Take a good, hard look at the Packers roster at tackle, and the free agents that are available at the position, and there should be little wonder as to why the Packers hung on to Clifton like a life preserver in the ocean just hours after Clifton entered free agent waters for the first time in his career.
Had Clifton left, the Packers faced the grim reality of drowning next season.
Now that Clifton is back, they might face the same reality anyway.
At 33 years old, about to enter his 11th season, Clifton is a player on the decline. He showed more signs of diminishing play last year than any other. At times, it seemed like band-aids were the only thing holding his health and game together.
Clifton finished just nine of the 17 games he started last season dealing with a bad ankle injury. To his credit, he battled through that injury like all the others in his career. But to count on him at left tackle this season is almost as big a risk as counting on Allen Barbre to man the right side.
Even though the Packers gave Clifton a new contract Saturday, they have to be wondering how long Clifton can hold up. If not through the upcoming season, then where do they turn for help?
The rest of the free agent crop at tackle is weak. And the Packers depth at tackle is even weaker. Last years starter at the beginning of the season, Allen Barbre, was a disaster, and was benched after seven games. Third-year pro Breno Giacomini must be struggling mightily because the Packers never even gave him a chance last season. And Mark Tauscher is an unrestricted free agent.
There is also promising second-year pro T.J. Lang, but like all of the players mentioned above, the Packers seem to be looking at him more as a right tackle, or even a guard. Daryn Colledge also had a few stints moving over to left tackle in 2009, but after his poor performance there, the Packers will likely leave him at guard.
That leaves no depth behind Clifton at left tackle, arguably the second most important position on offense considering it has to protect the quarterbacks blind side. In this case, that quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, one of the best in the league.
The possibility exists that Thompson could still work out a trade, but more than likely he will use the draft to re-tool. This years draft class is deep at tackle, and the Packers should be looking to select not one, but two or three players who can play left tackle, if not compete for a starting spot sometime next season.
While Clifton managed to hold his own in pass protection last season, he was far from a force as a run blocker. Perhaps that might be the reason why head coach Mike McCarthy relied so heavily on the pass when he often preached the run.
Clifton was also flagged for nine (accepted) penalties, a sign that he might be compensating for a loss in skills. His history with penalties has gotten worse with age.
The failure in pass protection when Clifton was out of the lineup in 2009 was perhaps most alarming to the Packers brass. In the two Vikings games that he missed, the Packers gave up a whopping 14 sacks. Combine that with the weak crop of free agent tackles and the Packers paper-thin depth, and the Packers probably felt like they had to give Clifton a healthy contract.
In reality, Cliftons re-signing hardly cures what ails the Packers. If anything, it might give them a feeling of comfort for now, but that feeling can wear off in a hurry.