Packers' Wells wants top center pay

INDIANAPOLIS _ The Green Bay Packers and center Scott Wells remain so far apart in negotiations on a new contract that the team would be foolish if it hadn't already begun to seriously explore other options.

Sources at the NFL combine with knowledge of negotiations said Friday that Wells' latest proposal to the Packers requested a deal averaging about $7.5 million.

The Packers, on the other hand, are believed to be offering somewhere between $4 million and $5 million.

Wells would become an unrestricted free agent March 13 if the two sides can't reach an agreement. Even after months of contacts between vice president Russ Ball and agent Brian Parker, the two sides remain worlds apart.

"We'll figure that out," coach Mike McCarthy said Friday. "I'm hopeful and confident things can work out with Scott. If they don't, we'll have to move in a different direction."

Wells has been adamant about being paid a salary commensurate with the five highest-paid centers. At $7.5 million, he would be tied for third with St. Louis' Jason Brown behind Carolina's Ryan Kalil ($8.2 million) and the New York Jets' Nick Mangold ($7.7 million).

Although McCarthy said in November that Wells was the team's best offensive lineman both in 2010 and 2011, the Packers obviously have some concerns about Wells' age (he turned 31 in January).

They certainly want to retain Wells but apparently aren't willing to pay him anywhere close to what he's seeking. It would seem that the Packers' strategy is to hold the line and hope Wells re-signs at or close to their number after finding the market disappointing.

In March 2010, the Packers paid another 30-something offensive lineman, left tackle Chad Clifton, $19.39 million over three years ($6.46 million average) to keep him off the unrestricted market. Clifton was 33 at the time and coming off a season in which he missed four games with an ankle injury.

Ten days later, the Packers gave 32-year-old right tackle Mark Tauscher $8.263 million over two years ($4.13 million average) after his contract also had expired. He had recovered sufficiently from the second of two reconstructive knee operations to start the final nine games of '09.

Clifton was a key cog in the drive for the Super Bowl in 2010, starting all 20 games. Last season, injuries sidelined him for 10 of 17 games.

Given the presence of Bryan Bulaga and Marshall Newhouse, the Packers undoubtedly are considering releasing Clifton and his $5.25 million base salary for 2012.

Tauscher lasted just four games of 2010 before suffering a career-ending shoulder injury and being released.

The only option at center on the present roster is Evan Dietrich-Smith, the free agent who played 2{ games at right guard, one game at left guard and half a game at center last season. Although the Packers regard center as Dietrich-Smith's best position, it would be a stretch to think they'd consider entering camp with him as the only veteran alternative.

Free-agent center Sampson Genus, who spent his rookie season on the practice squad and was re-signed in January, is barely 6 feet tall and isn't considered a legitimate prospect.

Last summer, the Packers went with Dietrich-Smith over Nick McDonald as the No. 2 center. The Packers, especially McCarthy, had been extremely high on McDonald after his rookie season because of his ideal stature, athletic ability and temperament.

However, McDonald didn't show enough anchor and was outplayed by Dietrich-Smith in training camp. Despite McDonald's physical attributes, the Packers went with the smaller and less talented player in Dietrich-Smith.

McDonald then elected to take a berth on New England's practice squad rather than on Green Bay's in early September. Then he was moved to the Patriots' 53-man roster Dec. 3 and started two games effectively at center. He had never played center before the spring of 2010.

"I really think they jumped the gun on him," said Joe Linta, McDonald's agent. "They put Nick at center and he wasn't ready. They had no patience with him. You don't find guys like that."

It is perhaps fortunate for the Packers that, with 2{ weeks remaining before the start of free agency, there are about 10 veterans who could be signed as a stopgap starter for a team with designs on winning another Super Bowl.

Besides Wells, there are nine players that started at least 11 games bound for free agency. New England's Dan Koppen, a former Pro Bowl player, suffered a broken ankle in Week 1 but was healthy late in the season, according to agent Rich Rosa.

Asked to rank the available centers on a 1-to-10 basis last week, an AFC personnel director gave Houston's Chris Myers an 8; Wells and Koppen 7s; Baltimore's Matt Birk, San Diego's Nick Hardwick, Oakland's Samson Satele and Kansas City's Casey Wiegmann 6s; New England's Dan Connolly, Baltimore's Andre Gurode and Cincinnati's Mike McGlynn 5s; and Atlanta's Todd McClure, Washington's Will Montgomery and Indianapolis' Jeff Saturday 4s.

Another option would be to draft Wisconsin's Peter Konz, either with their No. 28 pick or with an earlier choice obtained in a trade. But the Packers would seem far more inclined to select defensive players early in this draft.

Saturday, who will be 37 in June, played all but six of the Colts' snaps last season.

"A team like Green Bay would fit in big-time with him," said Ralph Cindrich, Saturday's agent. "Hell, yeah, he wants to keep playing."

According to Linta, the 38-year-old Wiegmann has played close to 11,000 straight snaps. He played all 1,053 in 2011.

Linta also represents Birk, who played all but 21 of the Ravens' 1,080 snaps in 2011.

The agent can't be sure that Birk, who is 35, and the undersized Wiegmann will decide to keep playing. If they do, they are competent veterans with a world of experience that would help them assimilate a new offense.

As for Koppen, Rosa said his client hopes to remain with the Patriots but isn't ruling anything out.

"This is definitely going to be musical chairs," Linta said.

___

(c)2012 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at www.jsonline.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

_____

Topics: t000046469,t000007135,t000007067,t000003194,t000007085,t000003183,g000065627,g000362661,g000066164,g000221226