When Clay Matthews jumped onto the scene, I was an immediate fan.
He had the most freakish bend, a vicious approach to rushing, and a spring in his first step that made him look like he’d been launched by a giant rubber band like Wile E. Coyote.
Even then, in the very beginning, as excited as I was, I knew it wouldn’t last.
He turned the corner at a 30 degree angle, making him virtually unblockable on the edge. He had a double-baton spin move that was the equivalent of Barry Sanders rushing the passer.
They were moves that you could plainly see would not age well. The human body just does not retain that type of elasticity.
He was on the small side and when he used power rushes, they were generated with speed and leverage… more things that don’t age well.
Last year, it was clear that age had caught up to him. After a couple terrible calls on big plays the first two weeks, he was pretty much invisible. I know there were a lot of “almost”s and decent pressure stats, but the tape said he was tapering off.
This is what happens.
Players aren’t the same at 32 as they were at 22. The end is never as impressive as the beginning.
But let’s not let that change the narrative his career. Let’s not fall victim to this toxic fan mentality that when a player burns out at the end – even if it’s a little earlier than we would have liked – that we convince ourselves it was a mistake to ever take him.
Let’s not remember him in his later years, let’s remember the wild hair flying back when he abused left tackles en route to double digit sacks with a propensity for creating and recovering fumbles.
He was the best Packer Edge we’ve seen in a long, long time.
And maybe the best we will see in a long, long time.
But What’s Next?
It’s clear that his time as a three down Edge guy is over.
Could he be a situational rusher?
I think someone will probably pay him (too much) to do just that, but watching him last year tells me that limited reps aren’t going to make him more productive. It didn’t look like he was winded or pacing himself, it looked like his body was no longer capable of doing the things that made him effective in the first place.
No matter how few snaps he plays, his body will never be able to bend like it used to.
What about inside linebacker?
He looked like a savior there in 2014, but let’s do math: that was five years ago – half a decade. That’s a lifetime of aging for a body like that.
Even if his was open to coming back on a cheap deal (which I don’t think he is) to play inside linebacker (which I don’t think he would want to do), it would be a stopgap part-time role at a position where there is already competition.
Blake Martinez, like it or not, is entrenched as the leader on the inside and he’s 8 years younger than CM3. The second ILB in modern defenses plays like 10 or 15% of the snaps and there is the potential return of Jake Ryan along with an expected year 2 jump from a healthy Oren Burks plus Antonio Morrison and the possibility of a rookie joining the mix.
That’s a lot of young horses competing for very few snaps at very cheap contracts.
It’s a young man’s game.
I can’t justify bringing Clay – one of my favorite players – back to that situation.
This is underscored by the fact that the Packers are now a team that signs external free agents (and in the case of Jimmy Graham, hopefully cuts them and eats the cap hit). Those cost money. Money we can’t spend on aging stars whose productivity has fallen off a cliff.
A Fond Farewell
I’ve accepted that it’s time for Clay to go. I don’t think it’s too late, either. He showed he can have an impact in the first couple weeks. The rest of the year is what really showed that his time is up.
He had a long successful run and deserves a spot in the Packers Hall of Fame. I’ll remember his time here fondly and hope you do, as well.