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Packers 2020 Free Agents: Bryan Bulaga remains one of the team’s biggest questions

What will the Packers do at right tackle? A draft success, a draft failure, and a surprise at that position make up the team’s free agent offensive line group in 2020.

NFL: NOV 24 Packers at 49ers Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Each winter, Acme Packing Company breaks down the Green Bay Packers’ roster from the previous year by position to examine the team’s performance and needs in the offseason. Today we continue this series by looking at the offensive line.

Entering the 2019 season, the Green Bay Packers had a massive hole at the right guard position. The team looked outside of the organization for assistance there, bringing in a free agent in Billy Turner to provide at least a steady starter at that spot on the offensive line.

Heading into the 2020 free agency period, the Packers’ biggest question is one spot over on the line, at right tackle. The team’s stalwart tackle for the past decade, Bryan Bulaga, will be a free agent for the second time this year following the expiration of the five-year deal he signed in 2015. (Technically, Bulaga signed that deal before the start of free agency but after the negotiation period, so we’re counting that as testing the free agent market.)

But behind Bulaga, the Packers will have a pair of additional free agent linemen this spring. One was seemingly intended to be Bulaga’s heir at right tackle, while another was a shrewd late-season acquisition by general manager Brian Gutekunst who paid dividends in the postseason.

Here’s a look at the Packers’ free agent offensive linemen.

Bryan Bulaga

NFL Experience: 10 years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
Expiring Contract: 5 years, $33.75 million

Set to turn 31 years old about a week after free agency opens, Bulaga should still have some viable years left in him. Still, he has been struck by a multitude of injuries over his career, including torn ACLs, sprained MCLs, and concussions.

Bulaga has started 31 of a possible 34 games over the past two years, however, including one of the team’s two postseason games this January. That playoff game that he missed, the team’s Divisional victory over the Seattle Seahawks, came after he was struck with the flu bug that went around the locker room in the weeks leading up to that game.

When he is on the field, Bulaga remains an excellent pass-blocker and a plus run-blocker. What the Packers must assess when considering paying Bulaga for a third time is whether his abilities are worth taking a chance on his health, as well as whether his health will hold up through a few more seasons.

If the Packers choose not to re-sign Bulaga, the ramifications could be significant. That could send the team looking for a replacement in the NFL Draft, or they could move Billy Turner out to right tackle and insert Lucas Patrick as a starter at guard. That would affect the continuity on the line, so would another $6-7 million per year deal for Bulaga be worth not taking that chance?

Jason Spriggs

NFL Experience: 4 years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
Expiring Contract: 4 years, $5.004 million

When Spriggs arrived as a second-round draft pick in 2016, he was viewed as the right tackle of the future and the backup swing tackle of the present. Spriggs never played up to his impressive athletic potential, however, starting a handful of games at right guard and right tackle in his first three years. Perhaps most damning, he struggled mightily in preseason action each year, even against lesser players.

In 2019, Spriggs never got much of a chance, landing on injured reserve early in training camp with a back injury. Some team might take a chance on him on a league-minimum deal, but his time in Green Bay looks done.

Jared Veldheer

NFL Experience: 10 years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
Expiring Contract: 1 year, $3.5 million total (earned $832k)

A free agent last offseason, Veldheer weighed his options heavily before signing with the New England Patriots in early May. However, quickly thereafter he determined that he was not physically up for the grind of an NFL season and retired.

But in November, Veldheer found himself in great shape and with the fire to play again. After asking for his release from New England, Gutekunst scooped him up on the waiver wire to help provide veteran depth at tackle after Alex Light’s struggles filling in for Bulaga against the San Francisco 49ers.

A few weeks later, Bulaga would get a concussion in the regular season finale and it was Veldheer instead of Light who filled in for him in the second half. That excellent performance gave the coaching staff confidence in Veldheer when he needed to step in on a last-minute basis against the Seahawks when Bulaga could not play due to illness.

If the Packers want to bring back one of these two players but find cost to be a premium, Veldheer would surely come at a cheaper price. However, he is almost three years older than Bulaga despite the two players entering the NFL in the same year. A 33-year-old swing tackle sounds a lot better than planning on having that player start, however, and the Packers should seriously consider bringing Veldheer back on a short-term deal if he is open to that kind of role once again.