Packers rebuild line for less than $3 million
For the second time in less than a week, the Green Bay Packers have addressed their perilous offensive guard situation, this time adding 10-year veteran Matt O'Dwyer, a tough, in-line blocker whose 2004 season in Tampa Bay was all but wiped out by injury.
O'Dwyer, 32, has agreed to a one-year contract that includes a $25,000 signing bonus and the league minimum base salary of $765,000 for a player of his tenure. Because the so-called "veteran discount" provides teams who sign longtime veterans to minimum contracts, O'Dwyer will count just $455,000 against the Packers' 2005 salary cap.
Last week, Green Bay signed former New England backup Adrian Klemm to a two-year, $2.6 million contract, and the five-year veteran is being projected as the team's starting left guard. O'Dwyer will have a chance to win the starting job at right guard. Others competing for the two guard spots include Grey Ruegamer, Kevin Barry and Steve Morley.
The Packers lost both starters, left guard Mike Wahle to Carolina and right guard Marco Rivera to Dallas, in the early days of free agency. Their defections, while hardly unexpected, ravaged a starting quintet that had been together for five seasons and which was regarded around the league as one of the NFL's premier blocking units.
Compounding the problem was the fact that the Packers did not have much salary cap room with which to work. In re-signing Ruegamer and adding Klemm and O'Dwyer, the Packers invested just $2.97 million in total compensation for 2005. By comparison, Wahle and Rivera received signing bonuses alone totaling $19 million from their new teams.
Certainly assistant coach Larry Beightol, one of the NFL's top line mentors, has his work cut out for him in reshaping the unit. The task will become significantly easier, however, if O'Dwyer and Klemm report to camp healthy.
O'Dwyer, whose résumé includes 105 starts, was signed by Tampa Bay last spring as a free agent and penciled in as the starting right guard. But he tore a pectoral muscle while lifting weights in the offseason, and appeared in just four games, with no starts. Green Bay doctors administered O'Dwyer a thorough physical exam when he visited with team officials late last week, and they feel he is fully recovered.
A second-round pick by the New York Jets in the 1995 draft, O'Dwyer has made 122 regular-season appearances. He has started all 16 games in five different seasons and was a full-time starter as recently as 2003.
The former Northwestern star, always an aggressive blocker in the running game, has played with the Jets (1995-98), Bengals (1999-2003) and Bucs (2004).
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .
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