The Green Bay Packers have agreed to terms with free agent offensive lineman Duke Preston, several media outlets reported on Thursday night. The two-year deal was confirmed to Packer Report on Friday morning.
Preston — the Packers' first true unrestricted free agent signing this offseason — can play center, both guard spots and even has some experience at right tackle. That versatility could have long-term ramifications for the Packers.
Longtime starting right tackle Mark Tauscher is a free agent and coming off of a torn ACL. The eight- to 10-month timeframe for recovery could have Tauscher ready at some point in training camp or could leave him on the shelf until October. The Packers — and, apparently, the rest of the league — are taking a wait-and-see approach before signing a player who might be available for only half of the season.
"Well, he got hurt late last season and it's a serious injury, so it would be wishful thinking whether he would be ready for training camp," coach Mike McCarthy told FoxSports.com's Alex Marvez on Sirius NFL Radio on Thursday.
The 6-foot-5, 326-pound Preston, a fourth-round pick from Illinois in 2005 with 20 career starts, is better suited for the interior line positions. The Packers already have Scott Wells at center and Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, Josh Sitton and Allen Barbre at guard. The team has hinted Spitz might challenge Wells at center, and Barbre is athletic enough that he can play tackle.
Adding Preston to the mix could mean one of several things.
— Tauscher, whose level of play dropped from 2007 to 2008, could be out of the picture. Some combination of Spitz, Wells, Sitton and Preston could man the three interior spots, with Colledge becoming the full-time right tackle. When Tony Moll was unable to fill Tauscher's shoes, the Packers moved Colledge from left guard to right tackle for the season finale vs. Detroit, and Colledge acquitted himself nicely. Colledge was a collegiate left tackle, and there are at least some people in the organization who think his athleticism makes him a better tackle than guard.
"My choice would be left guard because I've been there for three years now," Colledge, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2009 season, said the day after the Detroit game. "I'm comfortable there. But if I need to move to tackle or wherever, I'm going to make that adjustment and try to be part of the five players that hit the field next season."
— Because Preston can play center, the loser of Spitz vs. Wells could be looking for work. Wells is under contract through 2011 while Spitz will be an unrestricted free agent after 2009.
— Preston could win the center job, with Wells being the odd man out because he doesn't have Spitz's versatility. If Preston and Sitton win starting jobs, the Packers' smallish offensive line would have a couple of 320-plus pounders in the lineup.
— Sitton, an impressive fourth-round pick in 2008 who was on course to start at guard before a preseason knee injury, played right tackle at Central Florida. So, perhaps Colledge stays at guard and Sitton moves outside to replace Tauscher.
Breno Giacomini, a fifth-round pick last year who improved at practice by battling Aaron Kampman every day, Moll and even Preston or the athletic Barbre could be in the mix at right tackle, as well. And there's always the draft, where the Packers could look at Alabama's Andre Smith or Mississippi's Michael Oher in the first round or someone like Connecticut's William Beatty in the second round. Either of them could get their feet wet at right tackle while being the heir to Chad Clifton at left tackle.
However it shakes out, at least one experienced or touted player will be out of a job, and possibly two if they add a quality draft pick. The Packers kept Barbre, Clifton, Colledge, Giacomini, Moll, Sitton, Spitz, Tauscher and Wells on the 2008 roster, and they are high on practice-squad center Brennen Carvalho. It's unlikely they will keep a 10th lineman just to keep Preston.
So, will the Packers part ways with the venerable and popular Tauscher? Is Wells the odd man out? Will they give up on Moll or Barbre? Time will tell. But if there's strength in numbers, the Packers just got stronger.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport