As Green Bay officials spent the week evaluating fresh offensive line talent, we were debating the merits of two incumbents. Spurred by Russell's question during our weekly SportsNation chat, I asked you whether the Packers should prioritize left tackle Chad Clifton or right tackle Mark Tauscher as both players approach unrestricted free agency.
Tehneilz didn't like the premise: In an uncapped year, why should the Packers have to choose between the two? Wrote Tehneilz: "The Packers have a ton of money, and unless someone offers ridiculous amounts of money to either player, the Packers should be able to keep both. They can get by with [them] ... next season, draft some young guys this year and hope they can develop in a year or two."
My point, Tehneilz, was that the Packers need to jump-start a succession plan at both positions. So let me phrase it another way. Where is that need more urgent?
Benjammin8322 voiced a common complaint about Clifton, whom he called "one of the most penalized players in the NFL and a great source of frustration for myself and a lot of other Packer fans. I say we should make Mark Tauscher the priority."
(I don't have rankings for total penalties, but I'm not sure how valuable that list would be given the subjective nature of holding penalties. However, ESPN Stats & Information did track false starts in 2009. Clifton had five, tying him for No. 17 in the NFL. Tampa Bay's Jeremy Trueblood led the league with 10.)
Tauscher was the Packers' "savior" in 2009, wrote PackAttack62, while Clifton "struggled the entire year."
PackAttack62 noted that backup T.J. Lang is better suited to play right tackle, but added: "[T]he way he filled Clifton's spot when he was out doesn't worry me so much [if the Packers are] without Clifton then if we were without Tauscher."
Some of you suggested a scenario of Lang opening the season at left tackle, with Tauscher on the right side. The idea would be for Lang to one day replace Tauscher but in the short-term, he would give the Packers a better duo than Clifton-Lang.
Artimaticus8 understood that reasoning but countered: "I feel that if we keep Tauscher and rely on Lang at LT, then when we go to move Lang to RT, he won't play as well because he began to learn in depth the LT position, and not the RT position. Part of me says make Tauscher the priority, but yet I feel Clifton must be the priority. If we manage to bring back Clifton for one more year, we can draft a top notch LT in the draft and they don't have to start right away. Since Clifton never makes it a full season, it will give the LT we draft some room to develop."
My take? In the end, I think you have to prioritize the best players -- regardless of position. To me, that means bringing back Tauscher to play right tackle in 2010. Lang gives the Packers substantial flexibility. While he isn't a long-term answer at left tackle, he can play there if necessary and also provide insurance against Tauscher's historically balky knees.
I wouldn't be opposed to bringing back Clifton as well, but I think his health situation during the past two years suggests it's time to start the process of replacing him. That process needs to start with the upcoming draft.