Tough games over, tough decisions begin

The offseason moves have begun. Signing a long list of free agents is a typical late-winter transaction for any team. Unfortunately, so is making the tough decisions about unrestricted free agents.<p> For Packers GM Mike Sherman determining who stays and who goes this year may make a fourth-down call in the playoffs look like a walk in the park.<P> Atop that list of tough calls is tackle Chad Clifton.<P>

The fourth-year starter will become a free agent March 3. Clifton returned from a devastating pelvic injury to start all 16 games, playing every snap in 2003 and helping this year's offensive line become the best in recent memory.

Clifton is only 27. And while he is likely to command upwards of $6 million a year – quite rich for the cap-wary Pack – Green Bay should find a way to get it done. Two words explain why:

Adam Timmerman.

Recall that Timmerman came up with the Pack in the heart of the latest "Glory Days." He was a rookie on the 1995 team which reached the NFC Championship game. Timmerman replaced the injured Aaron Taylor in that the divisional playoff game at 3 Com Park as rocked defending champion San Francisco's universe with a 27-17 upset. Timmerman started all 19 regular and postseason games en route to the Super Bowl XXXI victory, and started all 32 regular- and five postseason games over the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

The 1998 campaign turned out to be the end for Timmerman in Green Bay. It was the end of a lot of things, such as the Holmgren era and the five-year playoff run. Timmerman went to the St. Louis Rams via free agency. In his five years with the Rams Timmerman has started every single game No warm, fuzzy talk of former offensive line greats changes the amount of room the Packers have under the cap. Sherman's GM role will get increasingly difficult as he tries to make things happen this year without damaging the team's changes to sign the multitude of big names scheduled to become free agents after the '04 season including Clfton's linemates Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera.

Clifton has said he would like to remain a Green Bay Packer. However, like all savvy free agents, he's keeping his options wide open.

"I feel confident that hopefully I can be back here," said Clifton in an interview published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel."But again, it is a business. Things happen. It's really just sinking in. We'll start the negotiation process and see how it goes."

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