We all know that Aaron Rodgers' and Clay Matthews' contracts are currently paying them well below their market value. We also all seem to have an understanding that the packers are hoarding some space under the salary cap to give their team's best two players new deals. What we don't know is which one will get his new deal first. Let's try to figure out which player will get his extension before the other.
2013: Base salary of $9.25 million, roster bonus of $500k
2014: Base salary of $10.5 million, roster bonus of $500k
2013: Base salary of $3.73 million, miscellaneous bonuses and incentives up to $1.02 million
Here we have one data point in favor of extending Matthews first. Rodgers is still under contract through 2014, while Matthews is only signed through the end of the 2013 season. That alone should make Matthews a clear priority. While it's true that the team could look to extend Rodgers now and franchise Matthews next off-season while they try to work out a deal, no player wants to play on a one-year deal and that would probably not endear Ted Thompson and company to Matthews.
Signing of Current Deal
Rodgers: signed midway through 2008 season
Matthews: rookie contract from 2009
Here's another factor that I believe swings the scales in Matthews' favor. He has had exactly zero leverage at any point in his career to push for a new deal, and this will potentially be the best opportunity he will ever have, since he's in the prime of his career. With Rodgers, the team was willing to take a big risk extending him only a few games into his first year as a starter, and locking him up that early has paid off extremely well for the team. However, in doing so he took away some leverage he would have had later on, and the Packers would be within their rights to ask him to play out his contract. I don't see them doing that, but it's certainly legitimate.
Importance to Team
Obviously each of these players is the cornerstone of a different unit, but nobody who follows the NFL could make a legitimate argument that Matthews is alone more important than Rodgers. Obviously #12 plays the most important position in football (and probably all of sports), but that doesn't to justice to just how critical he is. He has become an extension of Mike McCarthy on the field.
In the three games without Rodgers over the past few years, the Packers have gone 1-2 with a solid backup quarterback in Matt Flynn. They lost at Detroit and at New England in 2010 (I count the Detroit game since Rodgers was concussed and missed almost all of that game) and beat Detroit at home in 2011 when he sat out the final game and helped Matt Flynn get his big contract in Seattle.
On the other hand, the Packers were without Matthews for four full games and most of a fifth in 2012 and still went 4-1 in those games. The pass rush suffered without Clay, but the defense only game up more than 20 points once, in the debacle against the New York Giants. Missing Matthews certainly limits what the defense will be able to do, but it doesn't mean that they cannot still find ways to be effective. I can't say that I would feel the same about the offense without Rodgers.
I think two of these arguments work in Matthews' favor, and my guess is that he gets a deal done first. I still think both players will get extensions this off-season rather than the team waiting to next year to extend Rodgers, but I think that there is more urgency for a Matthews deal with his contract expiring sooner.
Am I wrong? Sound off in the comments below.