The demise of a couple veterans on the Green Bay Packers roster has potentially been exaggerated, greatly.
According to the comments made by head coach Mike McCarthy from the NFL owners meetings Wednesday, the Packers don't have any current plans to cut receiver Donald Driver or tackle Chad Clifton.
“Donald’s still on our roster,” McCarthy said when asked about his potential return in 2012, via ESPN Milwaukee's Jason Wilde. “I thought Donald, the second half of the season, he played very well. His role, as far as opportunities, was not as high as it’s been in the past, but I thought Donald was very consistent down the stretch. I thought he played well in the playoff game.”
Clifton's status wasn't as clear, but McCarthy essentially said that the long-time left tackle will have a roster spot if he's healthy.
“There’s definitely a possibility,” McCarthy said. “We haven’t taken him off, so he’s someone we’ll continue to talk about and get the reports. He’s down in Tennessee now, so we’ll see how he recovers.”
“It’s a medical decision. That’s what it will come down to.”
The two veterans have been seen as potential roster cuts, partly due to their advanced age but also in consideration of the money they'll be making as borderline players in 2012.
Driver, 37, is entering the last year of a three-year, $17.2 million deal he signed in August of 2010. He's scheduled to make $2.6 million in base salary next season, plus a $1.5 million roster bonus and $200,000 workout bonus that will come due late this summer.
Driver continues to lose ground in the Packers receiving corps, and he finished 2011 with just 37 receptions for 445 yards and six touchdowns, his lowest totals since the 2001 season. Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings are the clear-cut starters at receiver, with James Jones and Randall Cobb more than capable of handling bigger roles next season. Practice squad receivers Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel will also be competing for a roster spot in 2012, and it's possible the Packers could lose both if Driver is retained and the Packers decide on keeping just five receivers on their 53-man roster.
McCarthy said it's not likely to be that simple.
“We don’t just try to get four receivers or five receivers and stop there. You want to get as many as you can,” McCarthy said.
The Packers could negotiate a contract restructuring for Driver that would minimize the risk of having the veteran compete for a spot throughout training camp.
For the Packers' veteran left tackle, the age and money factors are very similar.
Clifton, who turns 36 in June, is coming off an injury-plagued season in which hamstring and back injuries allowed him to start just six games. He's also due a lot of money next season, with a $5.25 million base salary in 2012 plus over $200,000 in roster bonuses that also come due late in the summer.
Clifton underwent another surgery after the season to help clean up some lower back problems, which may give him a chance to stick around another season. At the very least, the Packers can now wait as long as they need to this offseason before a final decision is made—giving Clifton plenty of time to get himself healthy.
The availability of Derek Sherrod, the 2011 first-round pick who fractured his fibula and tibia during a game with the Kansas City Chiefs late last season, will be something the Packers have to consider regarding Clifton's roster status, along with the progression of third-year player Marshall Newhouse and the potential free-agent signing of Demetrius Bell, who is scheduled to visit Green Bay.
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