Author Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Well, Clay Matthews III might just prove Wolfe wrong for the second year in a row.
In 2019, even though Matthews wanted to remain in Green Bay and finish his career as a Packer, the team never gave Matthews a chance to stay in Titletown. Matthews was an unrestricted free agent and was willing to take less money to stay with the Pack, but that opportunity never materialized, as general manager Brian Gutekunst and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine thought they were set at outside linebacker with the signings of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency.
Plus the team also had Kyler Fackrell, who had led the team in sacks in 2018 with 10.5.
So, Matthews went home to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Matthews grew up in that region and played his college football at USC.
Matthews had a very nice year for the Rams, even though he missed three games due to a broken jaw. Still, No. 52 had 37 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles as a right outside linebacker.
And after the somewhat shocking release of Matthews by the Rams yesterday, there is a chance that Matthews could once again return to his first NFL home in Green Bay. But there will be other suitors as well, as Matthews was contacted by 14 NFL teams after his release by the Rams.
The situation has changed quite a bit for the Packers now at the linebacker position in terms of Matthews coming back to Titletown. The Packers have seen three linebackers leave the team in free agency, as Fackrell (New York Giants), Blake Martinez (New York Giants) and B.J. Goodson (Cleveland Browns) all moved on.
The Packers did sign free agent Christian Kirksey to handle one of the inside linebacker positions. But that still leaves a possible spot open for another ILB, although Oren Burks may be given an opportunity there, along with second-year ILB’s Tyler Summers and Curtis Bolton.
Matthews played very well at ILB in 2014 and 2015 when the Packers moved him there to shore up the run defense. Matthews was recognized for his efforts, as he went to the Pro Bowl in both of those seasons.
Matthews has the talent and versatility to move inside or outside depending on the situation. But it’s good to know that No. 52 has a great track record in either situation.
Matthews was originally drafted by the Packers in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft by then general manager Ted Thompson. Matthews was the second of two first round picks by Green Bay that year, as the team selected defensive tackle B.J. Raji with pick No. 9 and then Matthews with pick No. 26.
The defense of the Packers became one of the best in the NFL in 2009 with the additions of Raji and Matthews, as Green Bay was ranked No. 2 in total defense that season after being ranked No. 20 in 2008. Matthews went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, as he had 10 sacks.
In 2010, the Packers once again had a great defense, as they were ranked No. 5 in total defense. Matthews was a big reason why. Once again, No. 52 went to the Pro Bowl and was also named AP first-team All-Pro.
In his 10-year career as a Packer, Matthews had 482 total tackles, a franchise record 83.5 sacks, 40 passes defended, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 15 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries (one returned for a score).
That type of production led Matthews to be honored with six overall Pro Bowl berths, as well as being named AP first-team All-Pro once and AP second-team All-Pro once.
Matthews was also a terror in the postseason. In 15 games, No. 52 had 53 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
No forced fumble was bigger than the one he helped to cause in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 postseason. Matthews forced Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to fumble on the first snap of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV, with help from defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.
Pittsburgh was driving for a potential go-ahead score at the Packers’ 33-yard line until Matthews’ helmet dislodged the football, popping it into the air.
The Packers took advantage of that turnover with a touchdown drive and went on to win 31-25 and the team’s fourth Super Bowl prize, aptly named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Matthews has great lineage, as he is the son of Clay Matthews Jr., who I believe rightfully deserves a bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Much like Jerry Kramer, when he was finally recognized in 2018.
The Matthews family has cast a large net over the NFL throughout the years, starting with Clay Matthews Sr., who played with the San Francisco 49ers for four years. Clay Sr. started his career with the Niners in 1950, then served two years as a paratrooper during the Korean War for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and then came back and played with the 49ers from 1953 through 1955.
After that, his son’s Bruce and Clay Jr. both had terrific careers in the NFL.
Bruce was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a great career with the Houston Oilers for 14 years and then with the Tennessee Titans for five years after the team moved to Nashville.
Clay Jr. certainly deserves the same honor after 19 great years with the Browns and Falcons.
Plus there are Clay Sr.’s grandsons. There is Clay III, plus there is his brother Casey, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. In addition, there are Bruce’s sons, one being Kevin, who played with the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers and also Jake, who still plays with the Atlanta Falcons.
Bottom line, time will tell, but it would be ideal if Matthews returned to Green Bay to finish his career, which is what he wanted to do all along. He fills a need, still plays fast, plus is very productive.
Let’s also not forget that the Packers were ranked just 18th in total defense least year and just 23rd in run defense, plus were embarrassed in the 2019 NFC title game trying to stop the run.
And just like he did in 2014 and 2015, Matthews can help shore up that issue at inside linebacker.
If Matthews did return, that would mean that there would be just four players on the Packers who were also on the Super Bowl XLV team. The other three are Aaron Rodgers, Mason Crosby and Tramon Williams.
Williams left the Packers for three years before he returned home. It’s only been one year for Matthews, but returning to his original NFL home in Green Bay would certainly be apropos.