Jim Owczarski and Olivia Reiner discuss the offensive line's health in 2019 and if the Packers should re-sign free agent tackle Bryan Bulaga. Packers News
Last in a series on the Packers' unrestricted free agents and their likelihood of remaining with the team.
GREEN BAY - For a decade, Bryan Bulaga has stood as a pillar on the Green Bay Packers offensive line.
He was a first-round pick. The youngest player to start in a Super Bowl. He has been through two ACL reconstructions, recovering from both surgeries at warp speed, and has started 111 of his 115 games over the past nine seasons. All of them in a Packers jersey, that No. 75 on his back.
He has worn green and gold so long it is difficult to imagine Bulaga in another uniform. That time may be coming, however. The Packers had no formal negotiations with him at the NFL scouting combine, PackersNews reported. Usually, that signals a player is free to explore his options.
The Packers could always return to Bulaga if his market doesn’t unfold as expected in free agency, but the veteran right tackle had an ideal season at the perfect time. Although Bulaga missed regular-season snaps in six games, including playing only 11.4 percent at San Francisco (knee) and 35.4 percent against Philadelphia (shoulder), he started all 16 games for only the second time in his career.
Bulaga’s sense of timing only serves to increase his free-agent price tag. And general manager Brian Gutekunst has shown he spends dollars on projected production, not the past. That evaluation is at the heart of whether or not to re-sign Bulaga.
Age next season: 31.
Initially acquired: Drafted first round, 23rd overall pick in 2010.
Stats: 16 starts, 898 snaps.
Argument for: For all the attrition throughout his career, Bulaga showed last season he’s still playing at a high level. His toughness is exemplary, as Bulaga returned from various injuries in 2019 to start all 16 games. Always an excellent pass blocker, Bulaga transitioned well to Matt LaFleur’s outside-zone scheme in the run game. While left tackle David Bakhtiari's presence has become more prominent on the offensive line, Bulaga remains an unquestioned leader. There’s also a case to be made for continuity. With Bulaga at right tackle, the Packers would be returning everyone from an offensive line that was the offense’s strength in 2019. If they don’t re-sign him, the Packers are adding another glaring need to an offense with no shortage of holes.
Argument against: Nothing cuts a career short like age and attrition. Even if Bulaga’s extensive injury history didn’t catch up to him last season, it will eventually. At 31, he is at an age when even players with relatively clean medical histories — very different than Bulaga’s — see their careers begin to slow. That doesn’t mean Bulaga can’t have good years left, but it’s a gamble. The risk is only increased when considering Bulaga’s market value after a stellar season won’t be cheap. It comes down to whether Gutekunst is willing to place that bet on someone with Bulaga’s age and injury history, or look for younger, less expensive alternatives.
Quotables: “Bryan is a really good player. He obviously had a really good year. He was able to be out there pretty much the entire season, which was important. Of course we’d love to have a guy like Bryan Bulaga back, but we’re still getting through all that and seeing how these things are going to work.” — Brian Gutekunst