Randall Cobb and Clay Matthews have been key parts of the Green Bay Packers success for a combined 18 seasons. Now, both players are facing uncertain futures. Their contracts are expiring and it is unclear if they’ll be returning to the only franchise they’ve played for during their NFL careers.
Cobb was reflective as he stood in his locker at Lambeau Field for what may be the final time. “Obviously, there’s uncertainty, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he told reporters. “I enjoyed my time here, it was a lot of fun, so we’ll see what happens. There are so many memories I have here.”
The Packers selected Cobb in the second round of the 2011 draft. His versatility has always been one of his biggest strengths. The Kentucky alum returned kicks and punts, lined up wide or in the slot and even in the backfield to carry the ball or catch passes.
Cobb’s best season as a receiver came in 2014 when he 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns and was named to the Pro Bowl. In 2012, he set a franchise record with 2,342 combined net yards when adding receiving, rushing and return yards.
This season, Cobb was limited to nine games due to assorted injuries. His best game came in the season opener against the Bears where he had nine catches for 142 yards including the game-winning 75-yard touchdown that completed Green Bay’s dramatic comeback.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has already endorsed the idea of bringing Cobb back in 2019. “When Randall is healthy, I think our offense has been different because we have a true slot guy that can make plays in the slot consistently,” he said in mid-December. “Having a slot guy like that guy who can legitimately get open time after time, he’s what we need.”
Like most Packers, Cobb was disappointed in the way the 2018 season played out for the team. “We lost a lot of close games this year and we weren’t as productive as we’ve been,” Cobb reflected. “We didn’t finish games when we had the opportunity throughout the year, and we didn’t finish in the fourth quarter. That’s all it comes down to is finding a way to win.”
After the game, the veteran wideout slowly headed off the field. “I was just taking it all in, taking in the moment,” he said. “Obviously it was not the way I would like to walk off the field if it is the last time, but just pretty much taking in everything.”
Cobb is unlikely to be back in Green Bay unless he is willing to take a substantial reduction on this year’s $8.6 million salary and $12.71 million cap hit. His recent injury history and that this was his least productive season since 2013 also don’t work in his favor.
Cobb does have a few things going for him, however. Rodgers wants him back and the Packers don’t have any other players on their present roster who can excel in the slot like Cobb does. Cobb will likely have to offer the Packers a home-team discount if he will have any chance to stay. That means if any other team shows any real interest in him, Cobb will probably get more money to play elsewhere.
Cobb was certain what would influence his next move the most. “I want my decision to be based on my family and I’m going to take that into account,” Cobb explained. “I’m going to completely get away from football and spend time with my family.”
Matthews joined the Packers in 2009 after being selected in the first round of the draft out of USC. He made an immediate impact as an edge rusher from his outside linebacker position recording 10 sacks as a rookie. He also played a big part in the Packers run to Super Bowl XLV, forcing a fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter that helped the Packers extend their lead.
Matthews became one of the faces of the franchise with his long blond hair and outgoing personality. His strong play on the field also helped. Matthews had four seasons of double-digit sacks and was named to six Pro Bowls. He is the Packers all-time sacks leader with 83.5.
Matthews always put the team first. When injuries left the team shorthanded at inside linebacker in 2014, he agreed to move inside even though it reduced his opportunities to rush the passer. He also specialized in splash plays, forcing 15 fumbles and returning two interceptions and one fumble for touchdowns.
But Matthews has slowed down in recent seasons. He has not registered 10 sacks since 2014 and hadn’t played in 16 games in three of the last five seasons entering 2018. This season was the least productive of Matthews’ career with only 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Worse yet, he wasn’t registering any quarterback hits or pressures consistently when he wasn’t sacking the quarterback. Matthews was also called for controversial roughing the passer penalties in each of the team’s first three games.
After the season finale against the Lions, Matthews declared, “You’re not going to get some emotional speeches out of me. I was happy with the way I finished today, with the 10 years I put forth here, hopefully it’s enough to come back and keep this thing rolling for the next several years but that’s out of my control. We’ll see.”
Like Cobb, family considerations are important to Matthews. “We’re familiar with the team obviously, the city,” Matthews said. “My kids are doing awesome out here, we love the people, we’re settled here. It would be awesome if we stayed. But these are uncharted times and we don’t control it.”
Matthews also tried to savor what might be his last appearance at Lambeau Field in a Packers uniform. “Coming off, I felt perhaps this will be my last time exiting the field so that’s obviously a little bittersweet,” he said. “I made sure I gave some fans some high fives, waved to my parents up in the suite.”
If Matthews wants to remain in Green Bay, he will also likely need to take a substantial salary cut. This season, he earned $10.4 million in base salary and had a cap hit of $10.9 million. The Packers may ask Matthews to move back to inside linebacker if he returns or to become more of a situational pass rusher instead of an every-down player.
This year was frustrating for Matthews. “It’s definitely not the way we envisioned our season ending,” he explained. “You obviously want to finish strong no matter what the record is but to lose like that at home, it sucks. These last couple of games were all about competing and showing a sense of pride.”
If this is the end of the line for Matthews in Green Bay, he is pleased with what the team has accomplished during his time here. “Winning in this league is hard, sustaining success is even harder,” he explained. “You’ve got to be proud of what we’ve done here in the past decade.”
Regardless of what the future holds, Matthews is moving forward. He wants to return to Green Bay, but he knows that may not happen. “Obviously, there are some bigger things going on with this organization. I’d love to be back here but it’s really out of my control.”
Whether or not Cobb and Matthews are welcomed back in 2019, they’ve been a big part of the team’s success for the past decade. If they are done in Green Bay, it is the end of an era. Both players will be inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame after they retire from the game.