What to Expect From Clay Matthews in 2017

We wrote not long ago about how several heroes of the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl team now find themselves waiting for a call from a new team.

While Clay Matthews isn’t in danger of joining them in the unemployment queue any time soon, the player we saw in 2016 was a far cry from the long-haired maniac who answered Kevin Greene’s call for a big play

Having turned 31 last month, Matthews is the fifth oldest player on the roster and has just two years remaining on his contract. As he enters what could be the twilight of his career, what should we expect from Clay Matthews in 2017?

Jon says: Variety or irrelevance

I heard a great quote from retired general Eric Shinseki recently: “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”

I thought of that quote while thinking about Clay Matthews and his prospects for 2017 and beyond. For two years, Matthews has had an on again, off again relationship with playing inside linebacker. He prefers to line up as an outside rusher and pursue the quarterback every play, but the Packers have needed him to fill gaping holes in the interior of their defense, using his athleticism to at least slow the bleeding.

Now it seems like inside linebacker is off the table for good, but maybe it shouldn’t be. Though diminished by injury for much of last season, Matthews never approached anything resembling the backfield terror he was at his peak. It may be better if both Matthews and the Packers would consider a role where he could line up anywhere on the field, rushing the quarterback or even dropping into coverage if need be.

It may not be what Matthews ultimately prefers, but if it keeps him on the field in a meaningful role, I bet it beats irrelevance.

Gary says: A player at a crossroads

Clay Matthews is a victim of his own success. By his second year in the league, he was an All-Pro linebacker and a Super Bowl champion. In 2013, the Packers made him the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history.

Now, Matthews is at a career crossroads. He’s now posted just as many seasons with fewer than 10 sacks as he has with more than 10 sacks, and admitted last October that playing outside linebacker was more taxing on his body than playing inside.

The path forward for Clay Matthews isn’t new or groundbreaking. Matthews is at his best when he’s unleashed from a variety of spots across the field to sack the quarterback. While he filled in at middle linebacker in 2014 and 2015, his skills are best used on the outside. 

We’re closer to the end of Matthews’ career than we are to the beginning. In a way, Matthews is similar to Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook. Both rely on their raw athleticism to overmatch opponents, but struggle when the advantage disappears.