The Rams did not exist as a Southern California franchise when Clay Matthews began his NFL career in 2009.
But the former Agoura High and USC standout, and many Green Bay Packers teammates and friends, took note when the Rams returned to Los Angeles from St. Louis in 2016. And Matthews got a taste of home again in a game against the Rams at the Coliseum last season.
When the Packers decided to move on from a six-time Pro Bowl player entering his 11th season, Matthews’ sights naturally turned to the Rams. And when he agreed to terms on a two-year contract this week, former teammates were not surprised.
“They were saying, ‘You kind of called this as far as ending up back home,’” Matthews said Thursday during a news conference in Thousand Oaks.
Matthews is the second veteran defensive player to sign with the Rams since their 13-3 Super Bowl defeat to the New England Patriots.
Terms of Matthews’ deal were not disclosed. Safety Eric Weddle, a 12-year veteran and six-time Pro Bowl player, signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract that includes $5.2 million in guarantees, according to overthecap.com.
As he did when describing Weddle, Rams coach Sean McVay pointed to Matthews’ production, versatility and experience.
“To be able to add another veteran presence — knows what it looks like, has been in an organization where they’ve consistently won doing things the right way, been a world champion,” McVay said. “All of those things are great.”
Matthews began his USC career as a walk-on, and he was 22 when the Packers selected him with the 26th pick in the 2009 draft. During a decade in Green Bay, he amassed 83½ sacks and helped one of the NFL’s most storied franchises win a Super Bowl.
He returns as a 32-year-old married man and father of three who is having a house built not far from the Rams’ training facility.
Matthews said he spent nearly every offseason in the area. He described the opportunity to play for the Rams as “a perfect fit” several times during his news conference.
“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,” he said.
Matthews is expected to provide a proven presence to a linebacker corps that includes edge rushers Dante Fowler and Samson Ebukam.
Ebukam, a starter last season, underwent minor knee surgery after the season, and he is expected to be brought along slowly during offseason workouts so that he will be back to full speed by training camp, a person with knowledge of the situation said.
Matthews also has played inside. He said he would be comfortable wherever he is deployed.
“I expect my position to be fluid — I’ll have a variety of roles,” he said. “I think the most important thing … is just pressing the quarterback, making him make bad decisions and keeping the heat and keeping the pressure on him.”
During the 2010 NFL season, Matthews recorded a career-best 13½ sacks and the Packers won the Super Bowl. Last season, he had a career-low 3½ sacks.
He said he could still produce as he had done before.
“I know I’m a difference maker,” he said. “I know I can change games and I look forward to doing that and proving that and showing to everybody here.”