Chad Clifton, Brett Favre's blind-side shield the last four seasons, has signed a multi-year contract with the Green Bay Packers, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman announced Wednesday.
Because Clifton's original contract had not yet expired, the move is considered an extension, and not an unrestricted free-agent signing.
In conjunction with the signing, the Packers retain their franchise designation for future years.
The signing ensures that the Packers' five starters along their offensive line - a Green Bay strength in recent years - will remain intact for a fourth straight season. With Clifton as a pass-blocking anchor, the unit allowed just 19 sacks in 2003 and 22 in 2001, the two lowest totals by any Packers offense during a 16-game season. The line also ranked first statistically in the NFL last season, posting the best combined ranking in two major O-line categories: rushing yards per game (159.9) and sacks allowed per pass play (one sack every 25.9 plays).
Clifton, 27, one of the league's most talented left tackles, started every game in 2003. The 6-foot-5, 330-pound tackle from Tennessee will line up for a fifth straight season at left tackle. The Packers haven't had that level of consistency at the position since Ken Ruettgers protected the quarterback's blind side from 1986-95. Clifton is a key reason why the Packers have allowed only 68 sacks since 2001, the NFL's best mark.
His story is one of resiliency and determination. One year ago, Clifton rehabilitated from a devastating hip injury, sustained during a 2002 contest at Tampa Bay, that easily could've ended his career. The road from hospital bed back to the gridiron - with daily help from the team's strength and conditioning, and medical staffs - began with learning again how to walk, and ended with the best season of his career.
In fact, Clifton did not miss a snap in 2003 - 1,031 offensive plays - the Packers' only offensive player with that distinction. That's an achievement in itself, considering the 2002 injury. But what he accomplished along the way borders on the remarkable. According to offensive line coach Larry Beightol, Clifton was accountable for only a half-sack during that extensive and challenging, 16-game process. And that, Beightol will tell you, is about as good as it gets.
Beightol's current group of starters - Clifton, right tackle Mark Tauscher, guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle, and center Mike Flanagan - did not miss a start in 2003. The unit is believed to be the Packers' first offensive line to start every game in a season since Vince Lombardi's prized offensive front did it early in his tenure.
Peyton Manning's blind-side tackle as a sophomore at Tennessee, Clifton helped the Volunteers to the Southeastern Conference title and a berth in the 1997 national championship game. That season, the Vols allowed only one sack for every 35 snaps, a school record, and Manning - then a senior -- broke school passing marks in yards and touchdowns. The next season, 1998, Clifton and the undefeated Vols won the national title, defeating Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl. A four-year starter (1996-99), Clifton was second-team All-America as a senior.
As part of his hip and leg rehabilitation last offseason, Clifton purchased a mountain bike and took up bicycling. With a new outlook on life, he helped promote kids' bicycle safety and children's hospital , and shot public-service announcements for the American Red Cross, among several community appearances.