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Packers’ 2019 Free Agent OLBs: The end of the Clay Matthews era may be here

Green Bay’s all-time sacks leader will be one of two internal free agent edge rushers that the Packers must make a decision on this offseason.

Green Bay Packers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Over two weeks, Acme Packing Company will break down the Green Bay Packers’ 2018 roster position-by-position, providing our grades for each spot and looking ahead to free agency. Today, we continue with the outside linebackers.

If not for Kyler Fackrell, the Packers’ outside linebackers would not have earned a “C-” grade from Acme Packing Company this morning.

Fackrell led the way with 10.5 of Green Bay’s 44 sacks on the season and notched seven more than any other Packer edge rusher. With such little pass rushing impact from the outside, including from high-priced Nick Perry, the unit is expected to receive a facelift this offseason in the form of young potential.

In the midst of acquiring new talent, Green Bay must determine the best course of action for two of their free agents within the organization. An aging former superstar and a young underperformer in 2018 make up that list from the outside linebacker position.

Clay Matthews

NFL Experience: 10 years
FA Status: Unrestricted
Expiring Contract: 5-year, $66 million contract with $20.5 million signing bonus
2018 Stats: 16 games played, 16 games started; 43 total tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hits, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Whether the Packers choose to re-up Matthews’ contract or not, the franchise will be forever grateful for the six-time Pro Bowler’s career in Green Bay. No longer the double-digit sack artist he was in 2014, Matthews’ age, size, and durability have contributed to a statistical decline over the past three seasons. At this point, he would be best-suited for a situational rushing role in 2019.

A bit healthier during the 2018 campaign than in previous seasons, Matthews’ presence was noticeable at times even though he was not recording the sacks he once did. Under Mike Pettine, Matthews was lined up in a variety of ways and is still a high-energy defensive player. After an early-season struggle with aggressive penalties, Matthews cut down on those personal foul penalties as the season went on.

There is a chance that Green Bay could offer a short-term hometown discount to the green and gold legend while it accumulates younger players to groom. A veteran leader presence would be beneficial to those prospective players and Matthews may still have a role in Green Bay, though expectations on the field must be tempered. At age 32, it is hard to see Matthews being offered more than a two-year contract from another team and that could play to the Packers’ favor.

Reggie Gilbert

NFL Experience: 2 years
FA Status: Exclusive Rights
Expiring Contract: 2-year, $990,000 contract
2018 Stats: 16 games played, 0 starts; 38 total tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 8 quarterback hits, 2.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery

After a preseason in which he was constantly in the offensive backfield and became a 53-man roster lock, the second-year Gilbert struggled to make an impact during the regular season.

With the Packers desperately hoping for growth from Gilbert after choosing not to add extra pass rushing in the offseason, the former Arizona Wildcat failed to assert himself. With a new position coach, perhaps Gilbert can tap into his potential a bit more in 2019, but that would require Green Bay to make a commitment to the exclusive rights free agent. A golden opportunity was missed for Gilbert to solidify a spot in Green Bay moving forward and with an influx of edge rushing talent expected this spring, that spot is not as safe as it once was. Gilbert figures to be a cheaper depth option for the Packers to consider.