GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers will have a new starting right tackle for 2020.
The team agreed to terms with former Wisconsin Badgers standout Rick Wagner on Monday, according to NFL Network. It's a two-year deal worth $11 million. A fifth-round pick by Baltimore in 2013, Wagner started 40 of a possible 48 games for Detroit the past three seasons.
It’s general manager Brian Gutekunst’s second move of the day, having signed linebacker Christian Kirksey earlier. Both players are street free agents, meaning the Packers did not have to wait until the 11 a.m. start of the negotiation period or the 3 p.m. Wednesday start of free agency.
Street free agents do not figure into the compensatory pick formula. That means the Packers could be in line for a couple additional picks in 2021 after Bulaga and linebacker Blake Martinez presumably sign big contracts on Wednesday.
Just as signing the injury-plagued Kirksey was a roll of the dice for Gutekunst, so is signing Wagner. Right tackles are worth their weight in gold. Last year, for instance, Bulaga started his season by facing Chicago’s Khalil Mack, Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter and Denver’s Von Miller. Bulaga is coming off an excellent season while Wagner is not, which is why the Lions released him on Friday.
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According to Pro Football Focus, Bulaga gave up four sacks last season. According to its pass-blocking efficiency metric, which measures sacks, hits and hurries allowed per pass-protecting snap, Bulaga ranked 17th of 57 offensive tackles who played at least half of the offensive snaps last year. Wagner, on the other hand, allowed three sacks in 12 games but was 42nd in that metric. According to STATS, he allowed six sacks and was penalized three times (two for holding) in 2017, 6.5 sacks and four penalties (two for holding) in 2018 and 3.5 sacks and three penalties (three for holding) in 2019.
With that track record, he is a clear step down from Bulaga. So, while the addition of Wagner takes the pressure off the Packers to draft an offensive tackle with a premium draft pick, it doesn't mean they will not go early on a deep class of tackles.
Wagner, who turned 30 in October, was due a $9 million base salary in 2020 and had a cap charge of $11.9 million. He is from West Allis, Wis., and walked on at Wisconsin in 2008 as a tight end.
For just the second time in his 10-year career, Bulaga started all 16 games. When available, Bulaga was a stellar performer. However, he had to battle back from some big injuries – a hip in 2012 and ACLs in 2013 and 2017. He’ll turn 31 on Saturday.
“It would be, to me, really cool to start and finish my career in the same spot,” he told the “Wilde and Tausch” radio show recently. “I think that would be awesome. There’s no doubt about that. As I’ve told you guys many times, I grew up in Green Bay, essentially – having kids, getting married, a lot of ups and downs. A lot of great things happened in my 10 years in Green Bay and there’d be nothing better than to finish my career out as a Green Bay Packer.”