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How to Afford Bryan Bulaga? Make Him a Right Tackle, of Course

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How to Afford Bryan Bulaga? Make Him a Right Tackle, of Course

Sometime next week Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy will very likely make public the Packers' plans for how they plan to deploy their tackles, both left and right, while at the annual NFL owners meetings in Orlando.

As of the NFL Combine, McCarthy still hadn't decided, citing transition on the coaching staff contributing to a delay in evaluation of personnel. He also wanted to opportunity to personally speak with Bryan Bulaga and inform him what the staff decided.

Truly, a compelling argument can be made either way whether to install Bulaga or David Bakhtiari as Aaron Rodgers' blindside protector.

Bulaga is the experienced veteran, a Super Bowl champion and has the more ideal size suited for being a franchise left tackle, one inch taller and roughly 14 lbs. heavier than Bakhtiari.

On the other hand, Bakhtiari has the longer arms, quicker feet and room to improve, entering just his second year in the NFL.

The good news for the Packers is that they probably can't go wrong either way. It's an enviable position. They have plenty of options to choose from, and if Derek Sherrod can finally get healthy, he's not out of the mix at both tackle positions either.

So what will be deciding factor? Probably something that doesn't have anything with their play on the field.

With Bulaga entering the final season of his contract, the Packers can influence his earning power by switching Bulaga back to right tackle, where he spent the first three seasons of his career.

The coaching staff may not admit the financial ramifications play a factor, but they also don't have to. McCarthy can cite any number of reasons, such as not wanting to move Bakhtiari and mess up his rapport with Josh Sitton. He can also express a desire to move Bulaga back to the strong-side of the offensive line, where he can help pave the way for Eddie Lacy in the run game. Those are all perfectly legit reasons too.

Last season the Packers made the decision to slide Bulaga to the opposite edge, pairing him with Sitton on the left side of the offensive line. That was before Bulaga's torn ACL early in training camp halted such a development.

Before the Packers even consider offering Bulaga a contract extension, he's going to have to prove he can stay healthy after landing on injured reserve each of the past two seasons. In 2012, his campaign ended after suffering a fracture in the capsule of his left hip.

Assuming he does stay healthy, the Packers face the challenge of fitting Bulaga into a salary-cap structure made increasingly difficult by booming salaries league-wide.

The Packers also figure to extend the contracts of another pair of players before they hit free agency next season in wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. They represent another piece of the salary-cap puzzle and could impact what the Packers have left to offer Bulaga.

Certainly there are different ways to judge the value of NFL players, such as guaranteed dollars and length of a contract, but just a cursory look at the average per year salaries of left tackles compared to right tackles shows a significant difference.

The NFL's highest-paid right tackle, Gosder Cherilus of the Indianapolis Colts, makes $7 million per season. At that rate, Cherilus would rank 16th on the list of the highest-paid left tackles.

It's impossible to look at the Bulaga situation in a vacuum. If there's an NFL team that thinks he could be their franchise left tackle and Bulaga is dead set on testing the open market, there's a chance someone could pay him in excess of $9 million a season, especially if he has a strong bounce-back year—even if it comes at right tackle.

But as B.J. Raji found out, a bird in hand is better than two in the bush. And that's exaclty what the Packers will offer, a bird in hand.

If Bulaga proves to be the same player he's been his first three years in professional football—good but not great, solid but not spectacular—and particularly if he's slow to recover from last year's knee injury, then naming him the Packers' right tackle makes a whole lot of sense financially. And it's not as that decision would be a hindrance from a competitive standpoint either.

Bakhtiari has just as much entitlement to be the Packers' left tackle as Bulaga after being a steadying influence in 2013.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (54) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Jordan's picture

Bulaga has never looked good at left tackle in the limited time he has played there.

Bulaga will probably spend his final year on bench backing up LT and RT.

Evan's picture

"Bulaga has never looked good at left tackle in the limited time he has played there."

When has he actually played LT for the Packers?

Jordan's picture

He played left tackle in 2010 preseason against second and third stringers and looked borderline terrible.

Why do you think he wasn't shifted to LT earlier? Just a coincidence? Don't you think the Packers would have moved him to play on Rodger's blind side much sooner (than 2013) if they had confidence he could play left tackle?
:sigh:

Guisado's picture

Bulaga got stuck out at RT. After his draft in the first round, the buzz was he was questionable as a T in the NFL. The Packers had Tausch and Clifton and were set at both LT and RT. So Bulaga did most of his reps at LG in pre-season. Then Tausch got hurt mid season, so he took over at RT. He was dominant. Then Tausch retired. In 2011 Clifton came back to man the LT, so Bulaga stayed at RT. But Clifton got hurt early and Newhouse looked pretty good at LT as a young guy with upside. So in 2012, the Pack (after much debate) rolled with Bulaga at RT and Newhouse at LT. That didn't work too well, and Bulaga ended the season on IR with a hip injury. Newhouse was in over his head. To start out 2013, Bulaga was the LT, but got hurt in preseason.

That's why he they didn't move him sooner.

Jordan's picture

So in 2012, after much debate, they decided to go with Newhouse. Right, because Newhouse looked good in pre-season and when he played LT in 2011. Bulaga looked borderline terrible in 2010 pre-season.

They went with in inexperienced 5th rounder instead of an experienced 1st rounder with a Super Bowl ring to protect Rodger's blind side. What more is there to say? <<rhetorical>>

Jordan's picture

Lol. The packers don't just evaluate the offensive line when the media writes a story about it. If they were comfortable sliding their number 1 pick (Bulaga) who was drafted to replace Clifton in to the left tackle spot, they would have done it immediately. They have a vested interest in protecting arod's blindside. You don't put your second best left tackle to protect arods blindside.

HankScorpio's picture

"Bulaga will probably spend his final year on bench backing up LT and RT."

I've not seen anyone express anything remotely like this before. I get why you'd say he's not going to start at LT. But I don't get you saying he'd even back up the RT.

Who do you think starts at RT ahead of Bulaga? The follow up is whether you think that is due, in part or whole, to lingering effect of Bulaga's injury.

Jordan's picture

Hank,
Bulaga wasn't looking real good at right tackle right before the injury. Yes, I believe the combination of him not looking good before the injury and now after the injuries.........doesn't look good for him starting.

Maybe he had other nagging injuries that slowed him down. Maybe his thyroid was acting up again. I don't know. Hopefully he makes a great comeback. I'm just basing my prediction on what I saw on the field. And based on what I saw on the field before injury, I think he'll be the backup at both RT and LT.

If you have a DVR or hard drive with old packers games or NFL Rewind subscription, go back and watch Bulaga and see what you think.

HankScorpio's picture

Jordan,

I have don't have old Packer games available for viewing but I do have some vague recollections that Bulaga wasn't playing great football when we last saw him. I remember it more as maddening inconsistency mostly. But again, I can't review to confirm or deny that recollection.

I guess what I'm really curious about is who you think would be the starting RT if not him. I've seen enough of Barclay at RT to conclude he's better suited to the inside. I have no confidence in Sherrod at all. I'm hopeful I'm wrong about that but will need to see it first. Bulaga has played at a high level at RT in the past so he seems like the best guy for the job--at least given the current roster.

Jordan's picture

I expect to see Barclay at right tackle. But I wouldn't spend too much time thinking about it. Injuries can re-shuffle the entire offensive line in the blink of an eye.

I would predict bhaktiari at lt, sitton at lg, tretter at c, Lang at rg, and Barclay at rt.

Whether it's Barclay, Bulaga, or Sherrod at RT, I expect there to be a short leash no matter who is in there.

There will plenty of time to watch them pass block and run block in pre-season. It's a good problem to have. Competition will certainly help.

Evan's picture

"The battle of the century will be Bulaga vs. Sherrod."

I don't know how much of a battle that'll be. I think they're going to go into training camp with Bak at LT and Bulaga back at RT.

I think a lot would have to go wrong with Bak/Bulaga for Sherrod to sniff a starting spot. But I'm excited that he's finally healthy and look forward to seeing what he can do.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Agree completely. Bakhtiari was a gem to find in the 4th round, but he was a well-below average starting LT, though better than Newhouse. And he might get stronger and develop. Time will tell. Sherrod was a consensus 1st round talent. The only knock on Sherrod was that despite his size and measurables, some analysts suggested he played with too much finesse. Both are prototypical left tackles. Bulaga played with power, and when drafted there was some question whether he could play LT, but most analysts thought he could. I suspect that Bulaga will be the RT, and Bakhtiari and Sherrod will battle it out at left tackle. A fair amount of players drafted as tackle taken late in the first round turn out to be busts, and Sherrod has not yet shown much, mostly due to injury and being moved to guard, but I certainly hope that a fierce battle erupts between Sherrod and Bakhtiari to start at LT because it should mean that GB gets improved play.

As a note, with Bulaga entering a contract year and GB having a fairly expensive option on Sherrod after next year, I suggested that TT might surprise fans by taking a tackle in round 2 or 3, since this draft is loaded with right tackle prospects. I thought it was possible, not probable, but with EDS gone, it is less likely. GB will probably draft an offensive lineman at some point since they almost always do.

PackerBacker's picture

"I suspect that Bulaga will be the RT, and Bakhtiari and Sherrod will battle it out at left tackle."

This is exactly what I was thinking. Let Sherrod and Bakhtiari battle it out for the LT spot.

However, I disagree with your thoughts on Sherrod's contract after next year. I think they're in a good position to keep a physically gifted young player for a lower cost because he's been injured and hasn't been able to prove that he's worth a high LT price. The only exception would be if he won the starting job this year and blew everyone's minds. I could see him making a run for the starter position, but doubt he blows minds in his first year as a starter (if that were to happen).

If Bakh wins it, then they keep Sherrod as a backup and, again, don't have to pay him a mindblowing new contract.

Win-win.

Nick Perry's picture

I agree with many of the points you made Tom. I think Bahk makes that jump from year one to two that the Packers always hope for. I think he'll gain some weight, proper weight from a off season in a NFL weight room and be much stronger than last year. The fact he was thrown out there and won that job in TC and then held it down speaks volumes about that man. I agree, I think we have our LT of the future in Bahk.

Bulaga hasn't played in what, 23 games? He made a good RT and was on his way to being one of the better RT in the NFL. But he hasn't played a down in the NFL since week 9 of 2012! We all want Bulaga to come back and play and obviously stay healthy, but it will be at RT if he does.

Sherrod is the wild card. No one except the Packers have a clue where this guy really is. Personally I could care less about what he did in the combine at this point, who cares, it was 3 years ago in his undies. Sherrod is on the Packers because he was a 1st round pick and the Packers have invested a large chunk of money in him. This is the year he either shows up and does something, or he'll sit on the bench as a backup until his contract is up. Hell, can he play Center?

Barclay should be moved inside. I'm sick of watching DE treat him like a turnstile. He'll either be a Guard, Center, or backup RT.

MarkinMadison's picture

I have to agree, Bulaga at RT is a no-brainer. I think the Packers would be making a mistake by letting him go after next season, assuming he is healthy, but what do I know.

As far as Sherrod goes, I am where I was.

Evan's picture

Speaking of Bulaga being 15 pounds heavier than Bakhtiari, I'm really curious to see what Bahk weighs come training camp. Kid better be living in the gym right now.

Jordan's picture

Why? What has Bulaga ever done to prove he can play LT in NFL?

Evan's picture

Uhhhh....what?

Jordan's picture

nevermind, i thought you were talking about something else.

GBjohnny's picture

Way off topic, but is there a way to shrink this new banner at the top of my screen? Takes up half my viewing area

Guisado's picture

Totally agree. It's obnoxious. Also, the edges of my screen are wasted on empty space. Between the white banner and the empty space, it's 33% of my screen being wasted.

Not complaining, Corey! Just trying to provide some feedback. Overall, you've done a great job with the new site!

PackerBacker's picture

I think Corey said that the option to comment on the phone will be out on the second rollout. Not sure when that's happening, but it is in the works.

coreyb's picture

You know what else would be nice?

Having money to develop this site.

It will be in phase 2.

Evan's picture

"You know what else would be nice?

Having money to develop this site."

http://stream1.gifsoup.com/view4/3363474/simpsons-awkward-collar-pull-o.gif

Ruppert's picture

Don't worry, dude. When I get done picking my tournament bracket perfectly, I'll hook you up with some of the KEESH!

coreyb's picture

Guys - you know what you can do?

Get a bigger screen. :)

- I will be tweaking the banner (making it smaller) to help but I don't plan on changing the header anytime soon.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Create a bookmarklet ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bookmarklet ) by making a bookmark of any page and edit it by replacing the url part with this...

javascript:(function(x){x.parentNode.removeChild(x);})(document.getElementById('header'));

It will delete the floating header from the page when you click the bookmark. If you want the header back to click a link or something just reload the page and it will come back. You can edit the name as well, I named mine cutTheCheez

Guisado's picture

Wow, that just blew my mind. Thank you. I really prefer less noise on my screen.

coreyb's picture

Great workaround Jeremy.

Ruppert's picture

Awesome. Thanks.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Someone dislikes the fact that you've found this useful. How dare you!

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Ha ha, people dislike this? Don't use it then.

ben's picture

I'd say the battle is at Center. I've always liked Barclay and thought his game translates to center. But his value backing up almost the entire line makes him the top candidate to win the 6th man award.

2014 Offensive Line Depth Chart:

David----------Sitton----------Tretter---------- Lang---------- Bulaga
Sharrod-------Barclay--------Barclay----------Barclay--------Barclay
Barclay---------[ 2014 4th-5th Round Draft Pick ]---------Sharrod

Top 4th-5th Round C/G Prospects:
Bryan Stork (4-5) / Tyler Larson (5-6) / Trai Turner (5) / Russell Bodine (6)

Jordan's picture

You never know, but Sherrod would have to look really good in training camp and preseason for them to trust him at LT. Too hard to predict now. But just from an overall NFL experience thing, I suspect they would trust Bulaga more at backup LT than Sherrod if the season started tomorrow.

Hard to say how things will shake out this early.

L's picture

From my understanding Barclay had trouble with the "exchange" to the QB when he was given ample opportunities at Center last year in training camp and pre-season and it's also why TJ.Lang was given run there during the season.

Hopefully, D.Barclay has taken the time this off-season to really focus on improving his ability to exchange the football to the QB as well as improve his knowledge of the O-Line calls/responsibilities from Center because I would like to see him become the primary back-up to all 3 interior positions w/ the ability to push JC.Tretter for the starting position at Center.

However, as of right now based solely on how the team ended the season last year and what we have retained the O-Line Depth Chart probably looks more like this...

RT: B.Bulaga/D.Bakhtiari/D.Sherrod, D.Barclay

RG: TJ.Lang, D.Barclay/L.Taylor, JC.Tretter, G.Gerhart, B.Bulaga/D.Bakhtiari, D.Sherrod

C: JC.Tretter/G.Gerhart, TJ.Lang/D.Barclay, L.Taylor/D.Bakhtiari

LG: J.Sitton, TJ.Lang, D.Barclay/L.Taylor, JC.Tretter, G.Gerhart, B.Bulaga/D.Bakhtiari, D.Sherrod

LT: D.Bakhtiari/B.Bulaga/D.Sherrod, TJ.Lang

...with the team having to decide between D.Barclay, G.Gerhart, L.Taylor (maybe), and if they draft a player for a 7th and maybe 8th O-lineman spot on the 53.

Honestly, G.Gerhart will have to seriously outplay JC.Tretter at Center in training camp and the pre-season, plus JC.Tretter will probably have to show little improvement along the way in order for G.Gerhart to earn a spot on the 53 (but it would probably be as the starter for the beginning of the season) or D.Barclay will have to of demonstrated that he took major steps back during training camp/pre-season. If G.Gerhart makes the 53 that'll leave the team with a very tough decision of possibly carrying 8 O-linemen because of the likely value in keeping both JC.Tretter (for development purposes) and D.Barclay (a guy who'll likely be looked too for being a very versatile back-up lineman -- covering multiple or most positions in order to allow for the best continuity along the line should injury occur).

Outside of a shocking step-up from L.Taylor I also don't think he'll make the 53, but again it probably depends on disappointments from D.Barclay in comparison to vast improvements from L.Taylor.

4thand1's picture

Going into TC it will be
LT-Bahktiari
LG- Sitton
C-Tretter
RG- Lang
RT-Bulaga
End of story, no more arguments.

L's picture

**Knocks on wood**

This better not occur.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Asshole...

4thand1's picture

There was a lot of talk about Chris Clemons from Miami before FA started. WTF is there something wrong with this guy? Seems like nobody wants him. Last I heard, the Steelers were interested , but they're not going to offer much. He's still sitting there. Seems like a good deal could be made for him.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Over the Cap is listing Peppers Cap hit for 2014 at $3.5 million confirmed. It calculates GB's cap room at $17.5 million, but they don't have Guion's and Starks' contract information. Guion is around $700K with $100K guaranteed. IDK the numbers for Starks. Still, it looks like TT could sign more FAs, even a mid-tier guy, if he sees value. Possibly a Clemons (I am not saying Clemons is a mid-tier guy given the lack of movement for Clemons) or someone else. I am still thinking TT signs Flynn at or near vet minimum.

PackerBacker's picture

I think they'd have to get the mid-tier for 2 mill or less on this year's cap if they did that.

More likely is that they keep thier cap room for this:

5-6 mill for rookies
10 million to extend Cobb and Nelson
anything leftover they roll into next year.

That's more TT's style. I just don't see them signing any more FA's who cost more than 1-2 million against the cap.

L's picture

Not to mention, keep room available for the future considerations of signing their other free-agents-to-be next year if they prove themselves during the 2014 season; such as BJ.Raji if he proves to be his effective 2010 self again by being played primarily as the NT, Bryan Bulaga if he's able to bounce back from his injury and prove to be a very good Tackle for the Pack during 2014, Tramon Williams if he's able to put together a full season like the way he ended the 2013 season (and sort of matching his 2010 season), Davon House if he demonstrates he has obviously improved his comfort and ability to play a very physical style of corner and especially if he's thrust into major playing time and responds extremely well, DuJuan Harris if he ends up reclaiming the starter role or a share of it because of his ability and performances on the field, Sean Richardson if he demonstrates that he's a viable player for the Pack at safety whether that's as a back-up or as a challenger for a starter spot, Don Barclay if he's able to prove that he can be the versatile back-up lineman the Pack probably hope he can become or if he ends up becoming the starter at Center through earning it outright over JC.Tretter, Jarrett Boykin if he continues to demonstrate that he's a legitimate #2-3 WR in the NFL, Jamari Lattimore if he continues demonstrating that he's a valuable future piece for the Pack in leading their special teams and at backing-up multiple linebacker positions, Scott Tolzien if he proves he can be the clear cut back-up QB behind Aaron Rodgers, Letroy Guion if he proves to be quite effective as part of their d-line rotation, Chris Banjo if he becomes an integral special teams member and a valuable back-up safety. I mention this because these are also some of the thoughts to keep in mind when thinking about the team's cap space beyond just this year and when talking about the need to keep space available for extending Jordy Nelson and Randle Cobb because there's others who may earn mentioning too as the season plays out.

Jordan's picture

You haven't seen anything to suggest Bhaktiari has the LT job locked down? That's because you don't what to look for. Bhaktiari is the starting left tackle. End of story.

Hint: you're spending way too much time looking at combine numbers.....rather than looking at NFL game film.

Watch and learn grasshopper. ;)

Jordan's picture

What part of bhaktiari will be the starting left tackle don't you understand? The Bulaga left tackle ship has sailed. Bulaga may get one more chance to prove himself at right tackle, but if his pass blocking is as bad as it was before his injury, he'll be taking a back seat to Barclay. Barclay can run block. This isn't the 2011 packers. Run blocking is important now.

The only way sherrod is going to get an decent opportunity to prove himself is if somebody gets injured. He would have to put together an incredible camp and pre-season. It's possible but unlikely.

The train has left the station.

Grasshopper, just sit back and watch.....and learn.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

The lack of movement on Clemons is interesting. Is he less highly regarded by GMs than by fans and sportswriters? Is he pricing himself out of the market? Are GMs waiting him out? Does TT have any interest in Clemons? I hoped that TT would sign a Safety who would be at least serviceable so TT could draft BPA in round 1 and not reach in round 2. Even if GB drafts Ha-Ha or Pryor early, if a FA safety had been already signed that would allow time to groom the drafted player, and it would allow TT to draft the BPA. Lately I have seen Mosely mocked anywhere from around 11 to 32 (the sportswriter who mocked Mosley at 32 noted that Mosley was a top 10 or 15 talent who falls to 32). Tuitt is another player mocked as high as 20 and as low as 43.

Evan's picture

I don't get it but I'm still holding out hope the Packers bring him in. He won't cost much at this point. A nice little 1-2 year deal would make me feel a lot better about the position heading into the draft.

Evan's picture

Brief breakdown of Clemons on MMQB, part of a larger piece talking about the increasing focus and importance on safeties:

"Many mistakenly believed the 28-year-old Chris Clemons to be an ascending player, but the coaches and scouts who knew him best did not. So he was allowed to walk. The fact that Clemons remains unsigned tells you the Dolphins aren’t alone in their assessment. Clemons started 32 games over the past two years (plus 14 games in 2010) and proved masterful at blending in on film.

That the Dolphins would replace Clemons with a player like Louis Delmas tells you they’re desperate to have a playmaking safety. Delmas is injury prone, which explains the brevity and relative diminutiveness of his contract. But he offers a high-risk, high-reward style of play. Delmas is similar to Clemons in that he can interchange between free and strong safety. The Dolphins made this move just prior to free agency, which suggests their intention is to leave defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s existing scheme intact."

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Interesting - thanks Evan. NFL.com and Bleacher both described Delmas as an upgrade over Clemons when discussing Miami. Both sites often say major or significant upgrade - here there was no adjective.

The Miami Herald noted that Clemons allowed 52.4% of passes thrown against Clemons to be completed and QBs had a rating of 82.8. The Herald noted that Delmas' numbers were 43.8% and QBs had a rating of 79.8. I can't help but think that Delmas' numbers were helped by Detroit's talented defensive line, but there would be other factors to consider. Strangely to me, the Miami Herald also noted that Clemons was an iron man for the Dolphins, often playing 90 snaps (yes, ninety) on Defense and special teams. I have read that coverage is not Clemons' area of strength. NFL.com had Clemons as the 70th best FA of 101 listed. Clemons is 28 years old. Well, not sure what to think. On this I will trust in TT to balance possible low cost against his ability, internal options and against draft possibilities.

Chazman's picture

I know this is an article about Left Tackle, Right Tackle but since it seems we have a serviceable option for both shouldn't we be more concerned with who is hiking the ball to ARod?

That is what makes me a little concerned.

TommyG's picture

Correct!

Right now it seems like Tretter or nothing. Perhaps this is another fix coming in this year's draft.

Evan's picture

Regardless of who plays LT and RT and who is the primary backup, it's safe to say the tackle position (and I'd say o-line in general) is in the best shape it's been in probably 5+ years.

PackerBacker's picture

Agree completely and that's awesome.

They have 3 possible starters at tackle (assuming Sherrod doesn't look awful and he has the physical abilities to be good).

They have 4 guys that can play in the middle.

When was the last time we could claim that? Early 2000's?

Evan's picture

" You can see in his eyes that he has no fight in him. "

http://blog.ccbcmd.edu/sdeminds/files/2013/03/Week9-1.jpg

TommyG's picture

Isn't every position except QB and one of the OLB up for grabs?

If they weren't, wouldn't we simply be fielding the exact same team as last season; a team that cannot beat the 49ers?

Center is the only position I am concerned with, and that is only because we haven't seen Tretter as a pro yet.

I don't think Sherrod is going anywhere while his is under contract. We all know that's not how our team operates.

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