THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The high school from which Clay Matthews graduated is 14 miles from the Los Angeles Rams' training facility. USC, where Matthews was a walk-on turned star, is a few more miles in the opposite direction. And the location where Matthews has been building his young family’s home makes for quick drive, even considering L.A. traffic, to work every day.
So when the veteran linebacker learned after 10 seasons with the Green Bay Packers that he would need to find a new team to play for, Matthews knew exactly where to look.
“I knew I wanted to go L.A.,” Matthews said Thursday. “And I put my agent in charge of getting me there.”
A visit to the Rams’ practice facility wasn’t necessary for Matthews, or the Rams, before a deal was agreed to. The Rams had long determined, as Matthews hit free agency, that the veteran linebacker would be a fit.
“His production and what he’s put on film throughout the course of his career speaks for itself,” Rams coach Sean McVay said.
The Rams signed Matthews, who made more than $75 million throughout his career in Green Bay, to a two-year deal. Financial terms have not been disclosed.
A six-time Pro Bowl selection and one-time All-Pro, Matthews said it made “perfect sense” to join a team in the midst of a meteoric rise. The Rams are coming off a 13-3 season, a second consecutive division title and their first Super Bowl appearance since the 2001 season.
Matthews, who earned a Super Bowl ring with the Packers following the 2010 season, is expected to provide flexibility for the defense and veteran leadership.
“It’s a great match,” McVay said.
In 10 seasons, Matthews has accumulated 83.5 sacks, 15 forced fumbles and six interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns. But despite his success, there is some reason for concern. At 32 years old, it’s possible the most productive seasons of Matthews’ career are behind him.
Last season, Matthews’ numbers fell to career lows. He produced only 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss. But Matthews is quick to defend himself against any notion that his most productive days are in the past.
“I know I have the ability to produce like I’ve done before,” Matthews said. “Not to make excuses, but there was some change last year in the Packers organization, and unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me. As far as moving forward, I know I’m a difference-maker.”
Matthews also noted that last season, as the NFL strictly enforced a rule against roughing the passer, several would-be sacks instead resulted in penalties.
“The league wasn’t very nice to me early in the season,” Matthews said, with a chuckle. “So let’s bump those numbers back up again. Cut me some slack.”
He joins a front that includes two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. Matthews will lead a linebacking corps that features young playmakers Dante Fowler Jr., who signed a one-year deal worth as much as $12 million, and third-year pro Samson Ebukam.
Matthews excelled as an edge rusher, but also has experience as an inside linebacker.
The Rams return inside linebacker Cory Littleton, who last season led the team with 90 tackles and also intercepted three passes and returned one for a touchdown. But a gaping hole remains next to Littleton after the Rams released veteran inside linebacker Mark Barron to save $6.33 million in salary-cap space. Barron has since signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Backup inside linebackers Ramik Wilson and Bryce Hager are unrestricted free agents. As of now, second-year pro Micah Kiser -- who mostly played special teams last season -- is penciled in as the starter.
The Rams will continue to seek solutions at the position through free agency and the draft. But Matthews could allow for some flexibility.
“I expect my position to be fluid,” Matthews said. “I’ll have a variety of roles.”
“What he does at an extremely high level is when he’s going forward and trying to affect and influence the quarterback, rushing the quarterback, setting the edge in the run game,” McVay said. “You’ll see a lot of that.”
Like Weddle, who grew up in the greater Los Angeles area, Matthews emphasized his desire to play for McVay. But it certainly helped, as Matthews enters his 11th season, that he returns home.
“To be back here now and to be able to play for the local football team and have family and friends and be able to start our family here and plant our roots here is something that’s pretty awesome,” Matthews said.