For all those Green Bay Packer fans who have criticized Ted Thompson for being a cheapskate over the years, the five-year $66 million deal given to Clay Matthews yesterday should prove once and for all that he’s not—it also proves that he knows how to build a winner.
Thompson, who enters his ninth year as Packers general manager, isn’t a lavish spender by any means, but he rewards players who deserve it, which is why he didn’t hesitate for a second to make Matthews the highest-paid linebacker in the National Football League.
Matthews deserved the distinction but that’s not the only reason why Thompson did it, he did it because it’s good business. There are two things that cost more than anything in the NFL: quarterbacks and pass-rushers. You need to have both to win championships, and if you get one as good as Matthews, you have to keep him, no matter what the cost.
Like any general manager, Thompson has made some good decisions and some bad ones. The decision to trade up and draft Matthews with the 26th pick of the 2009 NFL Draft was one of his finest (just behind taking a free-falling quarterback from Cal back in 2005), and so was signing him to a contract extension.
Regardless of what people want to say about the Packers defense—and trust me, a lot has been said and not much of it good this offseason—as long as Matthews is on it, the potential to wreak havoc and turn it into a championship-caliber defense exists.
As important as Aaron Rodgers is to Green Bay offensively, Matthews is equally important to the defense. Last season in the four games he missed, the defense allowed 5.5 yards per carry. When he returned, that average dipped back down to 3.38 yards per carry. Coincidence? I think not.
The former USC standout ranks fifth in the NFL in sacks during his first four seasons, with a total of 42.5, yet he is much more than just a pass-rusher. He’s a difference-maker and an all-around great defensive player. In four seasons, he has missed just 17 tackles, while also registering four interceptions, seven forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and three career defensive touchdowns.
The four-time Pro Bowl selection may not be the best defensive player in the NFL, but he is certainly in the conversation, which is why getting him locked up long-term (through the 2018 season) was essential for the Packers to maintain their recent run of success.
Since drafting Matthews in 2009, Green Bay has made the playoffs in four straight seasons and posted a total record of 62-20 (5-3 in playoffs). The team also won the Super Bowl following the 2010 season, and no player outside of Rodgers is more responsible for that success then Matthews.
The Packer revival in the 1990s was in the most part because of two players: Brett Favre and Reggie White. This time around, the team is built around Rodgers and Matthews, which gives Green Bay arguably the best combination of quarterback/defensive playmaker in the league. And thanks in large part to Thompson, both players will be staying in Green Bay for the foreseeable future.
The Matthews deal may not get the same buzz as the flashy new deals to start the free-agent frenzy, but trust me, it’s much more significant, because as long as the Packers have Matthews and Rodgers (who is close to completing a contract extension of his own) as the cornerstones of their franchise, the team will be a Super Bowl contender and never more than a few moves away from bringing home another Lombardi Trophy.