GREEN BAY – They are essentially inseparable – in meetings, in the locker room, away from football, and even on Twitter – and given how vitally important both of them are to protecting the reigning NFL MVP is to the Green Bay Packers, right guard Josh Sitton and left guard T.J. Lang are a package deal.
The question is, will they remain that way beyond 2012?
The last time the Packers had two guards of the quality of Sitton and Lang, the tandem was Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle. When both players became unrestricted free agents following the 2004 season, and both walked, signing lucrative deals with the Dallas Cowboys (Rivera) and Carolina Panthers (Wahle).
While Wahle went on to earn his first Pro Bowl selection, he suffered a shoulder injury the following season and was never the same player. Rivera blew out his back and was such a disappointing signing that he actually offered to pay owner Jerry Jones some of his signing bonus back.
This time around, with Sitton and Lang stirring memories of Wahle and Rivera – and making some wonder if they just might be the best guard tandem going in the NFL right now – it’s worth asking if the Packers will manage to keep the pair together, or if Lang, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent come March, will be allowed to leave with nary a competitive offer.
“I think it’s still pretty early in the process to worry about that stuff,” Land said during a recent visit on Green & Gold Today. “The way I look at it, I signed a four-year deal, I’m ready to play that out. If anything happens where the Packers want to jump in and start talking about extensions, then that would be fantastic. But if not, I’m ready to play out my final year and continue to improve and see what happens after that.
“For me it’s not a big deal, but obviously I’d like to be a Packer for a long time. But I understand it’s a business. We’ve got a lot of guys who are going to be pretty pricey coming up here in the next couple years that are going to be free agents, so I’m sure up in the front office those guys are looking at all those things and weighing their options. I’m not stressing about it, but when that time comes, hopefully something good happens.”
Historically, both current general manager Ted Thompson and retired GM Ron Wolf have viewed guards as replaceable and unworthy of big contracts, as Wolf allowed Adam Timmerman to depart and Thompson not only let Wahle and Rivera leave, he also chose not to re-sign his own 2006 draft picks, Daryn Colledge (Arizona) and Jason Spitz (Jacksonville).
The one exception to that, of course, is Sitton, who inked a five-year extension worth $33.75 million in new money (including $8.9 million in guaranteed money) that will keep him in Green Bay through the 2016 season.
Whether or not Lang merits similar money remains to be seen, especially given the high-profile names on the Packers’ re-signing to-do list, from wide receiver Greg Jennings to defensive stalwarts Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji to, eventually, quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
But there’s no question the Packers will need Lang, who played the most snaps of any offensive player for them last season, and Sitton to play well. With center Scott Wells having departed as a free agent, the line is acclimating itself to new center Jeff Saturday, and although Saturday is a five-time Pro Bowler and the epitome of an old pro, he admitted during the offseason that he’s leaning heavily on Sitton and Lang to learn a new offense and understand the team’s protection calls.
If Saturday, Sitton and Lang can jell, Rodgers should be able to count on quality protection in the interior line. If they don’t and the interior line struggles, the MVP will frequently find himself in harm’s way.
“I think the chemistry is there,” Lang said. “With Jeff, it’s just feeling him out as a player, what his strengths are, what his weaknesses are, where I can help, where he can help my game. I think that’s going to come quickly with Jeff, really getting after it in training camp. He’s a guy who’s been around for a long time. He knows what to do. In a lot of ways, he’s a lot like Scott. He’s always in the film room, he spends a lot of extra time in meetings. He really wants to learn, and it’s going to be fun playing next to him.”
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