GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Josh Sitton is doing his best not to think about it, although he admits that when he’s away from 1265 Lombardi Ave., he’s failing at it. After eight seasons -- and three Pro Bowls -- with the Green Bay Packers, the veteran left guard knows that his ninth season here could be his last.
“It’s something that’s on your mind a good amount,” Sitton admitted.
The Packers believe they have six starting-caliber offensive linemen: Sitton and fellow guard T.J. Lang, left tackle David Bakhtiari, right tackle Bryan Bulaga and centers JC Tretter and Corey Linsley. Four of them -- Sitton, Lang, Bakhtiari and Tretter -- are in the last year of their contracts, and they know that Econ 101 dictates that they won’t all be back in 2017.
So, Sitton has told family and friends that this is the year to come to Lambeau Field to see him play. For as much as he’d like to stay with the team that took him in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL draft out of Central Florida, he’s planning with his head, not his heart.
“I don’t think I approach the season any differently; I don’t think any of us do,” Sitton said during an appearance on ESPN Wisconsin’s “Wilde & Tausch” last week. “But [Lambeau Field] is a place a lot of people have on their bucket lists, and it’s a great place to come watch a game. So I’ve definitely told people, ‘Hey, get your butts up here, it could be my last year.’
“But you approach the season the same. You go prepare the same way, you approach the game the same way on the football field. Whatever happens, happens. It’s an exciting time, whether we get re-signed here or we go to free agency, for all four of us. So we’re just going to enjoy it.”
That said, Sitton confessed that the uncertainty does weigh on him. Two years ago, he started a construction business with high-school buddy Chris Jaubert in their native Pensacola, Florida, but Sitton wants to play as long as he can in the NFL and sees an opportunity to be among the league’s highest-paid guards.
“When I’m at work and doing things, you don’t really think about it. It’s not something we talk about in the locker room,” Sitton said. “But yeah, it’s definitely on your mind and it’s definitely something you want to get resolved sooner than later. It’s another opportunity to get another contract in this league, something a lot of people aren’t able to do. I feel good about where I’m at right now, and I’m excited for whatever comes.”
To that end, Sitton lost 25 pounds this summer in an effort to slim down not only for his wedding to longtime girlfriend Kristen Hewitt, but also to ease the burden on his chronically sore back, which in turn would allow him to practice more. Sitton slimmed down with the help of a personal chef recommended by Adam Korzun, the Packers’ director of performance nutrition.
“That’s what I needed. I’m a big guy, I come from the South -- we’ve got a lot of great food -- and I love to eat. So having [a chef] for a couple months was very beneficial,” said Sitton, who is officially listed at 318 pounds and says he’s put “10-12 pounds” back on because he can’t anchor against NFL defensive tackles at such a light weight. “I feel really good right now. It’s probably the best I’ve felt in three or four years.”
And while Sitton’s wife and mother-in-law are on a European vacation without him -- “Just two lovebirds, having a good time on their honeymoon while I’m stuck in training camp,” he said with a laugh -- he’s been in Green Bay having arguably his best camp since his rookie year, when he was on course to start before a knee injury sidelined him. He believes it’s been a combination of the weight he lost and some new rehabilitation-style exercises he started doing during the offseason that he’s carried over.
“The back feels really good,” Sitton said, adding that back injury dates to his college days. “Last year and the year before, I think I came into camp and it locked up right away and I missed a couple days. And the offseason before last, my back was locked up the whole time. I didn’t have any of those issues this year. It feels really good.”
Since becoming a full-time starter in 2009, Sitton has started 123 of a possible 125 games (including playoffs), despite the back issues and a painful dislocated toe that plagued him throughout the 2014 season. Last year, he was the only starter on the line who didn’t miss a game.
“Those things are invaluable lessons to young people,” offensive line coach James Campen said of the example Sitton and Lang set. “The line position, you fight through [injury]. And [injuries] are going to hurt sometimes. But you know what? Be accountable to one another. Be accountable to your team.
“I think it’s important. The trickle effect.”
Sitton also took one for the team in last year’s regular-season finale when Bakhtiari was sidelined with an ankle injury and the Packers were desperate at left tackle. Sitton, who hadn’t played the position since high school, moved outside and struggled mightily before moving back to guard when Tretter filled in the following week in the playoffs. The Packers added a pair of tackles in the draft -- Indiana’s Jason Spriggs in the second round and Stanford’s Kyle Murphy in the sixth -- so Sitton’s days at tackle appear to be over.
“[Spriggs] is going to be a good football player for us. And we need that -- that was obvious,” Sitton said. “I don’t think you can send No. 71 out there to play tackle anymore. We kind of saw how disastrous that was.”
“Disastrous” is probably too strong a word to describe how last season went on the offensive line. But with injuries and inconsistent play -- quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked 46 times -- the unit certainly wasn’t as dominant as it was in 2014, when only one starter (Bulaga) missed just one game. While Linsley (hamstring) remains on the physically unable to perform list, Sitton said the line is “as good as we’ve been this early in camp” despite limited preseason game snaps.
Now, Sitton hopes he and the rest of the line stays healthy, which will make the Packers’ free-agency decisions that much tougher.
“I don’t want to be the guy who goes out there limping every day and feeling like crap. So when I get to the point where I think I’m not performing at a high level, that’s when I’ll hang it up,” Sitton said. “[But] the combination of the rehab stuff I do and losing the weight is a great combination, and I’m hoping everything stays good. [Injuries] are going to happen, and if they do, I’m just going to tough through it and play through it like I have a million times.”