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Clifton's release moves Rodgers up tenure totem pole

Apr 23, 2012 -- 12:53pm
Photo/Getty Images

GREEN BAY – With the release Monday of veteran left tackle Chad Clifton, the uncertain future of injured safety Nick Collins and veteran wide receiver Donald Driver no cinch for the opening-day roster, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that quarterback Aaron Rodgers could be the Green Bay Packers’ longest-tenured player when the team kicks off the 2012 season Sept. 9 against the San Francisco 49ers.

Rodgers called Monday a “sad day” in a text message after news of Clifton’s release broke Monday morning and Tweeted his feelings shortly thereafter. The Packers made Clifton’s release official around 1 p.m. Wisconsin time.

At the NFL Meetings last month, coach Mike McCarthy made it sound as if both Clifton and Driver would make it to training camp. He was more definitive on Driver’s future with the team than he was with Clifton’s, but he made no guarantees about Driver’s return, either.

Driver, who is currently competing on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, showed that he had something left in the tank late last season. Once he ceded his starting job to Jordy Nelson and settled into a backup role, Driver seemed to play better. He caught all three passes thrown his direction, including one for a touchdown, in the playoff loss to the New York Giants to end the season, a game in which receivers had seven drops by McCarthy’s count.

“Donald’s still on our roster,” McCarthy said at the NFL Meetings. “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.”

McCarthy acknowledged that the team likes practice-squad receivers Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel, both of whom stayed on the practice squad (with salary bumps) despite offers from other teams to join their 53-man rosters. But the team’s affinity for those two young receivers doesn’t preclude Driver’s return, McCarthy said.

Driver joined the Packers in 1999 as a seventh-round draft pick from Alcorn State. With center Scott Wells’ free-agent departure this offseason, the next longest-tenured players on the roster are Rodgers and Collins, who joined the team via the 2005 NFL Draft. Veteran defensive players Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett joined the team as free agents in 2006.

Collins, who suffered a career-threatening neck injury Sept. 18 at Carolina and is trying to come back from spinal fusion surgery, is receiving a number of opinions from various doctors on whether he can resume his NFL career. Even if he is cleared by some doctors, it’s possible the Packers will not clear him to return and will release him.

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