Shortly after the news broke Wednesday that the Green Bay Packers and Clay Matthews agreed to a 5-year, $66 million extension, the All-Pro linebacker faced the media for questioning.
As is usually the case in these situations, Matthews said there's no reason to doubt his drive now that he's been paid, "[The new contract is] very humbling but nothing has changed. Will still be motivated." Matthews continued, "You're going to get the same Clay that you've seen for these past four years." Matthews predicts he'll be even better under this new deal than he was on this first, "[the numbers can get] a lot better, I'm going to continue to put them up."
While there's always some risk in a player becoming complacent after a big payday, there's little reason to worry here. After walking onto USC in 2004, Matthews spent five years rigorously building up his body and learning the finer points of pass rushing. Matthews could have easily dialed down the intensity once he became a first round pick. Fortunately, however, Matthews has maintained that walk-on mentality. That's shouldn't change now that Matthew's is compensated like an elite player.
When asked why he decided to stay in Green Bay, Matthews gave the standard answer, "I like this organization, the fans, the city. I wanted to stay here." Obviously, Matthews isn't going to have anything less than glowing praise for his home for the next five years. It's standard fare for keeping the public in your back pocket.
Far more interesting were Matthews comments on the departure of Charles Woodson and the state of the defense. Matthews clearly sees himself as the player to take over Woodson's role as defensive leader. "I've continued to lead through my short time here and I look to continue that leadership." The best player on the defense doesn't have to be the defense's leader (e.g. Ray Lewis his last five or so seasons), but with Woodson's departure and so many young players stepping into bigger roles Matthews may be thrust into the position. Given that Matthews is a vocal personality and a hard worker, he should be capable of handling the responsibility.
No mention was made of the guarantees in the contract, but it's been reported that Matthews will receive $27 million over the next 12 months. With the total value of Matthews' contract set at $69.73 million over six years (the five year extension starts after the final year of Matthews rookie deal), it's fair to say the new agreement is pretty heavily frontloaded. Given that Aaron Rodgers is likely to receive a frontloaded contract himself, Green Bay shouldn't be hamstrung by the cap when players like Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga, and Morgan Burnett need to be re-signed.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JBHirschhorn.