"We're not having a big youth movement."
The Packers are ill-equipped to replace any of their older players. They have no heir for either of their starting tackles, Clifton and Tauscher, and none of the young corners other than Tramon Williams has proven anything.
Harris, even after missing time with a spleen injury that some thought would end his career, wound up playing in the Pro Bowl and was superb for much of the second half of the season. Even with Williams' intriguing performance in Harris' place, the Packers' secondary is better with Harris than without him. Harris has a base salary of $3 million for 2009, $2.5 million in 2010 and $1.75 million in 2011.
"This is a guy that I don't see a lot of drop-off. He's still a good player, we think he's going to be a good player again this year," Thompson said.
Clifton, the Packers' gimpy left tackle, also is on the downside of his career, but he's generally been able to succeed despite an inability to practice regularly. He had both of his knees scoped after the season, and both sides are optimistic that will help him play better and practice more often in 2009.
"I think Chad is a very good player," Thompson said. "He's one of those guys that struggles to get through the week, just getting to Sunday. But on Sunday, he plays the game well. So, he's had a couple, three surgeries here and those are things that ... it's not that easy to get over. But we're still counting on him coming back and being a good player for us."
Thompson downplayed the risk of bringing back Clifton when reminded of Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. The Packers waited and waited for KGB to round back into form after offseason knee surgery. That never happened, and it cost the Packers a lot of money.
"Well, everybody is a little different. That's sort of a cold, calculated fantasy football way of looking at it," Thompson said of the comparison. "I mean, these are human beings. But in terms of KGB, we didn't realize the problem was going to persist as long as it did and that just didn't work out. With Chad, Chad's had surgery in the offseason before and come back and played. He's very determined to come back and play well and we look forward to him doing it. And we think he's going to."
Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy both said they'd like to bring back their right tackle, Tauscher. But Tauscher is coming off of left knee reconstruction and is a free agent. Conventional wisdom suggests that will scare away potential suitors, but it's a horrible market for free agent tackles. Miami just gave its right tackle, Vernon Carey, $12 million in first-year money, and Carey's hardly a Pro Bowler.
Tauscher's agent, Neil Cornrich, told Packer Report that Tauscher should be ready for training camp, and Cornrich told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Packers had better not wait for Tauscher to get healthy before working out a contract. Thompson said Tauscher, along with fellow free agents Colin Cole and Michael Montgomery, likely will hit the market on Feb. 27.
One elderstatesman with no concerns about his playing ability is star receiver Donald Driver, who matches Harris as the team's oldest players at 34. He's coming off a season in which he caught 74 passes for 1,012 yards and five touchdowns.
"I don't see in any drop-off with Donald's play at all," Thompson said. "He looks to me to be a really top-flight receiver and he's going to will himself to be that. He's never had any problems with injuries. So, I don't have any concerns with him. In terms of age, age is just a number. With Donald Driver, it really doesn't affect him. At some point it will, but I haven't seen it."
While at least three of those four veterans are expected to play for Green Bay in 2009, it could be a different story after the upcoming season, when Clifton and Driver will become free agents.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.