Getting closer

The franchise tag and free agency deadlines are still casting their shadows, but now Chad Clifton's future as a Packer is looking brighter after a meeting between Clifton's agent and the team during this weekend's scouting combine.<P>

While just two days remain to place a franchise or transition tag on Clifton, the Packers are likely to try to sign the 27-year-old tackle before the March 3 free agency deadline without using the tags.

Clifton's agent, Jimmy Sexton, told Milwaukee print and broadcast media that his client wants to remain with the Packers, who selected Clifton out of Tennessee in the second round of the 2002 draft.

Another meeting was expected to take place later in the weekend or today.

While the salary cap poses a problem for the Pack, a long-term deal and sizeable signing bonus could help sign the man who protects Brett Favre's blind side. The Packers are about $3 million under this year's projected $80.5 salary cap, so a $7 million tender would force the Packers to restructure several contracts by March 3 to stay under the cap.

Clifton was part of a cohesive line which allowed just 19 sacks for 137 yards. Those totals were the lowest regular-season sack numbers in Favre's Packer career. Favre was sacked just once for a nine-yard loss in the Packers' two playoff games this season.

Keeping that offensive line intact will not come cheap where Clifton is concerned. If this deal gets done, it is expected to come with a record signing bonus. The highest signing bonus ever awarded to an offensive lineman was the reported $4 million given to Earl Dotson for re-signing in 1998. Fellow tackle Mark Tauscher comes close to that mark with $3.75 million in signing and roster bonuses coming his way. But it will probably take a bonus closer to Brett Favre's team-record 1997 signing bonus of $12 million to keep Clifton in green and gold before the offers pour in after March 3.

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