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Clay Matthews' release fuels speculation about possible return to Green Bay

GREEN BAY - A year ago, there was enough interest from outside linebacker Clay Matthews to return to the Green Bay Packers for less money than he had made in 2018.

The Packers had the salary-cap room to sign him, too.

What they didn’t have was a spot for him.

A year later, Matthews is a free agent again, this time the result of the Los Angeles Rams cutting him rather than paying a $2 million bonus he was due. The Rams shed $7.5 million from their salary cap Thursday with the release of Matthews ($5 million) and running back Todd Gurley ($2.5 million).

After losing linebackers Blake Martinez, Kyler Fackrell and B.J. Goodson in free agency, the availability of Matthews to play inside linebacker next to newly signed “street” free agent Christian Kirksey in the base defense and team with 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary in Fackrell’s spot is there for general manager Brian Gutekunst to explore.

Gutekunst was willing to bring back veteran cornerback Tramon Williams after a three-year tour in Cleveland and Arizona, but whether he thinks enough of the 33-year-old Matthews to bring him back will be answered quickly.

Rams outside linebacker Clay Matthews (52) moves in against Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) during a November game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Matthews, a first-round pick in 2009, badly wanted to finish his career in Green Bay, and according to a source, was willing to accept considerably less than he had been making the year before. But the Packers showed no interest and he signed a two-year, $9.25 million deal with the Rams.

It’s understandable why Gutekunst passed on Matthews as an outside rusher.

In free agency he went hog wild, signing Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to mega-deals and undoubtedly wanted there to be no doubt they were the outside anchors and would be playing most of the snaps. In addition, Fackrell was coming off a 10-sack season and Gutekunst probably had an idea Rashan Gary might be his first-round pick.

He was trying to sweep some of the old out of the locker room with new coach Matt LaFleur taking the reins.

But the decision not to explore whether Matthews would have been willing to play inside linebacker next to Blake Martinez might have been a mistake. Gutekunst was expecting 2018 draft pick Oren Burks to develop into a starter, but it never happened and he wound up having to trade for Goodson.

All season, coordinator Mike Pettine played a safety at the inside position opposite Martinez, which didn’t do a lot for the Packers’ run defense.

Matthews played inside linebacker in 2014 and ’15 under coordinator Dom Capers and managed to play all 16 games both seasons, a first for him since his rookie season. He was productive, especially in ’14, but Matthews wasn’t thrilled playing inside and his pass rushing talents were being wasted. So he was moved back.

Matthews had eight sacks playing outside for the Rams last year in 13 games (he missed three with a broken jaw), but it wasn’t enough for the Rams to pay him the $5.75 million he was due this season.

A former member of previous coach Mike McCarthy’s staff was surprised Gutekunst didn’t sign Matthews a year ago because he felt he had enough left in the tank for another year or two and wasn’t going to cost much.

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A year later, Gutekunst’s assessment still might be the same. He might just go with Kirksey, Burks, youngsters Ty Summers and Curtis Bolton and whatever he can pull out of the draft.

There are four inside linebackers at the top of the position rankings, but only Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons is a slam-dunk first-rounder who will go in the top 10. Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray, LSU’s Patrick Queen and Wisconsin’s Zach Baun are three others who are potential first-round picks and one or more could be available when the Packers pick at No. 30.

One thing that is certain, Gutekunst isn’t going to throw around a lot of cash in free agency. Hovering around $13 million of cap space, he still must make decisions on free agents Williams, tackle Jared Veldheer, receiver Geronimo Allison, running back Tyler Ervin and safety Ibraheim Campbell, as well as sign a new draft class that will be added to the books in April.

To even consider Matthews, it would have to be at a very low price.

Redmond retained

Defensive back Will Redmond, a versatile player in the secondary and a core special teams performer in 2019, is returning to Green Bay.

The Packers announced Redmond's re-signing Thursday.

Redmond, 26, played briefly in five games for the Packers in 2018. He converted to safety in 2019 and played in 26% of the defensive snaps. He also appeared on 43.1% of the special teams snaps.

A third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers as a cornerback in 2016, Redmond dealt with injuries early in his career and briefly was in Kansas City before the Packers signed him to their practice squad near the beginning of the 2018 season.

He appeared in 13 games for the Packers last season and made four starts. He finished with 36 tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass breakup.