Quarterback Aaron Rodgers' blindside protector is coming back for an 11th season in green and gold.
Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton has re-signed with the Packers after being an unrestricted free agent for roughly one day. Clifton has been Green Bay's primary starter at left tackle for each of his 10 seasons in the NFL since being drafted in the second round by the Packers back in 2000.
"Green Bay is the place I wanted to play all along," said Clifton, who visited the Washington Redskins on the first day of free agency, Friday, but agreed on a new contract with the Packers by nightfall. "There was never any question about that. This is a place I've spent 10 years, and it's a place where both my sons have been born.
"I'm very fortunate that my agent and Russ Ball and (GM) Ted (Thompson) were able to work something out and I don't have to think about (playing somewhere else). I can finish my career here in Green Bay, and that's what I really wanted to do."
Clifton's return is crucial for the Packers' offense because there was no other sure-fire option at left tackle on the current roster. Second-year pro T.J. Lang filled in some for Clifton as a rookie last season, but Lang is most likely better suited for right tackle or perhaps left guard.
The Packers still need a succession plan at the position, but should they find a potential left tackle of the future in this April's draft, he will have more time to develop and get some seasoning behind Clifton while the veteran is still playing.
Clifton has started 143 games in his career (151 including playoffs) and has been relatively durable over the past seven seasons despite an extensive game-day regimen he uses to get his body ready to play.
Since suffering a devastating pelvic injury that ended his 2002 season, Clifton has missed just six games over the last seven years. Four of those came this past season due to an early-season ankle injury that kept getting re-aggravated.
Clifton was hoping for a much healthier 2009 after having arthroscopic surgeries, or "clean-out" procedures, on both shoulders and both knees last offseason. But a badly sprained ankle in Week 2 against Cincinnati put him in rehab mode off-and-on throughout the year, and his season ended with one more ankle tweak in the fourth quarter of the NFC Wild Card playoff game at Arizona.
The offense definitely missed Clifton and the stability he brings to the front line when he was out last year. Two of the full games he missed were against NFC North rival Minnesota, and the Vikings sacked Rodgers 14 times in those two contests. All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen, matched up against either Lang or Daryn Colledge in those games, accounted for 7 1/2 of the 14 sacks.
"In the past two months, the ankle has healed up, and it's only going to feel better as we go along," Clifton said. "The knees and shoulders, they feel fine for right now. Normally with me it takes at least a month or month-and-a-half after the season to get the body feeling good and for the wear-and-tear of the season to dissipate.
"I feel like I definitely have another two or three years, so we'll see how that goes. As of today, I definitely don't see why I couldn't play another two or three years."
Only 18 players in team history, most recently receiver Donald Driver, have reached 150 regular-season games played for the Packers, a milestone Clifton should hit in 2010 with good health.
As for the coming season, Clifton is excited about the team's prospects and is glad he'll be around to see where the 2010 Packers are headed.
"This team has so much talent from top to bottom, a ton of young talent on both sides of the ball," he said. "That's undeniable, and it would be foolish not to want to be a part of that.
"I think we'll have a really good team this coming season. Nothing's going to be easy, and I believe our division will be really tough. But this team has a lot of talent, a lot of potential, and we just have to put that together and see how we do."