Guards Among Packers Facing Offseason Decisions

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Less than 24 hours removed from experiencing a season-ending loss to the rival Minnesota Vikings, players milled around the Green Bay Packers locker room Monday morning, cleaning out their lockers and preparing to head their separate ways as the offseason began.

In the wake of the defeat Sunday night, there was much speculation around the team about the future of legendary quarterback Brett Favre. Will he come back? Has he played his last game at Lambeau Field?

Favre's answers to those questions aren't expected to come for a few weeks or even months, but as the free agency period nears, many of his teammates were answering the same kind of questions Monday. Had they played their final game for the Green and Gold?

Two of the most high-profile names on the Packers' list of upcoming free agents are two of the men that have protected Favre for the better part of a decade, guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle.

While All-Pro right guard Rivera has reached the end of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent when the NFL calendar turns over March 1, Wahle explained that although his contract technically holds another three seasons on it, it was designed three years ago for him to likely be released around the opening of the free agency window.

"I'm due a roster bonus and then my ensuing salary is pretty large as well, so my cap number next year is a little over $10 million," Wahle explained. "We wrote it into the contract because I wanted a three-year deal and they wanted to spread it out over more years, so in order to do so and to make sure we still had a three-year deal, we put this huge cap number in the middle of it so they would have to re-sign me or release me."

Both Wahle and Rivera expressed a desire to stay with the team they have been with for their entire professional careers - Rivera since being a sixth-round draft choice in 1996 and Wahle since being drafted by the Pack in '98. However, they admitted they knew the potential moves they would have to make, given the increased nature of the business side of things in the current NFL.

"This is the part of the business that nobody likes to talk about," said Rivera. "This is my first time being a free agent, (but) I don't feel any different. I feel like I'm going to be a Packer next year deep down inside. We'll see what happens."

Wahle said he hopes that something might happen before hitting the open market that would extend his run along one of the finest offensive lines in the NFL.

"If they want to get me back, they have an opportunity to do so," said the seven-year veteran. "If they feel like they want to let me go, then on March 2, I'll have to go find another job. Because it doesn't start until March, we have plenty of time to get something done if they would like to."

He added that he will be careful not to simply jump for the highest offer since he knows there are many more important things than money - winning being among them.

"Like I said before, it's not always just about the money. You really want to put yourself in a good situation and I think those kind of things have to be looked at. When we were 1-4, my household was pretty miserable. I don't think you would want to take money to be with a team where you're going to be 1-4 all the time. I think there's a lot more things in life and in football than money alone.

For Rivera, the nine-year vet stated that his family and their ties to Green Bay will play a big part in where he will be lining up when the 2005 season rolls around.

"My family definitely has a lot to do with it," he said. "I've got three boys and two of them go to school here in town, so the decisions become harder to make. If you were a single guy in this league and a free agent, you wouldn't have to worry about moving around anywhere, but when you're married and you have a home here and your boys are going to school here, it makes it tougher."

However the offseason shakes out, it's safe to say these two players have enjoyed playing in Green Bay, and would love to continue to do so. Before leaving Monday, Rivera placed his future in the hands of the team.

"Whatever happens now, it's totally up to the Green Bay Packers," he said. "We'll see how they want to handle it. They know the way I feel about the team and the organization, so I'll just take it one day at a time and see what happens."

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