What Position Should Clay Matthews Play in 2017?
Clay Matthews has more sacks than any other linebacker in Packers history. He has made the Pro Bowl six times and has been named an All-Pro once. He’s one of the best defensive players the Packers have ever had.
Clay Matthews will also be 31 at the start of next season. He has produced double digit sacks just once in the past four seasons. He’s due to count more than $15 million against the cap next season.
The Packers have a Clay Matthews problem. What do you do with an aging player who could be in decline whose salary doesn’t come close to matching his production? Here are three possible solutions.
Move him inside and hope you can find more outside linebackers
The Packers spent the better parts of two seasons trying to figure out if Matthews was a long term solution at inside linebacker. It wasn’t the preferred move for either party; Matthews didn’t want to play inside and the Packers wouldn’t have preferred to have to use their best pass rusher to shore up their inside linebacker spot.
But after an ineffective year back on the outside, it could be worth another shot. Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez didn’t do anything to prove they were the solution, and even if Matthews is only marginally better, it would shore up a significant weakness on defense.
However, moving Matthews inside also creates problems. Nick Perry and Julius Peppers are currently free agents, and moving Matthews to a new position puts the Packers even more in need of pass rushing help.
Keep him outside and hope things get better
Clay Matthews hasn’t been a regularly impactful pass rusher in at least two and a half seasons, and the holes in his game showed more than ever this year. He’s never been the sort of player to develop actual pass rushing moves, relying on being faster and more athletic than the people trying to block him.
That’s a great strategy as long as you remain faster and more athletic than the people trying to block you.
For a variety of reasons, Matthews was not his typically explosive self last season. We know that he had at least one relatively serious injury, but that only affected his shoulder. At times, though, Matthews seemed to move gingerly, and with his history of soft tissue leg injuries, it’s not reckless speculation to wonder if he was dealing with an additional injury down the stretch.
It’s possible that Matthews just needs to get completely healthy again, and if that’s the case, leaving him at outside linebacker could still be a good move.
Ask him to take a pay cut or release him
Like we mentioned earlier, Matthews counts more than $15 million dollars against the Packers cap next season.
But he only counts against the cap if he’s on the roster.
I wouldn’t say it’s likely or even something the Packers would consider at all, but asking Matthews to take a pay cut and then releasing him if he’s not agreeable wouldn’t be a terrible move.
If the Packers believe that Matthews is past the point where he can be an effective player, they could save $11 million against the 2017 cap by moving on now. Obviously that would leave them with a serious hole at outside linebacker (and potentially inside linebacker), but if the coaching staff doesn’t think he can regain his former explosiveness, it’s not an option that I’d take off the table entirely.