GREEN BAY, Wis. – Of the Green Bay Packers’ 15 unrestricted free agents, the future of three is especially fascinating. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga had an excellent season but has a lengthy injury history. Inside linebacker Blake Martinez is a tackling machine with limitations. Kicker Mason Crosby will turn 36 just before the start of next season.
We examine their futures in this three-part series, which leads off with Bulaga.
Resume: For the second time in his 10-year career, Bulaga started all 16 regular-season games. According to STATS, he allowed 3.5 sacks. In the eight seasons in which he started at least nine games, he allowed fewer sacks only once. While he missed some time with injuries, his 893 snaps during the regular season ranked 16th among all right tackles, so he was reliable compared to his peers.
Sign him: This was one of his best seasons – and critically so, since his season started with Chicago’s Khalil Mack, Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter and Denver’s Von Miller and never got much easier. As we noted starting before the season, the days are gone when the defense’s best pass rusher lines up almost exclusively against the left tackle. In today’s NFL, a right tackle arguably is just as important as the left tackle. Bulaga was up to the task most weeks. This season, 57 offensive tackles played at least half of the snaps. Of that group, Bulaga ranked 17th in ProFootballFocus.com’s pass-blocking efficiency, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap.
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“I thought I did my job to the best of my ability and helped the team win ballgames,” he said on Monday. “I’ll reflect on the season a little more as the weeks go on but, yeah, I feel good about the body of work that I put together this year and what I was able to do against some really good competition. We played some really good pass rushers and good ball players this year and felt good about what I put on tape.”
While an argument can be made to let him go, he’d have to be replaced. Unless the Packers believe right guard Billy Turner could make the move and play at a high level, there are no viable options on the roster. That would mean another hole in the lineup to be addressed in free agency and the draft.
Let him go: Injured players tend to get injured. It’s a football adage that’s accurate more times than not. Bulaga has battled back from some big injuries – a hip in 2012 and ACLs in 2013 and 2017 – to provide years’ worth of quality play. Bulaga will turn 31 just after the start of free agency. With age and injury history, can he be counted on to play through most of what’s likely to be a lucrative contract? Speaking of contracts, his last deal was worth $6.75 million per season. That ranked 11th among right tackles last season – a bargain given his performance. Last offseason, the Packers signed Turner a four-year deal averaging $7.0 million per season. It’s hard to imagine Bulaga taking less than those deals. Is that too much? Or is he worth the gamble for a team that was one win from the Super Bowl?
The quote: “I’ve grown up here. I got married when I was a Packer, bought my first house I still live in, two kids, a lot of ups and downs that my wife and I have grown from personally, professionally. We’ve become adults here, technically. A lot of growing up has been done. Very appreciative of being a Green Bay Packer and being a part of a lot of good stuff that’s gone on here the last 10 years. We’ll see what happens. I can’t predict what’s going to go down. I don’t know what their plans are and I know my plan is to continue to play. I know I can still contribute at a high level and play really good football. I think I showed I can still do that this year. We’ll see what happens.”