks in 2017) has a cap hit of $12.4M in the 3rd year of his 2015 extension (old contract). Brian Orakpo ($9M cap) is also on a 2015 contract. There is a big drop off in pay after that. Quinn was traded, so $1M of his cap was eaten by his old team. Jason Pierre Paul (8.5 sacks) also was traded with his old team eating $15M dead: otherwise his cap hit would be more than the $12.5M noted in the chart in the article.

IDK, it seems to me that the author made a good argument that CM3 might make more on the open market than we fans think. I'd be more concerned about dead money, so a reasonable signing bonus and a 2nd year roster bonus makes sense to me.

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RobinsonDavis's picture

August 24, 2018 at 08:02 pm

Nice job James and Andy!! Great Analysis

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Samson's picture

August 24, 2018 at 09:03 pm

See how many games he's healthy in season 2018 & how he performs. --- Then talk contract after the season.

There's absolutely "zero reason" to extend him at this point in time. --- It's easy for fans to spend someone else's money.

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