By the numbers, new Packer Gary a good pick

It may take many months but most likely several years before the jury is in on the Green Bay Packers’ draft class of 2019.

How their first pick will pan out is a pleasant mystery. The selection of Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary, along with free agent signings Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, punctuated another offseason dedicated to upgrading the pass rush.

Gary had an injured shoulder during his senior year and still wears a brace to support it, which isn’t a terribly encouraging sign. Nor were his 3.5 sacks last season a source of great inspiration to his detractors, some of whom labeled him an underachiever.

The 6-4, 277-pound Gary ran the third-fastest 40-yard dash among defensive linemen at the combine, and has physical gifts that can’t be taught.

Time will tell. In fact, there is enough waiting time between now and the season to dissect some of the peripheral, less significant storylines of the draft. One such anecdote concerned the departed Clay Matthews, and the appearance of the Packers’ not only giving him the bum’s rush out the door, but throwing it in his face to boot.

The Packers tweeted an image of Gary wearing his new uniform — the jersey of which bears Clay Matthews’ old No. 52 — with accompanying text exclaiming how good the new guy looks in green and gold.

The issuing of Matthews’ old number so soon after his departure and so prominently displayed prompted a reaction from various Packers fans — and from Matthews himself.

“The body’s not even cold yet,” Matthews responded in his own tweet, throwing in an “LOL” at the end to indicate that it’s all good, and no hard feelings.

He was probably not laughing too hard on the inside. In his 10 years with the Packers, Matthews went to six Pro Bowls, made first-team All-Pro and rang up 83.5 sacks, the most in team history.

Like quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Matthews was one of the faces of the Packers, and regularly turned up at the team’s community events. He pitched at a benefit softball game last summer and suffered a broken nose courtesy of a line drive up the middle.

Matthews was reported to have been willing to take a cut in salary in order to stay with the Packers. Whether or not that’s accurate, the writing was on the wall. Matthews was on his way out, and did well to land with a good team, the Los Angeles Rams.

While he didn’t get the gentle sendoff from Titletown that he may have anticipated, Matthews will one day get his due kudos when he is inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

The episode spoke to the transitory nature of sports heroes, and how in the final analysis the only true “loyalty” in pro sports, per se, today comes from the fans.

Ultimately, players will do and say things that will best put them in position to succeed and earn as much as they are able, wherever that may be. Front offices award those who produce and cut loose those who don’t. Kid gloves are seldom laced up in the entertainment business of football.

Fans’ feelings toward players are passionate, and adjustable. Consider the career of Julius Peppers, who played in Carolina, Chicago, Green Bay and then Carolina again. Packers fans, correspondingly, regarded Peppers with indifference, and then contempt, followed by love, and back to indifference again. The old joke rings true about cheering for the garments and logos.

As for Gary, the Packers’ new No. 52 may find motivation in some of the unflattering reviews of his college career. It was said that Gary gives up on plays and his rush technique is one-dimensional.

Pish. Old news. Gary deserves every shot to thrive in Mike Pettine’s defense. Given the Packers’ trouble getting to the quarterback over the past couple of years, 3.5 sacks from their No. 1 draft choice would be a good start.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. He can be contacted at sports@newmedia-wi.com.