Chad Clifton's first encounter with unrestricted free agency was a short one.
Various media outlets reported late Friday night that the 10-year Packers offensive tackle re-signed with Green Bay. ESPN reported that the deal was worth $20 million ($7.5 million guaranteed) over three years. The Packers have not officially announced the transaction.
The Packers and Clifton's agent, Jimmy Sexton, worked late up until the free agency deadline at 11 p.m. Central time on Thursday. Though they were unable to get a deal done by then, the two sides apparently came to an agreement less than 24 hours later.
Even at 33 years old entering the twilight of his career, Clifton was regarded as one of the top, if not the top left tackle in free agency this off-season. He drew interest from the Redskins Friday and could well have drawn interest from other teams had the Packers not acted quickly.
Clifton is coming off one of his more difficult seasons. He started and finished just nine of 17 games for the Packers and showed decline in his play. Again he was among the team leaders in penalties - his nine accepted penalties were the most among his offensive line mates.
But with Clifton out of the lineup, the Packers offensive line struggled in pass protection. In three of the four games he missed in 2009, the Packers gave up 16 sacks. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Clifton gave up 4.5 sacks for the season, a respectable total for an aging left tackle.
Because the Packers' depth at tackle is thin and young headed into the draft and the remainder of free agency, Clifton's signing appears to have been the top priority for general manager Ted Thompson. Right tackle Mark Tauscher, who returned to the team mid-season in 2009 after suffering an ACL injury in 2008, is an unrestricted free agent. After that, the only other tackles on the roster are Allen Barbre (three years experience, seven total starts), Breno Giacomini (two years, zero starts), and T.J. Lang (one year, three starts). Lang can also play guard.
Based on numbers, the Packers will no doubt continue to search for tackles this off-season to not only fill their roster, but also challenge Clifton for a starting spot.
Clifton has battled injuries throughout his career but to his credit has still managed to stay in the lineup. But for the infamous Warren Sapp hit which sidelined him for the final five games of the 2002 season, Clifton missed only two games before last season. He has been one of the Packers most accountable offensive linemen.
The Packers franchised tagged Clifton on Feb. 24, 2004, just eight days before signing him to a six-year, $34 million deal. Before that, he played out his rookie contract as a second-round pick for the Packers in 2000.
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