With Randall Cobb now officially back on board, the Green Bay Packers have checked off the biggest item on their to-do list for the offseason. Fans also let out a big sigh of relief since they also will not have to worry about the Packers replacing Cobb.
Ted Thompson’s work is not done yet, though. With Cobb back in the fold, focus now turns on what will happen with free agent offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga,
Cobb was far and away the absolute biggest loss the Packers could have suffered in free agency, but don’t underestimate what Bulaga brings to the table. The offensive line had its best season in years in 2014 and Green Bay would be wise to keep the unit intact in 2015.
Bulaga reportedly wants between $7-8 million per season, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. At $7 million per season, that would make Bulaga the highest paid offensive lineman on the team, surpassing guard Josh Sitton who makes $6.8 million per season.
Is Bulaga worth that kind of money? That is the question Thompson and the Packers must answer when determining their plan for the offensive line. Again, the unit had its best season last year but for Bulaga, he missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL and seven games in 2012 due to injury. The only full season he has seen was his rookie year in 2010.
When he has been on the field, though, Bulaga has been one of the best lineman for the Packers. He is a natural left tackle who was moved to the right side thanks to the emergence of David Bakhtiari in 2013 when Bulaga was on injured reserve.
Keeping an intact offensive line has been a challenge for the Packers under head coach Mike McCarthy, who due to injuries as well as performance had to move people around on a consistent basis. He finally hit the jackpot in 2014 only to perhaps see the line broken up due to Bulaga allegedly seeking more money in free agency.
Should the Packers lose Bulaga, there are two options in house that could potentially replace him. One is backup center JC Tretter, who has flashed potential but also struggled with injuries himself his first two seasons in the NFL. He was playing well in the preseason last year until he got hurt and Corey Linsley seized control of the starting position.
This relegated Tretter to the bench, though he did see some action at right tackle in the loss to the Bills after Bulaga suffered an apparent concussion. Tretter struggled a bit and was memorably blown up by Mario Williams in the game as the Packers were trying to mount a comeback. The Packers are still high on him and there was enough talent there to name him the opening day starting center last year. He just needs to stay healthy, as he never made that Week 1 start.
Another option is Don Barclay, who missed all of 2014 with an ACL injury suffered in training camp. However for the Packers to consider him, they must first get him under contract as Barclay is also a free agent. Unlike Bulaga, Barclay is a restricted free agent meaning the Packers have the chance to offer him a tender which would allow them to match any offer any other team makes him. The odds are fairly good Green Bay will be able to hold onto him, thanks ironically to him missing all of 2014. As a swing tackle/guard, Barclay would still be a good insurance policy in the chance Bulaga does return to the Packers.
As far as any potential free agents, don’t look for the Packers to make a big splash here. There are no worthy upgrades in this year’s free agent field of right tackles, though Marshall Newhouse is an unrestricted free agent for those looking to go down memory lane (read with heavy sarcasm).
Then there is the draft. It’s all but a given that Green Bay will take an inside linebacker in the first couple rounds but don’t be surprised if an offensive tackle is taken around the same time as well. It likely won’t be in the first round, but finding a tackle in the third or fourth round (Bakhtiari was a fourth round pick in 2013) is by no means out of the question. They could easily select someone like Daryl Williams out of Oklahoma or even stay in Wisconsin with Rob Havenstein if they feel like waiting until later rounds.
All things considered, if re-signing Cobb was priority one for the Packers, bringing Bulaga back would have to be second, rather than priority 1-A. He’s an immense talent and his contributions to a beat-up offensive line as a rookie were critical in Green Bay’s run to the Super Bowl XLV title.
Still, football is a business and sometimes teams have to draw a line in the sand. If Bulaga really wants more money than Sitton, then the Packers may have to let him go. Thankfully, there are plenty other options for the Packers to consider here and the loss would not be felt as strongly had Cobb left.
Anything can happen as free agency officially gets underway, but change appears to be coming again to the Green Bay offensive line. It’s up to Thompson and McCarthy to make sure the potential loss of Bulaga is a ripple rather than a full wave.