By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Packers-Bears – NFL’s oldest rivalry – will kick off 100th season on Sept. 5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb were two of the most attractive opposites in Packers’ history.
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Despite their differences in style, stature and position, the future Packer Hall of Famers played integral roles in Green Bay’s success for the past decade.
While Father Time slowly eroded their prowess as the hits, injuries and seasons took a toll, there’s no debate Matthews and Cobb were key catalysts on some of the Packers’ greatest teams.
Green Bay doesn’t win Super Bowl XLV without Matthews.
It’s that simple.
And Green Bay’s offense doesn’t rack up video-game numbers during a remarkable early to mid-2010s run without Cobb.
Last week, the Packers’ Matthews-Cobb era came to a close.
That’s when the Rams overpaid Matthews by signing him to a two-year, $16.75 million contract, and the Cowboys inked Cobb to a one-year, $5 million deal with their fingers crossed.
On Monday, the NFL announced that the league’s oldest rivalry – Packers versus Bears – will kick off its 100th season on Thursday, Sept. 5, at Soldier Field.
Perhaps Cobb’s knack for making clutch plays and especially against the Bears will be missed in the Thursday night opener. Maybe Mattews’ ability to hit and harass Mitchell Trubisky will be conspicuously absent.
Maybe, but I doubt it.
The Packers were right to let Matthews and Cobb walk in free agency. They were past their prime at positions that demand youth’s agility, explosiveness and ability to stay healthy.
During a lengthy conversation with a Rams fan last week, I smiled when he said Matthews remains a dominant pass rusher. He suggested the presence of Aaron Donald, Dante Fowler, Samson Ebukan and Cory Littleton will force opponents to single-block Matthews, and then look out.
I politely noted Matthews hasn’t been “that guy” in a couple of years. The Clay Matthews that burst onto the scene in 2010 with the flowing gold locks and a lion’s closing speed doesn’t exist, unless it’s in highlights.
That aside, Matthews will endure as one of the team’s greatest players.
“We want to thank Clay for all that he has contributed to the Packers over the past 10 seasons,” Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said. “As the franchise’s all-time sack leader and an integral part of Green Bay’s Super Bowl XLV championship, he will be remembered as one of the greatest players in the history of the organization.
“Clay will always be a member of the Packers family. We wish him, his wife, Casey, and the rest of their family all the best moving forward.”
As for Cobb, his shiftiness in the slot, his knack for making the tough catch while absorbing punishment over the middle, and especially his ability to stay healthy is in decline.
Cobb, who will be 29 in August, struggled with a hamstring injury and played just nine games in 2018. He had 38 catches for 383 yards and two touchdowns. Those were his lowest totals since his rookie season when he caught 25 passes for 375 yards and a touchdown in 2011.
Aaron Rodgers noted that Cobb’s absence, especially as the team’s only pure quote/unquote “slot receiver” was crippling.
“When Randall’s healthy, I think our offense has been different because we have a true slot guy who can make plays in the slot constantly,” Rodgers said.
Perhaps it was an endorsement of Cobb. More likely it was criticism of the fact that Green Bay, a pass-happy team, didn’t have one of the most essential tools in the kit – a slot receiver.
It was Cobb or nothing.
It’s why I’m pretty sure Gutekunst will select a receiver with a similar skill set to Cobb, and in a comparable spot in the draft (Cobb was the 64th pick overall).
Cobb’s departure, in addition to Jimmy Graham’s age (32), make it necessary for the Packers to draft both a slot receiver and a tight end with two of their top four picks.
Potential play-makers at edge rusher and safety would be sensible with the other top two picks.
The board likely will dictate which players are selected when, and it’s still possible Green Bay could draft an offensive lineman in the first two rounds.
The Packers can only hope whomever they draft will be as professional and productive as Cobb during their career.
Cobb is one of five receivers in Packers history to have four straight 60-plus catch seasons (2014-17). The others are Sterling Sharpe, Antonio Freeman, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings.
He ranks sixth in franchise history in catches (470) and 11th in receiving yards (5,524) and touchdown catches (41).
When Matthews and Cobb eventually retire, Packers’ fans will relish the thought of recalling their greatness and celebrating their induction into the Packer Hall of Fame.
Meantime, they hope Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith and whoever is the next slot receiver make sure Matthews and Cobb aren’t missed in the season opener at Chicago – and beyond.