For the first time this century, the Packers will start a season with a left tackle not named Chad Clifton. News of his release is not a surprise. Recovering from offseason back surgery, Clifton has been playing on borrowed time for the past few years. His ailing knees have required extra rest and lots of weekly precautions to ensure he could be out there to protect Aaron Rodgers’ blind side.
Clifton will look back at his career someday and consider that he was the last line of defense for (potentially) two Hall of Famers. A Pro Bowl caliber tackle who was asked to keep guys like Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware, Warren Sapp and other great pass rushers at bay. Sapp’s infamous cheap shot on Clifton following an interception caused his most serious injury–a broken pelvis, prompting Sapp to tell head coach Mike Sherman to ‘put a jersey on.’ That type of hit is now illegal in the NFL.
Clifton was never considered an elite left tackle, but he was solid, dependable and allowed two maestros at their position to go about their business without worrying about running for their lives. That’s what you want from your left tackle.
The Packers were not unprepared for this eventuality. Ted Thompson has drafted tackles in the first round the last two years. But it’s a former compensatory pick, Marshall Newhouse, who is favored to be the opening day starter. He was a revelation when forced into duty last year, earning praise from Rodgers and McCarthy and most likely keeping the recuperating Derek Sherrod on the bench this season.
So the Packers’ offensive line should not miss a beat. That’s the way of the NFL. When a guy gets too old or breaks down, the next guy steps up. But it is definitely worth pausing and reflecting on the terrific career of Chad Clifton. For the better part of 14 seasons, he was a big reason why the Packers offense lit up the sky. Let’s wish him the best of luck–and good health–in his post-football life.