Editor's note: Prior to the start of the new league year in March, Press-Gazette Media is counting down the top unrestricted, restricted and exclusive-right free agents the Green Bay Packers will have to decide on this offseason.
It didn't take long for the Green Bay Packers to be reminded of how valuable Don Barclay was during his first two NFL seasons.
The Packers lost the do-everything offensive lineman to a torn ACL early in training camp. When starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga exited with a knee sprain in the regular-season opener, the Seattle Seahawks quickly took advantage of his replacement, Derek Sherrod.
Sherrod gave up a pair of sacks, including one that resulted in a safety during the 36-16 loss. He fared a little better the following week against the New York Jets, but the Packers shadowed him with a tight end or running back.
Bulaga returned in Week 3 against Detroit and started every game the rest of the season, though he suffered a concussion in Week 15 against Buffalo. Coincidentally, the Packers gave up a critical safety late in the 21-13 loss to the Bills with JC Tretter replacing Bulaga in this occurrence.
It was Barclay's ability to roll with the punches that allowed the Packers to survive Bulaga's absence when the former first-round pick was sidelined for the better portion of two seasons with hip and knee injuries.
Barclay, an undrafted free agent in 2012, proved to be a dependable in his 18 spot starts. His ability to play anywhere on the line was a catch-all for the offense. He'd even started snapping the ball at center prior to his injury.
Now a restricted free agent, Barclay should factor into the Packers' offseason plans with Bulaga headed toward unrestricted free agency. General manager Ted Thompson can maintain Barclay's rights by tendering him a first-right-of-refusal offer sheet.
The Packers used the approach to hold onto inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore last offseason. A former undrafted free agent in 2011, Lattimore played last year under the confines of the one-year, $1.431 million tender.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy previously said he viewed Barclay like a starting offensive lineman even when he didn't have a spot on the starting front. At the NFL scouting combine last week, McCarthy said Barclay and receiver Jared Abbrederis are on track from their reconstructive knee surgeries.
If Bulaga should leave in free agency, the presence of the 6-foot-4. 305-pound swing tackle would soften the blow. Even if Bulaga is back, Barclay would give the Packers a solid insurance policy if any starter should go down in 2015.
Green Bay was fortunate in 2014. Outside of Bulaga's one missed start, nobody else on the starting line missed a regular-season game, though guards Josh Sitton (toe) and T.J. Lang (ankle) battled injuries throughout the second half of the season.
The Packers have plenty of options with third-year guard Lane Taylor, second-year Garth Gerhart and Tretter all returning behind the other four starters. Barclay brings a plethora of experience in emergency situations. That's why extending him a tender could be high on Thompson's to-do list before the start of free agency on March 10.
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Don Barclay, fourth-year offensive lineman
The skinny: Restricted free agent.
The snaps: None.
The stats: None.
2014 salary: $570,000.