NFL Nation: Chad Clifton

Super XLV: Where are they now?

February, 6, 2014
Feb 6
6:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Exactly three years ago -- on Feb. 6, 2011 -- the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV.

Since then, much has happened to the 53 players who were on the roster for that 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Arlington, Texas.

Free agency, injuries, retirement and declining performance cause roster turnover.

Still, it’s eye-opening that from the group that suited up for the Packers’ last championship, only 12 players (just 22.6 percent) remain under contract with the team for 2014. Another 11 are still officially members of the Packers, but have contracts that expire next month. There are 13 players with other NFL teams, and 17 are out of football -- perhaps for good.

Here’s a look at the status of every player who was on the active roster three years ago today at Super Bowl XLV:

Under contract for 2014

  • [+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
    Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThree years after being named MVP of Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers is still leading the Packers.
    QB Aaron Rodgers: Threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns on the way to winning the Super Bowl XLV MVP, then won the NFL MVP award the next season. Signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension last April.
  • G Josh Sitton: Started Super Bowl XLV at right guard, but moved to left guard in 2013 and was a second-team, All-Pro selection. Signed a five-year contract extension on Sept. 2, 2011 that averages $6.75 million per season.
  • T Bryan Bulaga: Started at right tackle, but moved to left tackle last offseason. A training camp knee injury ended his 2013 season, and he now enters the final year of his rookie contract.
  • G: T.J. Lang: Served as a backup, but became the starting left guard the next season. Signed a four-year contract extension on Aug. 14, 2012 that averages $5.2 million per season. Moved to right guard last season.
  • WR Jordy Nelson: Caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and went on to post 1,000-yard receiving seasons in two of the next three years. Entering the final year of his contract in 2014.
  • OLB Clay Matthews: Forced a fumble in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl that the Packers recovered and turned into a touchdown to pad the lead. Four-time Pro Bowler signed a five-year, $66 million contract extension last April.
  • LB A.J. Hawk: Started and made seven tackles in the Super Bowl. Was released two months later, only to re-sign a more salary-cap friendly deal. Is under contract through 2015.
  • CB Tramon Williams: Broke up three passes in the Super Bowl, including the one that sealed the game on fourth-and-5 from the Steelers’ 33-yard line in the final minute. Entering the final year of his contract. Scheduled to make $7.5 million in 2014, and could be a candidate to be released or restructured despite a strong finish to last season.
  • K Mason Crosby: Made a 23-yard field goal in the game and signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract on July 29, 2011. Struggled in 2012, but bounced back last year to post his best season.
  • P Tim Masthay: Capped his first season with the Packers by averaging 40.5 yards and allowing the Steelers just 5 yards on punt returns in the game. Signed a four-year, $5.465 million contract extension on July 26, 2012.
  • LS Brett Goode: Has been the long snapper since 2008 and signed a three-year, $2.715 million contract extension on Oct. 13, 2012.
  • CB Jarrett Bush: Special teams player who was pressed into defensive duty in the game after injuries to Sam Shields and Charles Woodson, and intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the second quarter. Signed a three-year, $5.25 million contract on March 26, 2012.
Headed for free agency next month

  • RB James Starks: Started the Super Bowl and rushed for 52 yards on 11 carries. Battled injuries most of his career, and might not be re-signed.
  • WR James Jones: Caught five passes for 50 yards in the game, and signed a three-year, $9.6 million contract on Aug. 2, 2011. Caught 59 passes for a career-high 817 yards in 2013, and could be a re-signed despite his age (will turn 30 next month).
  • DT Ryan Pickett: Started the game, made two tackles and was in on the play in which Matthews forced Rashard Mendehall's fourth-quarter fumble. Played in all 16 games last season with a base salary of $5.4 million, but might be at the age (34) where the Packers let him walk.
  • DT B.J. Raji: Capped a strong 2010 postseason with a pair of tackles in the game. Finished his rookie contract in 2013, and reportedly turned down an $8 million-per-year offer last season.
  • DE C.J. Wilson: Started the game, but played only 14 snaps. Biggest impact came the night before the game, when he kept things loose in the team hotel by playing piano and leading a team sign-along. Finished his rookie contract in 2013.
  • FB John Kuhn: Played on both offense and special teams in the game. Signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract on Aug. 1, 2011.
  • CB Sam Shields: Suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of the game. Had his best season in 2013 while playing under the restricted free agent tender of $2.023 million. Will command a big contract either from the Packers or another team in free agency.
  • LB Robert Francois: Went back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster throughout the 2010 season, and played on special teams in the game. Played last season under a one-year, $725,000 deal, but tore his Achilles tendon on Oct. 6.
  • TE Andrew Quarless: Caught one pass for 5 yards in the game. Suffered a major knee injury the next season and missed all of 2012. Returned last season to catch 32 passes for 312 yards (both career highs) in the final year of his rookie deal.
  • QB Matt Flynn: Served as Rodgers’ backup but did not play in the Super Bowl. Left after the 2011 season as a free agent, and after stints with Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, he returned to the Packers last season for a one-year minimum deal and played in five games after Rodgers broke his collarbone.
  • C Evan Dietrich-Smith: Was inactive for the Super Bowl. Became a starter late in 2012 and for all of 2013, when he played under the restricted free agent tender of $1.323 million deal.
With other teams

  • [+] EnlargeMcCarthy
    Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCoach Mike McCarthy and the Packers have seen a lot of roster turnover since winning Super Bowl XLV.
    WR Greg Jennings: Started and became just the third player in team history to catch multiple touchdowns in a Super Bowl by recording touchdowns of 21 and 8 yards. Signed a five-year, $45 million contract with the Vikings last March.
  • G Daryn Colledge: Started at left guard, but left in free agency a few months later to sign a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Cardinals. Has started every game for the Cardinals since.
  • C Scott Wells: Started at center and remained with the Packers through the 2011 season before signing a four-year, $24 million contract with the Rams. Has missed 13 games over the past two seasons because of injuries.
  • LB Desmond Bishop: Became a starter earlier in 2010 after Nick Barnett's wrist injury and made nine tackles in the Super Bowl. Also recovered the fumble that Matthews forced. Signed a four-year, $19 million contract in 2011, but was released after missing the entire 2012 season because of a hamstring injury. Signed with the Vikings last offseason, but appeared in only four games.
  • OLB Frank Zombo: Started the game and had the Packers’ only sack of Roethlisberger but battled injuries the next two years and was released. Signed with the Chiefs last year and appeared in all 16 games.
  • CB Charles Woodson: Started at cornerback, but broke his collarbone late in the second quarter and missed the remainder of the game. Played two more seasons with the Packers, who released him last year. Returned to his old team, the Raiders, and played in all 16 games last season.
  • DE Cullen Jenkins: Played 36 snaps and had a pair of quarterback pressures. Left in free agency the following year and signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Eagles, who released him after two years. Signed a three-year, $8 million contract with the Giants last season.
  • TE Tom Crabtree: Played on both offense and special teams in the Super Bowl, catching one pass. Left last year to sign with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent, but was limited to seven games because of injuries.
  • CB Josh Gordy: Was inactive for the game, and the next season was signed off the practice squad the by the Rams. Spent the past two seasons with the Colts.
  • G Nick McDonald: Was inactive for the game, like he was for every game that season. Was released in training camp the next year, and spent parts of the next two seasons with the Patriots. Did not play in 2013, but was recently signed by the Chargers.
  • OLB Erik Walden: Was inactive after suffering an ankle injury in the NFC Championship Game. Played the next two seasons before signing a four-year, $16 million contract with the Colts last year.
  • DE: Jarius Wynn: Was active but did not play. Played in Green Bay through 2011, and with the Titans and Chargers before landing with the Cowboys last season.
  • FB Quinn Johnson: Inactive for the game. Was traded to the Titans in 2011. Has played in 24 games for the Titans over the past three years.
Out of football

  • T Chad Clifton: Started at left tackle, but his long career with the Packers ended when they released him after he played in only six games in 2011. Was never signed by another team.
  • WR Donald Driver: Started the game and caught two passes for 28 yards before leaving with an ankle injury in the second quarter. Retired after the 2012 season as the team’s all-time leading receiver.
  • S Nick Collins: Started and made a key early play when he returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Suffered a neck injury in Week 2 of 2011 and hasn’t played since.
  • DT Howard Green: Claimed off waivers earlier that season and started the game. His hit on Roethlisberger led to Collins’ interception return for a touchdown. Returned in 2011 and played in all 16 games, but has not played since.
  • WR Brett Swain: Posted a team-high four special teams tackles. Was released the following season and played briefly with the 49ers. Was cut in training camp last season by the Seahawks.
  • S Atari Bigby: Played on special teams. Signed with the Seahawks the following season and played in 15 games. Played in eight games with the Chargers in 2012, but did not play in 2013.
  • CB Pat Lee: Special teams player who saw action on defense after injuries to Woodson and Shields. Played one more season in Green Bay before splitting time in 2012 between the Lions and Raiders. Did not play in 2013.
  • RB Brandon Jackson: Played as the third-down back, but did not have any carries in the game. Caught one pass for 14 yards. Signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Browns in 2011, but missed all of that season and played in only two games in 2012.
  • FB Korey Hall: Caught one pass for 2 yards and made one special teams tackle in the game. He played in 13 games with the Saints in 2011, and retired after going to camp with the Cardinals in 2012.
  • S Charlie Peprah: Led the Packers with 10 tackles (including nine solo stops). Returned as a starter in 2011, when he had five interceptions, but was released shortly before training camp in 2012. Played in five games for the Cowboys in 2012.
  • LB Diyral Briggs: Made one special teams tackle in the game, but never played in another NFL game.
  • LB Matt Wilhelm: Made two special teams tackles, but seven-year career ended after that game.
  • G Jason Spitz: Played on special teams. Left in free agency the next year and signed a three-year, $4.05 million contract with the Jaguars, who released him in training camp last summer. He signed with the Seahawks, but was released on Oct. 12.
  • TE Donald Lee: Played in the game, but did not have a catch and was released two months later. Played in nine games for the Bengals in 2001.
  • QB Graham Harrell: Inactive for the game. Remained with the Packers until he was released in training camp last summer. Also spent time briefly with the Jets before being released.
  • RB Dimitri Nance: Inactive for the game. Was released by the Packers the following summer and never played in another NFL game.
  • CB Brandon Underwood: Inactive for the game. Was released in 2011. Went to camp with the Raiders in 2012 and Cowboys in 2013, but did not make either team.

The problems Jared Allen, dome present

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
11:15
AM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If Green Bay Packers rookie David Bakhtiari needs a lesson in what can happen when a left tackle allows Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen to get going, he might want to watch the tape of the 2009 game at the Metrodome.

Or maybe that might scare him even more.

The Vikings sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times in that 2009 game at Minnesota, and Allen was responsible for 4½ of them.

[+] EnlargeJared Allen
AP Photo/Genevieve RossKeeping Jared Allen away from QB Aaron Rodgers will be a tough task for the Packers' David Bakhtiari.
In the noise at the dome, things can snowball in a hurry for an offensive lineman.

“If you allow it to,” Packers offensive line coach James Campen said this week. “That’s the thing, you want to make sure you’re off on the snap and you get into a rhythm from Play 1 and keep going. Once you’re in your rhythm, then you’re fine. But it is tough.”

Rodgers has never been sacked more times than he was in that 2009 game, a 30-23 loss to the Vikings. The Packers used a fill-in left tackle, Daryn Colledge, that day because regular starter Chad Clifton was injured. Then Colledge went down and was replaced by T.J. Lang. Neither Colledge nor Lang were tackles by trade. Both play primarily guard.

While Bakhtiari is a natural tackle, this will be his first game against Allen and his first in a dome, where it often gets so loud when the visiting team has the ball that the tackles can’t hear anything the quarterback or the center says.

“Everyone has said it’s going to be loud,” Bakhtiari said. “Loud games are loud games. I think at every away game it gets to the point where you really can’t hear anything, and then from there it gets louder, but you still already can’t hear anything.”

The Packers simulate crowd noise in practice by blasting it over the speakers inside the Don Hutson Center, but even that might not reach the same decibel level compared to the dome.

“It’s different,” Campen said. “But as much as you can simulate that noise, that helps, too, because the communication is really off in practice. You just simulate it, and getting off on the snap count is a priority, but we’ve been doing our snap counts for a long time. The best way to prepare for it is to get out there, and once you get that first series done and you come back, you’re good then.”

So far, Bakhtiari has handled most challenges. After allowing two sacks to San Francisco 49ers’ Pro Bowl defensive end Aldon Smith in Week 1, the fourth-round pick from Colorado has allowed just two more sacks in the next five games combined, according to ProFootballFocus.

Life as an NFL left tackle means facing elite pass-rushers almost every week. Although Allen is 31 years old and perhaps in decline, and the Vikings have struggled to get to the quarterback -- their 12 sacks ranks 28th in the league -- Allen has still managed 4½ sacks in six games.

In five home games against the Packers, Allen has combined for 9½ sacks. He has registered at least one sack in every home game against the Packers.

“He’s had some success against us in the past,” Rodgers said. “He’s a great competitor. I enjoy playing against him. He gives you a lot of different challenges, especially for a young guy like David, with the many things he can do with his pass rush ability.”
Bryan BulagaJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesThe Packers are counting on Bryan Bulaga to successfully transition from right tackle to left tackle.
Mike McCarthy sat recently in a leather chair at Lambeau Field, and for probably the 100th time he explained what prompted this spring's dramatic changes on the Green Bay Packers' offensive line. He noted the new competition it created at right tackle, insisted that "it's what's best for our offensive line and what's best for our team" and promised: "There's some scheme things in there that I think ultimately at the end of the year -- when it all shakes out -- you'll look back and say, 'Yeah, I see what they were doing.'"

As the Packers' head coach, McCarthy must view his team through wide lenses and the big picture. As a blogger, I have the luxury of zeroing in a bit more.

The Packers no doubt have moved the most unsettled component of their line to a less critical position, one where they have more credible options should presumptive right tackle Marshall Newhouse falter. And it certainly makes sense to preserve guard-tackle combinations rather than impose an additional transition. But for me, this entire exercise is about one position and one person and one very realistic determination.

The Packers are counting on Bryan Bulaga to rescue their three-year effort to replace now-retired left tackle Chad Clifton. A left tackle at Iowa before moving to the right side in the NFL, Bulaga was the Packers' only credible option at the position Newhouse failed to lock down in 2011 and 2012.

Of course, being the best option and being a good option is a gap that Bulaga has yet to bridge. He spent a portion of the offseason re-wiring his mentality to the left side, and watching him in non-contact practices during June minicamp revealed only that he is now comfortable lining up in a left-handed stance. NFL talent observers regarded him as a good pass-blocker for a right tackle, but how he will stand up against each opponent's top rusher remains in question.

(See the chart for a 2013 sampling of that group.)

"I certainly don't see him as a top-10 left tackle in the NFL," said Matt Williamson, who scouts the NFL for ESPN.com, "and he was a top-10 right tackle."

In some ways, however, the Packers' recent and presumed future success required McCarthy to devise a complex solution to a problem many teams never face.

When, for example, the Minnesota Vikings parted ways with longtime left tackle Bryant McKinnie in 2011, they simply made Matt Kalil the No. 4 overall pick of the 2012 draft. The Packers aren't likely to have a top-10 position for an upcoming draft, and more than ever, the talent drop-off at left tackle after that point is clear.

Did McCarthy sacrifice elite play at right tackle to get more competent on the left side? I don't think he would view it that way, and I'm not ready to, either. But as we discussed in May, if the Packers had always been convinced that Bulaga could be a top-end left tackle, they would have moved him there before his fourth season.

It's worth noting the lengths McCarthy was willing to go to put Bulaga in the best possible position. Josh Sitton was a Pro Bowler at right guard, but McCarthy deemed the left side more important than preserving Sitton's presence on the right side.

In the end, however, we know one thing: Bulaga's steady personality is a comforting crutch in the context of a dramatic move.

My limited dealings with Bulaga have revealed him to be a smart guy who works hard to keep things simple. When I asked him about the change last month, he shrugged his shoulders and said: "I don't look at it as a compliment or anything else. I've kind of looked at it like Coach McCarthy wanted to make a change. He's just flipping guys around. It's an opportunity for me, just like playing right tackle is an opportunity for me. I'm excited about it."

Bulaga said the totality of the move -- both tackles and both guards swapping spots -- is the most significant outcome of the decision. But again, for me, the overhaul was all in the name of establishing him at left tackle. Sitton described it as a "significant change," and while he said that offseason practices went "good," he made no attempt to downplay the movement.

"It's something that's going to take time," Sitton said. "I know for me it's going to take time."

I don't think there are any long-term concerns about Sitton moving to left guard, nor about having T.J. Lang replace Sitton at right guard. Last season's emergence of rookie Don Barclay demonstrated the relative ease of finding a serviceable right tackle. All of that should take care of itself.

For the Packers, it's all about Bulaga. He might not be a top-10 left tackle and probably doesn't have to be. But it's on him to make this work. If he can't, I'm not sure what would be the Packers' next option.
The Green Bay Packers indirectly answered one of our spring questions with a relatively surprising announcement Wednesday evening: They released linebacker D.J. Smith, a promising young player who started nine games over two seasons and was recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last October.

The move helps explain why the Packers re-signed linebacker Brad Jones to a three-year contract earlier this spring, a deal that will pay him at least $4 million in 2013. Jones figured as a backup linebacker and special-teams player if the rest of the Packers' linebacker crew were healthy, but that does not appear to be the case.

We can only assume that Smith's injury was more serious than originally thought, so much so that the Packers doubt if he will play again. If you remember, this is about the time last year when the Packers released left tackle Chad Clifton and safety Nick Collins because of health reasons.

Perhaps there is more going on here than we know. But absent the presumed severity of Smith's injury, I can't think of another reason to release a third-year player who by all accounts had impressed coaches before the injury. Smith was going to count $580,788 against the Packers' 2013 cap, a pittance that I highly doubt was part of this decision.

Chances are that Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk will be the Packers' starting inside linebackers when training camp begins, but Jones now figures as a more important reserve, and perhaps a hedge against Bishop's own recovery from last year's torn leg muscle. Indeed, rare is a team that will pay $4 million to a special teams-only player.

Note: The Packers also released running back Brandon Saine, who coincidentally also tore his ACL in the same game as Smith -- Week 6 at the Houston Texans.
By all accounts, the Green Bay Packers could have done a lot worse last season when starting left tackle Chad Clifton tore his right hamstring in Week 5. Not every team has a backup left tackle who can start for the majority of a season, but Marshall Newhouse's performance was credible enough to help the Packers' record-setting offense continue humming along.

It's one thing to provide competent emergency service, but quite another to be considered a starting left tackle in the NFL. That's the conclusion the Packers reached this offseason, penciling in Newhouse as their top option to replace the since-released Clifton on a permanent basis.

From the outside, it's fair to at least be nervous about that decision. Although the Packers hardly missed a beat after Clifton's injury, our friends at Pro Football Focus (PFF) suggest Newhouse had his share of struggles. In fact, PFF's cumulative grade of his performance was the lowest among qualifying left tackles in 2011. PFF had him giving up eight sacks, another eight quarterback hits and a total of 39 quarterback hurries in 13 starts.

Is Newhouse ready to be a full-time starter? The Packers will have some flexibility when 2011 first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod (leg) is ready to practice, but my time at the Packers' minicamp last month suggested the team has full confidence in the current arrangement.

"Marshall is at that point in his career," coach Mike McCarthy said, "and I think every player goes through it, where the people in the building have a lot more confidence in him than maybe the people outside. I just don't think people know much about him. He's progressed so much and you see the ability, especially the athletic ability.

"I think Marshall is going to be a good player for us. He made a huge jump last year and he's made another jump so far this year. Like all those guys, probably the most important statistic for Marshall Newhouse is availability. He definitely feels more comfortable now."

To me, the most important endorsement is the one quarterback Aaron Rodgers gave late last season. In December, Rodgers said he views Newhouse as "a guy who really has a strong, legitimate chance to be the left tackle of the future." Rodgers added: "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."

Newhouse earned the benefit of the doubt from the Packers' key people last season. Whether he can take the final step is up to him.
Donald DriverAdam Taylor/Getty ImagesWhile he continues to compete on "Dancing with the Stars," Donald Driver's football future in Green Bay remains up in the air.
What did you think about the way Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy addressed the future of receiver Donald Driver? At the very least, Driver's future with the franchise doesn't appear to have been decided.

Driver, 37, has said he would be willing to re-negotiate his contract to remain with the team, and last week the Packers made two difficult decisions -- releasing left tackle Chad Clifton and safety Nick Collins -- while Driver remained on the roster. But when asked if Driver is set to go to training camp with the team, Thompson told reporters Saturday: "I would never speculate on something like that. He's dancing right now. Doing good, too."

(As you know, Driver remains apart of the "Dancing with the Stars" cast on the West Coast and, according to ESPN.com's Lynn Hoppes, he's scheduled to dance the Viennese Waltz in Monday night's broadcast. That'll be big.)

It's not unlike Thompson to avoid direct answers on personnel matters. But McCarthy was unusually vague when asked the same question, saying: "No reason to speculate on that. I'm just going to follow Ted's answer to that question."

If Driver was definitely set to return, you would think Thompson and/or McCarthy would have said so. If a decision had already been made one way or the other, there would be nothing to avoid speculating on.

One guess is that the sides are trying to work out a restructured deal but haven't completed negotiations. Another, less likely, possibility is that they have agreed to reconvene after Driver's stint on "DWTS."

There certainly are no hard feelings at this point. McCarthy gleefully admitted he and his family have faithfully watched each "DWTS" episode, which is more than I (and possibly you) can say.

"I didn't realize it was such a tough thing for a man [to watch] "Dancing with the Stars," McCarthy said. "And if I'm not at home, we have to DVR it and watch it as a family. We're rooting him on and voting eight times like you're supposed to. He's doing a great job."

The Packers are well into their offseason program, but the early stages are mostly about strength and conditioning, neither of which have ever been a problem for Driver. Stay tuned.
News of the Green Bay Packers' decision to release safety Nick Collins was sad, sobering and inevitable. From my experience, Collins is a quiet and humble family man who was on his way to becoming one of the best and most consistent safeties of this generation before suffering a serious neck injury last September. (Agent Alan Herman confirmed the news to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.)

Collins
But I've suspected this moment was coming from the moment Packers coach Mike McCarthy said last month that he wouldn't let Collins return if he were his son. Collins had cervical fusion surgery to repair his injury, a procedure some NFL players have returned from, but McCarthy seemed scarred by seeing Collins immobilized and removed from the field on a stretcher, and the Packers' medical staff must not have offered enough supporting evidence to suggest it was completely safe for Collins to return.

I won't pretend to understand all of the medical details involved in this decision, and your first reaction might be to criticize the Packers for disposing Collins the minute they decided he could be of no use to them. That would be shortsighted, however. The Packers can't prevent Collins from playing again with another team, but it's clear they didn't want the burden of a possible re-injury to fall on their watch. Directly or indirectly, they're trying to help him walk away from the game under his own power.

Think about it. Collins is 28 and a three-time Pro Bowl player. The Packers' pass defense collapsed after his injury last season, and thus they have every reason to want him back on the field. If they were unconcerned about his well being, they would have brought him to training camp regardless of the medical risks and let him play for as long as he could. If he were re-injured, they would release him then. For once, an NFL team appears to have acted with some empathy even if it hurts on the field.

*UPDATE: General manager Ted Thompson indicated as much in a statement released as part of the team's official announcement: "From the beginning of this process, we have taken our time and sought numerous medical opinions while maintaining consistent dialogue with Nick. In the end, we were not comfortable clearing him to play again. As with all of our players, Nick is a member of our family and we thought of him that way as we came to this conclusion. Nick is a part of our core, and this is a very difficult day for all Packers. Making this kind of decision is never easy, especially when it involves someone like Nick Collins. He has meant so much to the community, his teammates and the organization. He is a good man and will always be part of the Packers family."

My guess is the Packers have been planning for this eventuality all offseason. They didn't sign a free agent safety, but it's fair to assume that position is among their priorities in this week's draft. Veteran safety Charlie Peprah had a better year in 2010 when he replaced fellow safety Morgan Burnett than when he stepped into Collins' role last season.

With the NFL's attention mostly on the draft, the Packers have now released two franchise cornerstones this week. Chad Clifton, their starting left tackle since 2000, departed Monday. The two moves cleared about $9 million in salary-cap space. But from a big-picture perspective, the Packers have undergone some monumental changes this week -- and the draft hasn't even begun.
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 postseason back surgery.

Clifton
Clifton
The Packers made that decision Monday, and it ended an 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 a number of possible replacements in recent years. Bryan Bulaga was initially a left tackle as a first-round pick in 2010, but he has since 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 most likely 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 he Packers will have a new left tackle this season for the first time since 1999.
Bob Sansevere's column provides us with another instance of Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman going out of his way to suggest that he is far from certain to draft USC tackle Matt Kalil with the No. 3 overall pick in the April draft.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kalil
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireMatt Kalil is one player the Vikings will consider with their first-round draft pick.
Last month, Spielman on multiple occasions noted how important it is to surround a young quarterback with playmakers, and fill in at left tackle as needed. More recently, Spielman asked Sansevere to name the starting left tackles of the past two Super Bowl champions and apparently talked up LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.

I judged the first instance to be blatant draft posturing, and the second might well fall into the same category. But let's take a closer look and make sure we all understand why Kalil is the presumed pick at No. 3 rather than Claiborne, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon or even Alabama running back Trent Richardson.

First off, it's true that the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI with a replacement left tackle, David Diehl, who took over during the season for an injured Will Beatty, a second-round draft pick in 2009. The Packers won Super Bowl XLV with left tackle Chad Clifton, a third-round draft pick in 2000 and two-time Pro Bowler. For good measure, we should note that the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers advanced to the title games with Matt Light and Jonathan Scott starting at left tackle, respectively. Light was a second-round pick in 2001 and is a four-time Pro Bowl player; Scott was a fifth-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2006.

That cross section of history allows Spielman to make an obvious point: There is no step-by-step manual for building a championship team, other than having a good quarterback, and a contending team does not necessarily need an elite left tackle. But to me, the argument for Kalil is not so much that he plays left tackle but that he is widely assessed -- at least by media draft analysts -- to be the third-best player in the draft.

The Vikings shouldn't target Kalil just because he is a left tackle, nor should they zero in on Claiborne because they are thin at cornerback or Blackmon because they want a downfield threat for quarterback Christian Ponder. The only relevant question is who the best player is.

So we will give Spielman some leeway here. I still think his public statements lend themselves more to posturing than honest assessments. But if he and his scouts truly judge Claiborne or Blackmon or even Richardson as a better prospect than Kalil, then by all means they should draft that player and put up that evaluation to stand the test of history.

If that's the case, however, you can only hope that Spielman will have made a position-neutral decision. At such a high spot in the draft, it seems like splitting hairs to debate which position is more valuable. The only choice at No. 3 is to take the best player. The media consensus suggests it's Kalil, but the media has been wrong before.

NFC North Quick Hits: Monday

March, 12, 2012
3/12/12
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I have no idea if this is our last post of the day or if we'll have five more before we call it a night. That's how crazy the NFL news cycle is at the moment. But we've had a collection of newsbits hit the wire in the past few hours, so let's bring them all together while we have a moment — in quick-hitting fashion, of course.

Item: The NFL has taken $36 million in salary cap space from the Washington Redskins and $10 million from the Dallas Cowboys for two-year-old contract violations.
Comment: Each NFC North team will receive $1.6 million in additional cap space as a result. Yee-haw!

Item: The Detroit Lions released tight end Will Heller.
Comment: Heller was due a roster bonus of $200,000 and would have received a base salary of just under $1 million in 2012. As cold as it sounds, you don't need to pay your third tight end that kind of money.

Item: The Chicago Bears issued a low tender of $1.26 million to running back Kahlil Bell, a restricted free agent.
Comment: The Bears have the right to match any contract offer Bell might receive, but they would get no compensation if he departs. At this moment, he appears in line to be Matt Forte's primary backup in 2012. Marion Barber isn't expected back.

Item: The Vikings aren't expected to tender linebacker/special teams ace Kenny Onatolu, according to Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Comment: The fate of the Vikings' other restricted free agent, running back Lorenzo Booker, has yet to be learned.

Item: The Green Bay Packers are entering into their final hours of exclusive negotiating with center Scott Wells, a pending free agent.
Comment: The Packers have a history of last-minute agreements, but Wells might feel compelled to test his market value before being satisfied with what the Packers have offered.

Item: I can't count how many people have asked for updates on the status of Packers left tackle Chad Clifton and receiver Donald Driver.
Comment: If either player has restructured his contract and/or been informed of his release, it hasn't been made public. That's all I can tell you at this moment.

Matt Kalil: A svelte 306 pounds

February, 23, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- There is a moment at most NFL combines when I see a highly regarded prospect and am surprised at what he looks like in person. Friday, that player was USC left tackle Matt Kalil, one of a handful of players the Minnesota Vikings might draft at No. 3 overall.

Dressed in a baggy sweatsuit, Kalil looked as much like a tight end as he did a left tackle. He played last season at 300 pounds and said he weighed in this week at 306. But suffice it to say, there are plenty of pounds left to be packed on his 6-foot-6 frame.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kalil
AP Photo/Gary A. VasquezOffensive tackle Matt Kalil said he plans to add more weight to his 306-pound frame.
"Definitely [I would like] to put more bulk on my frame," Kalil said. "I'm so tall and slender, I could weigh 310, and it wouldn't look it. I can definitely add more weight, and I will be training the next few months -- getting bigger, getting stronger, working on my body."

To be clear, I don't think Kalil needs to go on a massive weight-gaining expedition in the next few months. He credits his success to playing light on his feet and moving well, and for that reason it wouldn't make sense to jump, say, 30 pounds in a year. But weight is one of the measurables people will fixate on here at the combine, and for comparison, consider that Green Bay Packers left tackle Chad Clifton weighs 320 pounds and J'Marcus Webb of the Chicago Bears is listed at 333 pounds.

Last year, Colorado left tackle Nate Solder was considered a project in part because he had 319 pounds spread out over his 6-foot-8 frame. The New England Patriots selected him with the No. 17 overall pick. But to this point, most draft observers have agreed that Kalil is polished from a technique standpoint and ready to start in the NFL immediately.

He'll have a chance to convince Vikings officials of that Friday when he meets them for a formal interview. Kalil will also speak with the St. Louis Rams, who own the No. 2 overall pick and could make the Kalil discussion a moot point for the NFC North. Stay tuned.
There’s a very interesting blog item by The Palm Beach Post’s Brian Briggane. He caught up with former Green Bay defensive back Leroy Butler, who is unhappy that former Green Bay coach Mike Sherman did not get the job as head coach in Tampa Bay.

Butler is unhappy with the Glazer family that owns the Buccaneers, and with former Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp. Butler said he believes Sapp influenced the Glazers' decision to not hire Sherman.

There’s history between Sapp and Sherman. Back in 2002, Sapp turned from defensive tackle to blocker after a Tampa Bay interception. Sapp hit Green Bay offensive lineman Chad Clifton and knocked him out of the game. Sherman and Sapp had a heated exchange that got a lot of national attention.

Sapp later left the Bucs, and Sherman left the Packers. But their paths crossed again last week when reports surfaced that Sherman was about to get hired to coach the Bucs.

Sapp sent out some tweets that blasted Sherman and general manager Mark Dominik, who use the same agent. Sherman had interviewed with the Bucs early in the process and again last week.

Butler claims that Sapp’s tweets influenced the Glazers to pass on Sherman and hire Greg Schiano away from Rutgers.

Part of me would like to say Butler is categorically wrong. I don’t think the Glazers use Sapp as some sort of advisor, and I’d like to say the owners probably weren’t sitting around reading his tweets when they were in the middle of making such an important decision. But I can’t say that definitively when it comes to the Bucs. As I’ve written before, the Bucs sometimes are way too sensitive about how they are perceived.

I’d like to think this was not one of those times. I’d like to think that, after meeting with Sherman and Schiano, the Bucs simply decided Schiano was the better fit for their franchise.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers are about as healthy as they can be for Sunday's divisional round playoff game. The Giants' inactives list is the same as it was last week, and the Packers have only one injured player, linebacker Robert Francois, who will be inactive.

Active for the Packers will be wide receiver Greg Jennings, who missed the past couple of games of the regular season due to injury, and starting tackles Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga, who also battled injuries during the final few weeks of the season. It will be interesting to see how healthy the tackles are and how they hold up against the Giants' edge pass-rushers.

Active for the Giants will be wide receiver Mario Manningham, who had struggled with knee problems in the second half of the season but was active for the first playoff game last week, and cornerback Aaron Ross and running back D.J. Ware, each of whom suffered concussions in last week's victory over the Falcons. Linebacker Mark Herzlich, still out with an ankle injury, is the injured player on the inactive list.

Full list of inactives:

GIANTS

WR Ramses Barden

RB Da'Rel Scott

LB Mark Herzlich

OL Jim Cordle

DE Justin Trattou

DT Jimmy Kennedy

OL James Brewer

PACKERS

QB Graham Harrell

CB Davon House

LB Rob Francois

OL Herb Taylor

TE D.J. Williams

DE Howard Green

LB Vic So'oto

Giants-Packers: Final injury report

January, 13, 2012
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We'll make this as easy as we can: Of the 106 players on the combined active rosters of the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers, only two are unlikely to be available for Sunday's divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field.

The Giants have ruled out linebacker Mark Herlzich, who is sidelined by an ankle injury. And Packers linebacker Robert Francois is doubtful because of a hamstring injury that prevented him from practicing Friday.

Everyone else is probable or unlisted on the final injury report of the week. That includes Packers left tackle Chad Clifton, who took a veteran rest day Friday, and offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith (illness). Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) returned to practice Friday and is probable.

Is it game time yet?

Final Word: Giants at Packers

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
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» Divisional Final Word: Saints-49ers | Broncos-Patriots | Texans-Ravens | Giants-Packers

Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's New York Giants-Green Bay Packers divisional playoff game:

[+] EnlargeChad Clifton
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireChad Clifton will face one of the league's elite pass rushers in Jason Pierre-Paul.
Home-field advantage: The playoffs will return to Lambeau Field for the first time in four seasons. The Packers are 15-3 all-time at home in the postseason. They've also won 13 consecutive regular-season games at Lambeau. Over that stretch, which began in Week 7 of last season, the Packers have outscored opponents by an average spread of 37-18 and have a +23 advantage in turnovers. The Giants have won two of their last three games at Lambeau, including the 2007 NFC Championship Game, but have won a total of three games in the state of Wisconsin since 1957. What does all of this mean? The Packers no doubt prefer playing at home over the alternative, but their opponent Sunday can draw on some relatively recent success to minimize the intimidation factor Lambeau would otherwise carry.

Key matchup: We've spent time this week discussing the challenge facing the Packers' defense. (They are trying to become the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl after finishing the regular season with a defense ranked below No. 25 overall, based on total yards allowed.) We've also noted that the Packers have scored 83 points in two games against the Giants in the last 13 months. (All of our coverage is available through this handy "Giants-Packers" link.) But one of the most interesting subplots will be the return of Packers left tackle Chad Clifton to full-time duty -- just in time to face one of the NFL's top players in 2011. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul earned first-team All-Pro honors after compiling 16.5 sacks, including six in the Giants' final four regular-season games. Pierre-Paul is expected to start at right end, and when he takes a break or moves elsewhere, the Giants probably will use veteran pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora. Clifton hasn't played a full game since Week 4 because of hamstring and back injuries, and at 35 he's giving up 12 years to Pierre-Paul. But Clifton knows every veteran trick in the book, and he has traditionally fared well against elite pass-rushers, most notably Jared Allen. The Packers trust Clifton to figure out a way to keep the pass rush away from quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Philbin factor: After the death of Michael Philbin this week, the NFL community learned just how revered his father is by those who know him. The grief of Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin deeply touched the entire organization, and dealing with those emotions was an undeniable part of the team's preparation this week. Coach Mike McCarthy referred to it as a "punch in the heart" and fought back tears during a news conference Wednesday. It's too cliché to speculate whether the tragedy will help or hurt the Packers' mindset when they take the field Sunday, or if it affected their week in a tangible way. But if nothing else, we learned that Joe Philbin is deeply intertwined within the Packers' structure and success.

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