GREEN BAY – Less than a month after coach Mike McCarthy indicated that Chad Clifton would be back with the team when training camp kicked off later this summer, the Green Bay Packers released the veteran left tackle Monday.
ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported that Clifton, who had reported for the team’s offseason program last week, flunked his physical after offseason back surgery. The Packers officially announced the move around 1 p.m. Wisconsin time.
“Chad is a great Packer and has been an integral part of our success over the past 12 seasons. He was a member of some of the most prolific offenses in team history, but more importantly, he is a great person and teammate," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said in a statement. "We thank Chad for all that he has given the Packers on the field and in the community and wish him and his family well.”
Clifton was set to be paid a $5.25 million base salary in 2012. His release would create $5.7 million in salary-cap space.
Clifton, a second-round pick in 2000 out of Tennessee, played 12 seasons with the Packers, earning two Pro Bowl selections. He missed much of last season after suffering a major hamstring injury Oct. 9 at Atlanta and suffering a back injury in late November that further delayed his comeback. When he did return to the field, he played 25 snaps in the regular-season finale against Detroit.
He then looked rusty in the NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the New York Giants, getting beaten inside by Osi Umeniyora for a sack/fumble on quarterback Aaron Rodgers on a play where Greg Jennings was open down the sideline for a possible touchdown. Clifton was later benched in favor of Marshall Newhouse.
Speaking at the NFL Meetings in Palm Beach, Fla. last month, McCarthy said Clifton’s back was feeling good after the surgery and spoke as if both he and veteran wide receiver Donald Driver would be on the team’s 2012 roster. He gave no indication that Clifton, who’ll be 36 in June, and Driver, who turned 37 in February, would not be back.
McCarthy was asked directly during Wednesday’s NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL Meetings if Clifton, who played in just six games last season, will be on the roster this season.
“There’s definitely a possibility,” McCarthy replied. “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.”
Asked if Clifton would compete for the starting left tackle job that has been his since his rookie year of 2000, McCarthy replied by saying that Clifton’s practice availability is based on his health.
“Chad, he’s going to be on a pitch count. He can’t go through a full training camp and it’s been like that for some time,” McCarthy said. “It’s a medical decision. That’s what it will come down to.”
The Packers have Newhouse, Bryan Bulaga and an injured Derek Sherrod as possible left tackle starters.
The league’s oldest starting left tackle entering last season, Clifton didn’t have any roster bonuses scheduled to be paid soon that would have forced the Packers to decide on his future right away.
The Packers went with Newhouse and Bulaga at tackle most of the season, with Newhouse filling in for Clifton on the left side when Bulaga returned from injury. The Packers’ could also still be concerned about Sherrod, their 2011 first-round pick, and his recovery from the broken leg he suffered Dec. 18 at Kansas City. It’s unclear how far along Sherrod is in his rehabilitation from the injury.
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