GREEN BAY – Chad Clifton isn’t ready to call it a career just yet. But he is still trying to adjust to the idea of being a former Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl left tackle.
“A little bit,” Clifton confessed during an appearance on Green & Gold Today Friday. “After 12 years, to hear ‘former,’ it’s a bitter pill to swallow, definitely.”
To hear Chad Clifton’s interview, click here.
That said, there wasn’t a trace of bitterness in his voice as he spoke about his 12 years with the Packers, a run that began with him assuming the left tackle duties as a rookie second-round pick in 2000 and not relinquishing them until an injury-marred 2011 season led to his release on April 23, when he failed his physical following offseason back surgery.
“I definitely knew it was a possibility, said Clifton, who was set to be paid a $5.25 million base salary in 2012 and whose release created $5.7 million in salary-cap space for the Packers. “Kind of going into it, there’s not a lot of 35-, 36-year-old left tackles in the league. I knew at some point they'd want to get younger, absolutely.”
However, Clifton has not officially retired and doesn’t plan on filing his paperwork with the league just yet. He didn’t rule out the possibility of playing this season for another team, or the idea of returning to Green Bay if the Packers were to lose a tackle or two and need him as an emergency replacement.
“Right now, I’m back in Nashville, trying to get my back as strong as possible, just trying to get healthy, and we’ll take it from there,” Clifton said. “If there’s interest, we’ll see if I’m interested and kind of play it by ear.
Asked if he has the desire to play again, Clifton replied, “If it’s the right situation, I think I would. Again, I’m going to have to get healthy, and that’s the No. 1 thing on my mind right now – to get my back as strong as I can.”
And if the Packers were to call, as they did with Clifton’s good friend and former bookend tackle Mark Tauscher in 2009? “You never know. That definitely happened with ‘Tausch,’” Clifton said. “I don’t want to see any of those guys go down with injury or have problems on the field, so I’m not looking for that to happen. But like I said, I’m going to be rehabbing and continuing to train so if I get a call from the Packers – or anybody else for that matter – if I feel the situation is the right situation for me and my family, I would be able to move forward (and play).”
After starting all 20 games, including three playoff victories and Super Bowl XLV, in 2010 to earn his second Pro Bowl selection, Clifton’s final season with the Packers did not go as he’d hoped.
Clifton, who turns 36 in June, tore his hamstring on Oct. 9 at Atlanta, then suffered a back injury in late November that further delayed his comeback. When he did return to the field, he played 25 snaps in the regular-season finale against Detroit before looking rusty in the NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the New York Giants. He was eventually benched in favor of Marshall Newhouse.
“It was tough. I tore the hamstring Week 5, and in the process of rehabbing that and trying to get back from that, I started noticing my back was getting tighter and tighter until finally we had the herniated disc. So that was tough. Extremely tough,” Clifton said. “I had the back surgery a week after the season. I was down in Nashville rehabbing, working out, went back up to Green Bay, and that’s when I got the news (of being released).”
During his 12 years in Green Bay, Clifton protected the blind side of two NFL MVPs – Brett Favre from 2000 through 2007, and Aaron Rodgers from 2008 through last season. (Favre won his MVPs before Clifton’s arrival; Rodgers won the award last season.) With Favre a sure-fire Pro Football Hall of Famer, and Rodgers becoming the NFL’s highest-rated passer during his first four seasons as a starter, Clifton said he believes Rodgers will someday follow Favre to Canton.
“I think I see what everybody else sees. He’s obviously very talented, very, very competitive – 100 percent, I think he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame, right alongside Brett and a lot of the other great quarterbacks who have come through this league,” Clifton said. “He’s got that kind of talent, that kind of will, and he’s a great, phenomenal player.”
Clifton also sees great things for Newhouse, whom he believes will be his replacement on Rodgers’ blind side.
“Marshall’s got a lot of talent. At the left tackle position you need a guy that can move, that’s athletic, has quick feet. And he has all the attributes you need in a left tackle,” Clifton said. “I’m looking to see him have a phenomenal year this year. I’ll be rooting for him.”
Never one to self-promote and frequently absent from the locker room during media availability sessions – “I’ve never been one for the limelight, I guess,” he said – the humble Clifton thanked the organization, his former teammates and the franchise’s passionate fans for their support throughout his career.
“There’s a lot of great guys and a lot of great people in that organization. Just not being around those guys on a regular basis, you’re definitely going to miss that,” Clifton said. “My 12 years in Green Bay have been phenomenal for me and my family. Playing for the Packers and having the greatest fans in professional sports back you every week, always a sold out stadium, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been my honor to play in Green Bay.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.