There is at least a 50-50 chance that the Green Bay Packers choose to extend impending free agent right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a team-friendly deal. After all, the veteran had a career season in 2019, staying healthy enough to start all 16 games and maintain a high level of play as a blocker in both the passing and rushing games. If the Packers choose not to re-sign Bulaga, it will likely come down to the long-term outlook of Bulaga’s injury-riddled past and how comfortable the team is with his body holding up in the future.
Should Green Bay decide not to lock up Bulaga for at least another season, it will result in a fairly rare offseason with a change at a starting tackle spot.
When healthy, Bulaga has paired with David Bakhtiari to create a bookend of starting tackles since 2014. It was during the 2013 offseason that Bakhtiari was drafted in the fourth round and went on to start all 16 games, replacing former left tackle Marshall Newhouse, who had started at the blind side for the previous two seasons. That same year, a torn ACL eliminated Bulaga’s 2013 season; he suffered the injury on Family Night after he was initially slated to move to the left side, paving the way for Bakhtiari to start as a rookie and forcing Don Barclay into action at right tackle.
But between Barclay, Newhouse, Bakhtiari, and Bulaga, who joined the team in 2010, the Packers have had a very stable list of just four regular starting tackles over the past nine years.
Even prior to that quartet of players, Green Bay has had plenty of continuity at tackle. Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher arrived as draft picks in the 2000 NFL Draft and went on to be the team’s primary starters for most games up until Tauscher and Clifton retired in 2010 and 2011, respectively. It truly has been rare for the Packers to be faced with uncertainty at either tackle position from one year to the next.
Green Bay has combated the majority of those changes through the draft. Clifton, Tauscher, Bulaga, and Bakhtiari each started more than 10 games in their rookie seasons with Green Bay as draft picks, while Newhouse started 13 games in his second year. Overall, the team has invested heavily in collegiate offensive linemen since 1999, as the Packers have selected at least one offensive lineman in 20 of the past 21 drafts with the lone year without a pick coming in 2015. When the Packers moved up to draft Jason Spriggs four years ago, they thought they were taking their next future starting tackle. However, Spriggs enters free agency this season after spending the year on injured reserve and failing to stay healthy or impressive enough to earn a longer stint.
If Bulaga does not return next season, right tackle becomes perhaps the Packers’ most pressing issue, regardless of the potential holes at wide receiver and inside linebacker. It can be expected that Green Bay will add another tackle via at some point via the 2020 NFL Draft, but the organization could have its next right tackle already on the roster. Billy Turner started 16 games for the Packers at right guard last season after signing as a free agent, but had starts at tackle in 2016 and 2018 before coming to Green Bay. The lucrative nature of Turner’s deal with Green Bay suggests the veteran could be part of the Packers’ transition plans.
However the Packers choose to replace Bulaga, a departure after ten years with the team will be difficult to swallow. And either fortunately or unfortunately for Green Bay, the team does not have much recent experience in making swaps at the tackle spots to lean on.