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Green Bay Packers: 4 Key Veterans Who'll Take a Backseat in 2012

Matt SteinCorrespondent IIMarch 19, 2012

Green Bay Packers: 4 Key Veterans Who'll Take a Backseat in 2012

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    The Green Bay Packers will be looking to improve on a disappointing playoff loss to the New York Giants in 2012, and in order to do that they'll need to move on from some key veterans.

    While these following four players have certainly been a huge part of the success of the Packers in recent years, their time of being truly effective has passed. Here's a look at four veterans who will be taking a backseat in 2012.

Donald Driver, WR

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    If the Green Bay Packers weren't loaded with wide receivers, I'd be all for letting Donald Driver have a part in the offense.

    However, with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb all being better options than Driver, it's simply time for him to take a backseat. His overall numbers have been dropping the past two seasons as he has become a less effective offensive option.

    The Packers also need to look at the $5.6 million that Driver is due in 2012 and realize that that is way too much to be paying a fourth or fifth receiving option. Green Bay either needs to restructure his contract or get rid of him to free up some cap space.

    It will be hard to say goodbye to one of the team's greatest receivers, but all good things must come to an end.

Chad Clifton, OT

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    Chad Clifton has had an extremely successful and productive career for the Green Bay Packers since joining the team in 2000. He's been voted to two Pro Bowls, and he probably should have been voted to a few more.

    However, injuries have taken a toll on Clifton in recent years and especially during the 2011 season. From a hamstring injury that sidelined him early in the season to a recent back surgery, Clifton's body seems to be becoming quite fragile. He'll be 36 years old at the start of the 2012 season, and with his medical history, it would be difficult to be confident in him staying healthy for another season.

    Throw on top of his health the $5.7 million paycheck he is due in 2012 and it seems likely Clifton will either retire or be released. With young players like Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga on the roster, Clifton can be confident that he is leaving Aaron Rodgers' blindside in good hands.

Ryan Pickett, DE

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    The entire defensive line for the Green Bay Packers needs to be completely revamped. This unit was unproductive in 2011 as none of the key contributors made much of an impact.

    Since Ryan Pickett is the oldest member among C.J. Wilson, Mike Neal and Jarius Wynn, he's the one that will need to take a backseat. As a 32-year-old defensive lineman, Pickett seemed slower, weaker and more sluggish in 2011 than in the past. He was unable to get pressure on the quarterback and was even less effective against the run.

    Green Bay is likely to look at drafting some defensive lineman early in the 2012 NFL draft, which will likely be to begin to replace Pickett. Look for his snap count to take a significant hit this next season, especially if a rookie shows promise during training camp and the preseason.

A.J. Hawk, LB

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    This was a tough one to come to grips with because even though A.J. Hawk hasn't been spectacular, he has been a solid contributor for the Green Bay Packers since being drafted in 2006.

    However, Green Bay shouldn't settle for a solid contributor at middle linebacker. With Desmond Bishop having a breakout year in 2011 before a knee injury, the Packers could have a truly dominant linebacker corps if they could find a suitable replacement for Hawk.

    The problem is that Green Bay can't be sure if Rob Francios or D.J. Smith can replace Hawk. Yes, they were effective when replacing Bishop, but starting a full 16 games is an entirely different matter.

    Another option for the Packers would be to look at a middle linebacker like Dont'a Hightower late in the first round of the draft. Hightower has a similar skill set to Hawk, but his potential and ceiling are much higher.

    As difficult as it may be, it is time for the Packers to figure out how to get players other than Hawk more playing time.

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