While almost everyone else with cap space has spent the offseason trying to upgrade on the free-agent market, the Green Bay Packers have stayed off of the market while focusing instead on taking care of their own key cogs. Quarterback and top offensive weapon Aaron Rodgers is fully expected to sign a long-term extension at some point this offseason, and now top defensive player Clay Matthews has been locked up long-term with a five-year, $66 million deal.
The deal makes Matthews the highest-paid linebacker in the league, which makes perfect sense. Despite being hampered by injury and missing a quarter of the 2012 season, the 26-year-old was rated by Pro Football Focus as the best pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker in the game last year. He continued to be a versatile force, but it's truly amazing that he had 13 sacks in just 12 games while being less than 100 percent in others.
The four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro has had double-digit sacks in three of his four NFL seasons. The one year he didn't hit that mark, he was rushing the passer less. That season (2011), he instead had three interceptions, nine passes defensed, a career-high three forced fumbles and a touchdown.
Matthews should be very, very good for many years to come, and should be in the defensive player of the year conversation on an annual basis.
The Packers know that the key to success in this league is to be successful at throwing the ball and stopping those who throw the ball. Rodgers throws it better than anyone in the game, and Matthews might very well be the NFL's best when it comes to stopping those throwers on defense. By ensuring that those two are going to be Packers long term, even at record prices, Green Bay is setting itself up for one hell of a future.