Elite pass-rushers are among the most coveted, pursued and expensive commodities in football, a status that explains why the Green Bay Packers have wasted no time in making Clay Matthews one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL.
Matthews tweeted a photo of himself signing a contract extension in the Packers' Lambeau Field offices, an extension that has long been expected to pay him more than $13 million annually. As the chart shows, Matthews has more sacks than all but four NFL players since the Packers drafted him in 2009. Barring extenuating off-field circumstances, no NFL team would willingly bid farewell to a player with that kind of production.
With that said, the Packers conceivably had several options here. They could have let Matthews play out the final year of his rookie contract, one that would have paid him $3.77 million, and ensure that he made it through another season without a debilitating injury before committing monster money to him.
If they wanted to, the Packers could have followed up by making Matthews their franchise player for 2014 while continuing to push back a financial commitment. But in Matthews' case, there was no reason to dawdle. He has an impeccable off-field record, and over time he has demonstrated he is not a one-dimensional pass-rusher. His across-the-board impact on the Packers' defense was obvious last season when he missed four games because of a hamstring injury.
In those four games, as we discussed at the time, the Packers allowed 5.5 rushing yards per carry. In the first two games after his return, that figure dipped to 3.38 yards per carry. And in four seasons, our friends at Pro Football Focus have credited him with just 17 missed tackles -- a low number for an every-down player.
Matthews' deal was one of two obvious, no-brainer decisions the Packers faced this offseason. The other is quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose own negotiations appear to have gone well so far. One down, one to go.