The Green Bay Packers already made one serious and important commitment to a major part of their dominant offense when they re-signed receiver Randall Cobb to a four-year, $40 million contract with $17 million guaranteed on March 7. Now, after protracted negotiations with RT Bryan Bulaga, it appears that the Packers will retain the potential free-agent with a five-year deal that will average just under $7 million per year, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. Like Cobb, Bulaga reportedly will take less money to stay in Green Bay.
Bulaga was the Packers' first-round pick in the 2010 draft out of Iowa, and he's played mostly right tackle for the team through 52 games and 48 starts. In 2014, he allowed four sacks, two quarterback hits and 23 quarterback hurries on a total of 1,091 snaps. Given the percentage of snaps in which quarterback Aaron Rodgers rolls right, these are fairly impressive numbers—even more so when you consider that Bulaga missed the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL suffered during training camp. The Packers planned to move Bulaga to the left side in 2013, but with the ascent of David Bakhtiari in that season and beyond, Bulaga stayed put.
In the end, Bulaga's decision to stay with the Packers didn't come easy—multiple reports indicated that he was looking for a contract worth $7–8 million per season, and as the consensus best offensive tackle in free agency, he had a pretty good shot at getting that. General manager Ted Thompson has some fairly strict guidelines regarding how much he'll pay players at various positions, but in the end, the two sides were able to find an accord.
Bulaga wasn't just balancing the prospect of protecting a quarterback who wasn't as good as Rodgers (which he'd face almost anywhere else); there was also the matter of the personal relationships he'd developed with Bakhtiari, guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, and rookie center Corey Linsley. Rodgers said more than once during the 2014 season that the line blocking for him was the best he'd ever had, and that continuity is generally a primary factor in such things.
“Obviously my relationship with these guys that I play with, it’s great. Our families are very close—T.J., Josh, Dave, Corey, everyone’s very close. It’s a close group,” Bulaga said after Green Bay's loss to Seattle in the NFC championship game in January. “So from that standpoint, I mean, you’d love to stay next to the same guys for your entire career. You’ve seen what we’ve been able to do this season, just keeping guys together for consecutive games.
“But at the end of the day, you have to realize that this is a business on both ends. Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it. We’ll see what happens.”
What happened was the best possible outcome for all involved—the Packers kept a key player, and Bulaga got paid close to his desired amount.
The only thing in the way of this signing getting a perfect grade is Bulaga's injury history—there's the ACL issue, and he missed half of the 2012 season with a hip injury. Other than that, this was a necessary move for Thompson and the Packers. As long as Bulaga is healthy, he's a key part of a line that could help Rodgers hoist another Lombardi Trophy before all is said and done.