Don’t expect Clay Matthews to treat quarterbacks any differently now that he’s the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL.
“It’s funny because not a whole lot has changed,” the Green Bay Packers’ four-time Pro Bowl selection said Wednesday after signing a five-year extension with the team. “I’m happy about it, but for me, it’s nice, it’s very humbling and it’s a blessing, but it’s business as usual for me.
“I’m glad that they have put their trust in me and belief in me in awarding me this, but at the same time you’re going to get the same type of unwavering perseverance on the field and dedication that I’m going to bring day in and day out.”
FOXSports.com’s Jay Glazer reported earlier Wednesday that Matthews’ extension was “for a bit north” of $13 million per season. The Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware had been the highest-paid linebacker in the league at $13 million per year.
Before re-signing, Matthews, 26, had one year left on his rookie contract for $3.7 million and would have then been a free agent in the 2014 offseason.
Of course, the Packers were never going to let Matthews get away.
“Congratulations to Clay, who has quickly developed into a core member of our team,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said in a statement. “His accomplishments and the example he sets on and off the field will be vital to our continued success. We look forward to the rest of his Packers career.”
Green Bay traded up in the 2009 draft to select Matthews with the 26th overall pick, and the former University of Southern California walk-on made an immediate impact with 10 sacks as a rookie. Four years later, he’s now able to talk about playing his entire career with the team.
“I’m fortunate, and that’s a big reason why you guys are here right now and I’m here right now,” Matthews said of playing in Green Bay. “I love what this team is doing, I love the direction we’re going and what we’ve been able to accomplish — the numerous team accolades, including a Super Bowl, that we’ve been able to achieve. I’m looking forward for the next six years.”
In Matthews’ second season, his 13.5 sacks were the fourth-most in the NFL. In the playoffs that year, Matthews added 3.5 more sacks to help the Packers reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 1997. Though he didn’t record a sack in Green Bay’s Super Bowl XLV win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, he did force a fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter with the Packers clinging to a four-point lead.
By Matthews’ third year, defenses had started to adjust to him and Green Bay’s scheme as a whole. Matthews had only six sacks and the Packers finished last in the league in total defense.
Last season, Matthews matched his 2011 sacks production in just two games. Though he missed four consecutive games late in the season with a hamstring injury, Matthews still had 13 regular-season sacks. He added three more sacks in Green Bay’s two postseason games.
The Packers are trying to build the rest of their defense around Matthews. However, the team has yet to find another player capable of taking some of the pressure off Matthews. Green Bay’s second-best sack producer last season (Mike Neal) only had 4.5 sacks.
Outside linebacker Nick Perry was drafted by the Packers in the first round in 2012 with the hope that he could team up effectively opposite Matthews. However, in the six games in which Perry was healthy as a rookie, he only had two sacks and ended up splitting snaps with Erik Walden.
Green Bay had nearly $18 million available in 2013 cap space prior to re-signing Matthews, but general manager Ted Thompson needed that money to make this deal and an upcoming extension for quarterback Aaron Rodgers possible. Green Bay is expected to add to Rodgers’ contract in the coming days. Matthews and Rodgers share the same agent.
If Matthews’ contract was big, Rodgers’ will be bigger — likely making him the highest-paid player in the NFL. Matthews isn’t worried the two massive deals will hinder the team’s ability to gather more talent.
“(Managing the salary cap is) one thing this organization does well,” Matthews said. “I know we catch a little heat sometimes that we like to build through the draft and develop our players, and we’ve done a great job of that. Our free agents are the ones who were up on their contracts. It’s no different for Aaron, myself or whoever’s up next. I’ll leave that to them, but for the most part we’ve had some success here over the last few years in maintaining and keeping players, and I don’t see it to be any different (in the future).”