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NFL Green Bay Packers

Clay Matthews’ Hamstrings May Zip the Purse Strings for Green Bay Packers

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Contract Extension for Clay Matthews Is Riskier Than It Sounds

Contract Extension for Clay Matthews Is Riskier Than It Sounds
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Clay Matthews is one of the biggest stars on the Green Bay Packers. Almost every Sunday or Monday during the NFL season, Matthews showcases his talents on the gridiron. He’s known for flexing his biceps after every sack. That’s a lot of flexing for someone who has 42.5 sacks over his first four seasons.

Starting in 2014, Matthews will flex more than his biceps. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2013-14 season. His bank account will almost certainly flex another digit at the end of his annual salary. If he’s anything like Mario Williams, Matthews could demand something similar to a six-year, $96 million contract with $50 million guaranteed. That’s $16 million per season.

Now let’s consider Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers will become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season. Rodgers could make more than the six-year, $120.6 million that Joe Flacco received a few weeks ago. That’s more than $20 million per season.

Assuming Rodgers and Matthews are both re-signed, they’ll account for approximately 30-percent of the team’s $123 million cap space. That allotted cap space should significantly increase when the new television contracts go into effect in 2014.

It seems like a foregone conclusion that the Packers will re-sign Matthews. They couldn’t possibly let one of their best defensive players walk, could they? Not after this team surrendered 51, 37 and 45 points in their last three playoff losses. They’re still looking for someone who can complement his pass-rush presence on the opposite side. What would they do without him?

There’s no doubt that general manager Ted Thompson is preparing for these—and other—upcoming contracts. That’s evidenced with him clearing up cap space with the releases of Charles Woodson, Jeff Saturday and possibly Jermichael Finley. It’s also evidenced in him not re-signing Greg Jennings.

While Thompson has prepared for these extensions, maybe he should hold off on Matthews. Giving him a monster extension does raise some red flags. Continue with slideshow.

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Allocating Resources

Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve already gone over Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews needing contract extensions or franchise tags before Mar. 2015. They’re not the only players.

In 2014, unrestricted free agents include (but aren’t limited to): Matthews, Jermichael Finley (if he isn’t released), B.J. Raji, James Jones, Morgan Burnett, John Kuhn, Ryan Pickett and Marshall Newhouse. The 2015 free-agent class includes Rodgers, Desmond Bishop, Bryan Bulaga, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Tramon Williams.

That’s a decent chunk of the Packers’ nucleus. Most of those players are either on their rookie contracts or very friendly deals (e.g. Jones and Nelson). The Packers will save money when they don’t re-sign Pickett, Williams and Kuhn. Even then, they may need to sacrifice more players if they’re paying Matthews $16 million.

This is a minor concern because the team could always rework contracts to make everything work. But it’s worth mentioning.

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Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

For the most part, reoccurring hamstring injuries haven’t kept Clay Matthews off the gridiron. Since Matthews was drafted in 2009, he has missed six regular-season games. Four of those game during the 2012-13 season. Normally, Matthews plays through these injuries. They do seem to have a negative impact on his overall performance and ability to reach the quarterback.

It’s concerning to see these hamstring injuries flare up in each of the last three seasons. At age 27 (in May), will these problems worsen as Matthews ages?

At the least, management can’t give too much guaranteed money to someone with a medical red flag. Maybe add some clauses for playing a certain amount of games each season.

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X-Year Extension Equals X-Year Commitment to 3-4 Defense

X-Year Extension Equals X-Year Commitment to 3-4 Defense
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Packers fans are well-aware that Aaron Kampman didn’t make a successful transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. Now let’s play that scenario in reverse: can Clay Matthews play defensive end in a 4-3 alignment?

A problem arises with the uncertainty of defensive coordinator Dom Capers. If Capers flops again, then Mike McCarthy must consider alternative options. If Matthews already received his extension, then McCarthy either has to stick with a 3-4 defense or use Matthews in a 4-3 alignment.

What the Packers can’t do is give Matthews an extension of more than $10 million annually and then decide they want to return to a 4-3 defense—not unless they’re confident that Matthews can wreak havoc as a defensive end.

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Compensatory Draft Pick

Compensatory Draft Pick
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

If Clay Matthews departed in 2014, the Packers would probably receive a third-round compensatory draft pick in 2015. Knowing how Ted Thompson likes quantity with his draft picks, it would make a divorce a tad easier to swallow.

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Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Packers confident that Clay Matthews’ hamstrings will remain intact? Is Mike McCarthy 100-percent confident that he’ll stick with the 3-4 defense beyond the 2013-14 season, no matter what happens with Dom Capers’ scheme?

Matthews’ hamstrings may zip the purse strings—at least for another season.

Some of these questions may get answered if the Packers wait until after the 2013-14 season. If Matthews can stay healthy for all 16 games and the defense returns to its 2010-11 form, then that extension becomes a safer pill to swallow. They could buy more time with a franchise tag.

With so much uncertainty on the Packers’ defense, Ted Thompson is well-advised to focus his primary attention toward an extension for Aaron Rodgers, even if he isn’t due until Mar. 2015.

Joshua Huffman is a contributor for Follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your LinkedIn and Google networks.