The Moves That Must Be Made

Free agency starts at 11:01 p.m. Central on Thursday. The Packers have a championship contender. To solidify that status, there are several moves the Packers must make — starting with re-signing left tackle Chad Clifton.

Free agency starts at 11:01 p.m. (Central) on Thursday. The Packers have a realistic Super Bowl contender — but to cement that status, they must make these moves.

Re-sign Chad Clifton

Clifton has passed his prime. He'll turn 34 in June. He started and finished only nine of the Packers' 17 games last season.

It doesn't matter. Outside of quarterback, no position is more important than left tackle. If you've got one, you better keep him, because they don't grow on trees. Running backs and wide receivers and linebackers are a dime a dozen by comparison. Good left tackles are about as rare as good quarterbacks and three-dollar bills. The Packers must re-sign Clifton and draft his successor. Period.

Make sure Nick Collins doesn't leave

The Packers gave the two-time Pro Bowl safety the exclusive first- and third-round tender. For another team to swipe Collins, they'd have to sign him to a monster contract that the Packers deem too rich to match — plus give up first- and third-round draft picks. That's not likely to happen but it could. The Packers already would like to add one safety — they really don't want to have to add two.

Sign a third-down back

LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook are available now, and Chester Taylor will be available when free agency begins. (The Chargers reversed course and reportedly have tendered Darren Sproles with the first- and third-round tender.

The Packers are set with Ryan Grant as their feature back, but they badly need someone to catch passes and move the chains on third down. If any of these four backs are available after the opening few days of free agency — and chances are good that at least Westbrook and Tomlinson will be — they'd be worth pursuing at a discount price. If not, there's always revisiting this option after the draft.

The wild card was Sproles, who would have filled a number of roles for the Packers: change-of-pace back, pass catcher, kick returner. His running style would seem to make him a great fit in a zone blocking scheme. But he's now off the market. Taylor figures to go quickly too, so if the Packers want a veteran, Tomlinson and Westbrook would be the guys.

As we have reported, the Packers aren't expected to sit on their heels this offseason. In 2006, they targeted Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett. They might have a couple players in their sights for this year, too.

Keep Jason Spitz

Spitz is not an elite player, but as a restricted free agent capable of playing guard and center, he'll be in command. The Packers were expected to give Spitz the second-round tender. They need to keep him. Top free agent guards Logan Mankins and Jahri Evans both got the first-and-third tender, and the unrestricted free agent crop isn't too inspiring. One thing to remember: restricted free agent contracts are not guaranteed. If the Packers wind up keeping Spitz and Daryn Colledge and letting them compete at left guard, they can release one (or both) with no implications.

Sign a cornerback

As with practically every position group of free agents this year, the talent level at cornerback is pretty dreadful. Expect a bidding war for former Texans corner Dunta Robinson, who surprisingly was let free after being franchised last year. Did the Texans miss the memo about the importance of having enough cornerbacks to match up with today's explosive passing offenses?

The rest of the unrestricted crop is old and mediocre (Nick Harper, Dre' Bly, Ken Lucas, Anthony Henry, Lito Sheppard). If the Packers strike in restricted free agency, maybe this is where they see some value. Carolina gave Richard Marshall (four interceptions in 16 starts) a second-round tender, and former first-rounder Carlos Rogers (six interceptions in six seasons) got a first-round tender. The Colts decided not to tender Marlin Jackson, who has played only 11 games in the last two seasons with a knee injury.

With restricted free agents, it's important to note that trades can be made, and not necessarily for the tendered draft pick. So someone tendered with a first-round pick could be acquired for a second-rounder, for instance.

Somehow, add to the line

Forget about free agency to add a left tackle. Clifton is easily the best unrestricted left tackle, and the Buccaneers slapped the first- and third-round tag on restricted Donald Penn, the Chargers did the same with Marcus McNeill and ditto for the Saints with Jammal Brown.

Right tackle includes two proven starters who received first-round restricted tenders: Atlanta's Tyson Clabo and Baltimore's Jared Gaither. Tampa Bay gave Jeremy Trueblood the second-round tender, but he's a bad fit in a zone scheme. Clabo and Gaither aren't bad value as proven players. Either the Packers could just go ahead with T.J. Lang (or unrestricted Mark Tauscher) at right tackle or make a move on Clabo or Gaither and move Lang to left guard.

One player worth a look is Jermon Bushrod, who got only a second-round tender from the Saints after filling in admirably for the aforementioned Brown at left tackle. He wasn't great — probably wasn't even average — but at 26 and with blind-side starting experience, second round isn't bad value.

For God's sake, don't sign Julius Peppers

I've said this before and I'll say it again — while repeating what enough NFL personnel people have said: Will Peppers play hard once he's got his $10 million-a-year contract? And would Peppers even fit a 3-4 defense? Nobody knows those answers. At that kind of money, you had better know those answers.

In a deep draft class of outside linebackers, why not draft a younger player who will cost a lot less money and may fit the scheme better? Or re-sign Aaron Kampman, who you know will bust his tail on every snap?

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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