Former Browns linebacker Clay Matthews will have to wait another year for his chance to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
On Tuesday, the Hall released its 27 semifinalists for the Class of 2018. The only player on it with any tie to the Browns is cornerback Everson Walls, who played in Cleveland for Bill Belichick in 1992-93.
So why did Clay get snubbed this year after making it into the semifinal round last year? It's a REALLY good list this year. First time candidates include Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, and Brian Urlacher. You have guys like Terrell Owens, John Lynch, Isaac Bruce, and Tony Boselli, who were finalists last year and will certainly get in at some point. And you have a two-time Super Bowl winning coach in Jimmy Johnson waiting in the wings as well.
Clay Matthews is one of those candidates for the Hall of Fame who probably wouldn't impress the analytics crowd, but passed the eye test for anyone who really watched him play.
The positives in Clay's favor
1. Durability. Matthews played 19 seasons, a whopping 278 games, during the course of his career. When you knock out the strike shortened seasons of 1982 and 1987, he never played fewer than 14 games in a year.
2. Versatility. Matthews played equally well as a 4-3 hybrid or a 3-4 OLB. He could put his hand down and rush the passer, or move back on coverage. He totaled 69.5 sacks during his career, but also had 16 interceptions. He forced 27 fumbles and scored a pair of touchdowns.
His biggest moment came at the end of the 1989 AFC Divisional Playoff, intercepting Jim Kelly's pass to lift the Browns past Buffalo and into the AFC title game.
3. Tackling machine. Matthews is third on the league's all time list (according to Pro Football Reference) in tackles with 1,561. That's more than Ray Lewis and Junior Seau, amongst others.
What's working against Clay?
1. Mind-boggling sack numbers by many of his Hall of Fame contemporaries.
- Kevin Greene 160
- Chris Doleman 150
- Ricky Jackson 128
- Andrew Tippett 100
2. The greatness of Derrick Brooks. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer came to the NFL as Clay Matthews' career was coming to an end. He was not the sack artist that Clay was, but like Matthews, Brooks did EVERYTHING well. From 1995 to 2008, Brooks started 221 of 224 games, recording 1,698 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 25 interceptions, and six touchdowns (tied for the most in NFL history by a linebacker with Bobby Bell).
He was selected to the Pro Bowl 11 times, including 10 straight from 1997 to 2006. Clay was a 4-time Pro Bowler. Brooks was an All-Pro nine times, compared to 3 times an All-Pro for Matthews.
Brooks was the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 as he helped lead Tampa Bay to their first Super Bowl win in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Which brings me to....
3. The Browns inability to make it to the Super Bowl. And as Robin Williams' Sean Maguire tells Matt Damon's Will Hunting at the end of 'Good Will Hunting,' I would say to Clay Matthews: It's not your fault.
However so many of Matthews' Hall contemporaries at least made it to Super Sunday. Kevin Greene did. Andre Tippett did. Rickey Jackson had to wait until he got to San Francisco, but he made it.
If the Browns could have beaten the Broncos once or twice in the late 80's, Matthews would have been a Hall of Famer by now. Heck, Frank Minnifield and/or Hanford Dixon would have a much stronger case as well.
The man who has the Cleveland vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi, has expressed this factor to me in the past. My colleague Jim Donovan concurs as well.
But I do believe that Clay's time will come.