Center wants to play one more year

Frank Winters said that he will sit down and assess at the end of the season whether or not he wants to continue playing for the Green Bay Packers. He has been relatively healthy this season and for most of his career, and said that he has not thought much about giving up the game.<p>

„I haven‚t thought about retirement at all,‰ he said. „I mean, if I was to say, ŒWill I come back?‚ I‚m having fun. I like the organization - it‚s been a great organization. I have a lot of friendships here that will go on after football, and it wouldn‚t be to my benefit to start over somewhere else at my age and stuff like that. So I think if I‚m going to play, I‚d rather just play up here.‰

The Packers would likely want him back. They have re-signed him three times in his career, and based on how he is playing this year and the salary he is making (veteran‚s minimum of $650,000), they really do not have many reasons to say no to him.

„I‚m very pleased that he‚s here. I‚ve said that many times,‰ said head coach and general manager Mike Sherman. „I‚m very fortunate that Frank Winters is on our team. As a player and as a leader, he‚s contributed significantly. I think he‚s playing his best football right now. He‚s playing very well.‰

Early in the season, the Packers offensive line endured changes, and Winters stepped forward when called upon. He started the first three games of the season at center, replacing Mike Flanagan, who fractured his thumb in training camp. He helped the Packers rush for a season-high 211 yards in the opener, an overtime victory over the Falcons.

Over the next five games, he came in as a substitute three times and started twice while Flanagan filled in at other positions along the line for injured players. Most recently, he has started the last four games (through Dec. 22) and will continue to, health permitting for the rest of the season, with Flanagan expected to finish out at left tackle for Clifton. Winters has also played some as a third tight end in certain situations for offensive coordinator Tom Rossley.

„Nothing really amazes me that he does,‰ said Winters‚ good friend and teammate Brett Favre. „There‚s so much about his position or this game that can be overlooked. We all know kind of how his career has unfolded, especially in the last three or four years, with ŒFlanny‚ (Mike Flanagan) stepping in and becoming the starter after Frank probably had his best year.

Frank never said a word, never said a word. Not even to me. ... I can only imagine how tough that was for him, but on top of that, he was asked to take pay cuts, not knowing first of all, if he would be back. ... He just keeps on truckin‚. We definitely would not be where we are without him.‰

This year marks the most playing time Winters has received since the 2000 season. That was his last as the regular starter at center, before Flanagan took over in 2001. Winters dueled with Flanagan during training camp in 2001, but the Packers chose to go with the younger Flanagan, 27 at the time. It was difficult for Winters to give up the spot he had manned so well for the previous nine seasons, but he handled the situation professionally and accepted his new role. The Packers are glad he did.

„He‚s had a hell of a year, to say the least,‰ said Beightol. „Hopefully maybe we‚ll have him back again next year and go again.‰

Winters often points to his „beer and pizza‰ diet as a reason he has been able to survive so long in the league and remain healthy. He is one of only 11 players on NFL rosters this season to have 16 or more years of experience, and that could be extended.

„I would like to play maybe one more year,‰ said Winters. „We‚ll see what happens. I don‚t have control over that. ... I mean, I do have control, but it‚s got to be made also by a decision by those guys if they want to bring me back or not. So I don‚t worry about it, and I don‚t sit here and contemplate it a lot. At the end of the year I‚ll think about it, and if I choose to keep on playing, and they want me back, fine. If not, and they want to go another route, that‚s their decision.


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