When we last checked in on Chad Clifton, it was clear the Green Bay Packers were hoping to find a way to get their veteran left tackle back for 2012. At the NFL owners meetings, coach Mike McCarthy termed Clifton's future "a medical decision" after his postseason back surgery.
The Packers made that decision Monday, and it ended a 12-year run that included a Pro Bowl berth as recently as two years ago. Just as important, the move should save the Packers more than $5 million against the 2012 salary cap.
In truth, the Packers' pending release of Clifton -- as reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter -- has been building for years. The team essentially extended his career by limiting practice time to help manage knee, shoulder, back and hamstring ailments. But the back issue developed last season while rehabilitating a hamstring injury, and it was fair to question whether the Packers could rely on a left tackle in his condition who will turn 36 in June.
Knowing this moment was coming, the Packers have drafted possible replacements in recent years. Bryan Bulaga was initially a left tackle as a first-round pick in 2010, but he has moved to right tackle. Derek Sherrod, the Packers' top pick last season, played guard and tackle before suffering a season-ending broken leg in December.
But the likeliest replacement could be Marshall Newhouse, a fifth-round pick in 2010 who filled in admirably for Clifton last season. As the playoffs approached, quarterback Aaron Rodgers offered this ringing endorsement of Newhouse's performance:
"Starting the season out, I didn't look at Marshall the way I look at him now. I look at him now as a guy who really has a strong, legitimate chance to be the left tackle of the future. I think he has the personality makeup to do that, the athletic ability to do that, the feet and the smarts to be a very, very solid left tackle for us."
The Packers' depth chart at the position depends partially on this week's draft. But for now, we can at least say that the Packers will have a new left tackle this season for the first time since 2000.