When we last checked in on Chad Clifton, it was clear the Green Bay Packers were hoping to find a way to get their veteran left tackle back for 2012. At the NFL owners meetings, coach Mike McCarthy termed Clifton's future "a medical decision" after postseason back surgery.
The Packers made that decision Monday and it ended an 12-year run that included a Pro Bowl berth as recently as two years ago. Just as important, the move should save the Packers more than $5 million against the 2012 salary cap.
In truth, the Packers' pending release of Clifton -- as reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter -- has been building for years. The team essentially extended his career by limiting practice time to help manage knee, shoulder, back and hamstring ailments. But the back issue developed last season while rehabilitating a hamstring injury, and it was fair to question whether the Packers could rely on a left tackle in his condition who will turn 36 in June.
Marshall Newhouse is the favorite to replace Clifton. Aaron Rodgers had this to say about Newhouse: "Starting the season out, I didn't look at Marshall the way I look at him now. I look at him now as a guy who really has a strong, legitimate chance to be the left tackle of the future. I think he has the personality makeup to do that, the athletic ability to do that, the feet and the smarts to be a very, very solid left tackle for us."
While it's important that Newhouse has the endorsement of Rodgers, he was not well rated by Pro Football Focus in 2011. In fact, he had the lowest overall rating of any tackle that played at least 25% of his team's snaps. This is definitely something to watch -- Rodgers won't be as effective if he has to worry about his blind side.