Good riddance, Cletidus

Where have you gone, Cletidus Hunt? Packers fans turn their lonely eyes to you.

Not the 2005 Hunt, of course. The 2002 Hunt.

With the exception of the Joe Johnson fiasco, Hunt will go into Packers history as the biggest free-agent disappointment. It will also go down as one of the biggest black marks on Mike Sherman's general manager resume, though the decision to sign him to a six-year, $25.1 million contract, while risky, made sense at the time.

In 2002, Hunt recorded career highs of 5.5 sacks, 48 tackles and four passes defensed.

That off-season, Hunt and Vonnie Holliday were up for free agency. Sherman essentially had to choose between the two players, and chose Hunt's potential over the popular Holliday's steadiness.

History, of course, shows Sherman made a huge blunder. But at the time, Sherman had little choice but to go with Hunt.

The year before, Sherman handed big dollars to defensive end Johnson. The next year, Sherman knew he'd have to hand big dollars to another defensive end, standout pass rusher Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.

Because of the salary cap, Sherman simply couldn't afford to hand another huge contract to a defensive end. Hunt, on the other hand, was the type of player every team in the league coveted. He was a big, athletic, young defensive tackle who could put heat on the passer and was apparently a player on the rise. While quality defensive ends are hard to find, finding quality defensive tackles is like the proverbial needle in a haystack.

So Sherman went with Hunt, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The one thing everyone feared at the time of Hunt's signing is exactly what happened. Hunt, driven by his impending free agency, did just enough to warrant a big contract. Fat wallet in hand, Hunt rested on his laurels.

And rested.

And rested.

And rested some more.

Hunt skipped minicamps. He blew off contract incentives to work out in Green Bay. He was uninspired on the field. He was insubordinate. During training camp, according to a few observers who saw the incident, injured defensive linemen Hunt, Grady Jackson and Corey Williams were chatting on the sideline before practice. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates asked them to join their teammates for pre-practice stretching. Hunt made a not-so-polite gesture to Bates when he turned his back.

Hunt missed most of training camp with tendinitis in his knees and a bum shoulder. When he finally did get onto the field, during the preseason finale at Tennessee, Hunt gave the type of nonchalant effort that had become his hallmark. But with the injuries and rust, Hunt was no longer just lazy and mediocre. He was lazy and bad, getting shoved around during limited playing time.

So Hunt is gone, and it costs the Packers dearly. From a monetary standpoint, the Packers paid Hunt $750,000 of a $1 million roster bonus in March — the other $250,000 was forfeited because Hunt blew off a requirement that he spend a set number of days working out in Green Bay during the off-season. While Hunt's $1.25 million base salary is erased from the 2005 salary cap — his $1.95 million signing bonus remains — the rest of his signing bonus will be accelerated onto the 2006 cap, some $3.6 million of so-called dead money.

It costs the Packers dearly on the field, as well. While Hunt's play had slipped so much that the Packers felt compelled to cut their losses, it's not as if they have someone markedly better to take his place in the starting lineup.

Corey Williams becomes the new starter. If Williams' talent and attitude matched his effort, he'd be an All-Pro. Williams, however, has had as many good plays as bad ones during the preseason. Too often, he hasn't been able to stand his ground against the run. But at least he tries hard and has a burning desire to get better.

The alternative is second-year player Donnell Washington. Washington's knock coming out of Clemson was — stop me if you've heard this before — that he was lazy and played hard only when he felt like it. Sounds a lot like Hunt, don't you think? He didn't do anything of note during training camp, though the Packers like his youth, size and athleticism. Sounds a lot like what they said about Hunt a few years ago, don't you think?

At least Washington has time on his side. With the cap hit no longer obscene and, frankly, the Packers looking nothing like championship contenders, Hunt's presence was no longer worth the trouble, his vast potential just a distant memory.

So long, Cletidus. Good riddance.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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