Bryan Bulaga is Playing His Way Into a New Contract

Bryan Bulaga has been one of the best players for the Green Bay Packers this season on either side of the ball, and deserves to be rewarded with a new contract.

Aaron Rodgers is having an outstanding season at the quarterback position. But before Rodgers asserted himself with authority into the MVP conversation this past week, one could have easily made the argument that the Packers’ best offensive player so far this season was not Aaron Rodgers, or even David Bakhtiari or Aaron Jones.

It was Bryan Bulaga, in his 10th year in the NFL.

Yes, Bulaga has quietly been having an outstanding year along the line so far. Yet if it were up to many Twitter pundits this offseason, he never would have been given the opportunity.

One of the oddest phenomena to me over the last offseason was the sheer number of people (both analysts and fans alike) on Twitter who advocated for the release of Bulaga this offseason, due to his combination of age and contract value. Go back and search tweets from throughout the spring and summer, and you'll find plenty of examples.

Bulaga is 30 years old, but has a lot of wear and tear on his body after 10 years in the league. He has a cap hit of $8,350,000 this season versus a dead cap penalty of just $1,850,000 that the team would have incurred with his release. And this is the final season of his contract.

Despite his recent injury history, Bulaga has still been a reliable player when he’s been on the field. It would have made very little sense to let Bulaga go before his contract expired, especially given the question marks at the tackle position coming into this season.

It would have been much easier to persuade me that Bulaga should have been allowed to walk after this season, if the Packers took a possible replacement in the draft. But now, Bulaga has become one of a couple players the Packers need to begin serious contract extension discussions with, as he is having a career year.

A career year

There aren’t as many statistics to consider when talking about offensive linemen as there are with other positions, which can make comparing across seasons a bit difficult. But the concrete data that is available shows just how well Bulaga is playing this season.

Through seven games, Bulaga has yet to allow a single sack or quarterback hit. He’s only allowed nine total hurries, for a total of nine pressures (a combination of sacks, hits and hurries). Pro Football Focus gives him a pass blocking grade of 79.9, which would rate among the finest seasons of his career.

It is the run blocking where Bulaga has been noticeably better this season, better than most years in his career. And credit has to be given to the Matt LaFleur offense here, which has significantly revamped the running game. PFF rates Bulaga at a 74.1 rating, which is better than every year of his career except his 2011 season, and a big step up from the last three or four seasons in particular.

While Bakhtiari grades out slightly better than Bulaga in the passing game, Bulaga significantly outgrades Bakhtiari in the running game, which makes sense—a keen watcher will discern Bulaga has been clearly the best offensive lineman on the team this season, and that’s on a line that has been playing quite well overall.

Across the league, Bulaga grades out in the top 10 tackles in the league for run blocking and just outside the top 10 in pass blocking. That’s out of 108 players who have taken snaps at the tackle position this season in the NFL. And the only right tackle consistently grading around Bulaga’s level is Tyler Morton of the Carolina Panthers. There’s a very strong argument yet again that Bulaga Is the league’s best right tackle.

Earning a new deal

There will still undoubtedly be those naysayers who point to Bulaga’s age and injury history as reasons to let him walk, but Bulaga’s level of play this season is irreplaceable.

Bulaga may have logged 10 years in the league and plenty of battle wounds, but he’s still just 30 years old. There are plenty of other linemen in the league still going strong into their mid to late 30s.

Take 37-year-old, 15-year vet Jason Peters of the Philadelphia Eagles, who continues to grade out among the top tackles in the league. Peters signed a one-year deal with the Eagles this year worth nearly $8.7 million, more than what Bulaga is making this season.

There’s also 35-year-old Joe Staley in his 13th year with the San Francisco 49ers, also consistently grading out among the best tackles in the league still at this stage of his career. The 49ers signed him to a new two-year extension worth $28 million, and he’s getting $14.7 million this year in the final year of his existing contract.  

Both of these guys are playing left tackle, so they’re going to command more money on the market than Bulaga likely would. Both are further along in their careers than Bulaga, but their teams have rewarded them for continuing to play at high levels.

The Packers will have the capacity to bring back Bulaga if they want for another year. The team will also have to make space to sign defensive tackle Kenny Clark, and likely interior linebacker Blake Martinez. Getting all three back may be tough with the current cap space, but offloading the contracts of Lane Taylor and Jimmy Graham (both of whom would be likely cap casualties in 2020, in my estimation) would give them more than enough room to make it work.

If I’m Brian Gutekunst and Russ Ball, I’m starting to have serious discussions now about extending Bulaga before he can hit the free agent market in March. He’s simply playing at too high a level to let him hit the street.

 

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Tim Backes is a lifelong Packer fan and a contributor to CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter @timbackes for his Packer takes, random musings and Untappd beer check-ins.

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Comments (38)

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zoellner25's picture

October 24, 2019 at 01:19 pm

BB has been amazing no doubt. He's so good when healthy. Finding his eventual replacement will be tough.

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Rak47's picture

October 25, 2019 at 04:32 am

I'd like to know what PFF bases their ratings on. How the hell do you stonewall Khalil Mack, Danielle Hunter, Brandon Graham, Demarcus Lawrence, Von Miller, and Mayora who leads the Raiders in sacks, and not give up a single hit on your QB and be graded outside the top 10 with a 79.9 pass blocking grade? Complete and total bs. PFF is complete garbage and a total waste of time.

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ricky's picture

October 24, 2019 at 01:26 pm

This is not as easy as it sounds. A lot of players get healthy and productive during their contract years, sign for a lot, then get hurt/fail to perform. Nick Perry is the most recent example for the Packers. Bulaga should definitely be considered for an extension, with the proviso that he get a front-loaded contract, and the Packers draft a replacement next year. This would be the prudent move. Whether Bulaga would accept this or sign with another team is a secondary question. A significant injury history should not be overshadowed by a career year.

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TimBackes's picture

October 24, 2019 at 01:43 pm

Bulaga has been a much better and much more consistent player than Perry over a much longer period of time. It's a bad comparison.

I think if I were handling the negotiations I'd aim for a 2-3 year deal and look at drafting a replacement in that time.

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Samson's picture

October 24, 2019 at 03:09 pm

No way you can compare BB's NFL career & Perry... Look at it another way... If GB doesn't somehow extend BB, he'll have many suitors (2020) looking to sign him. --- Perry is still unemployed at this moment.

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Tarynfor12's picture

October 25, 2019 at 11:43 am

" Perry is still unemployed at this moment."

Music to my ears!!!

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

October 24, 2019 at 05:30 pm

Comparing Nick Perry with Brian Bulaga is an autofail.

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lsparsek's picture

October 24, 2019 at 01:42 pm

In full agreement with you Tim.
Chad Clifton's career with the Packers comes to mind with when I hear all this Bulaga chriticism.
Remember his years of top performance coming after injury from Warren Sapps cheap shot.
Remember Bulaga's rookie year? He won the softball, home run contest or something in 2010. The prize was a junk car which I believe he painted, 'Super bowl or bust,' all over it."
Just sayin, I don't think Brian is done yet.
Thank you for the article Tim.

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Seth Borden's picture

October 24, 2019 at 02:20 pm

His play -- when healthy -- has been great. That "when healthy" part is the part a GM can't sleep on when you are talking about O-Line in their 30's. Bulaga has averaged 11 games a season over his 10 year career -- not exactly part-time, but not necessarily what you want to pay big extension money for. Joe Staley has been a beast -- he's played full 16 game seasons repeatedly, like 5-6 years in a row at one point. Bulaga has done that once.

I don't mean to trash Bulaga. I'd love for him to come back on a team-friendly deal. But I don't think he's priority number one, and I don't want to overpay for someone you would reasonably expect to start even fewer games a year as he ages.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 24, 2019 at 08:42 pm

There will be four to five OTs going in the first round, 2020 draft.

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LambeauPlain's picture

October 24, 2019 at 02:51 pm

Bulaga is a warrior. He plays with injuries most NFL players would take to the trainers room and sit out.

He is a quiet leader but carries a lot of weight in the locker room.

And he has faced more challenges across the line than probably any other OT so far this season....including David B...and has check mated them all.

Of all players on the Pack who are in their final contract year, Bulaga deserves a new deal...and deserves now.

He is a fine example of a pro’s pro for the younger players.

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Minniman's picture

October 24, 2019 at 03:20 pm

For: High level of play, o-line consistency, future draft flexibility, only via an incentives\performance based contract (less guaranteed money)

Against: Age diminishing level of play, Insistence by Bulaga of a long duration fully guaranteed contract.

I have posted previously that if the Packers could miraculously get another 1 good seasons out of Bulaga then the draft versatility is phenomenal.

I am seeing his name on the injury report sheet each week for veteran rest, so the Packers are already pulling the levers to preserve him for later in the season.

I think that if he gets to the end of the regular season and continues his current standard of play then he's proven that he's got at least 1 more good starting caliber RT year in him (and hopefully he gets to blood his replacement for the next 1 or 2 after that).

PS. Having the other 4 o-lineman perform at a reasonably high level and at least 1 good blocking TE on the team changes things drastically FOR retaining Bulaga.

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Samson's picture

October 24, 2019 at 03:20 pm

I don't think the question is "Would it be wise to bring BB back next season & beyond?"
If BB can continue as he is at this time (strong play & injury free), who wouldn't want him around at RT after season 2019?
The real question is "When do you extend him (day after SB?) & for how much?...IMO, wait until season 2019 is complete.. BB will always listen to GB 1st (again IMO).... That makes the $$$ part the unknown.

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Guam's picture

October 24, 2019 at 03:40 pm

I was one of those who scoffed at the idea of cutting Bulaga earlier this year because there was no obvious replacement on the roster. Turner is not Bulaga's replacement, nor is Light. It will take a #1 or #2 draft choice to replace Bulaga. Given the other needs the Packers will have (TE assuming they cut Graham, WR, DL, ILB) for next year's draft I would prefer to see them resign Bulaga on a 2-3 year deal.

For funding, I agree they will release Graham and Taylor and I would also add Tramon Williams. He will be 37 next year and it will be time to move on and that would free up an additional $5 million.

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flackcatcher's picture

October 24, 2019 at 06:56 pm

I believe every veteran OL is on the cut bubble expect for Bahk and Bulaga. Cap and contract is the primary mover on this, (and yes, that includes Tuner too) as stated there is no replacement for either and draft replacements (Spriggs) have failed to date. Even if the Packers did not want to sign Bulaga, Gute has no choice in the near term. That Bulaga is playing as well as he is, makes that reality easier for the Packers.

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Michael Hughes's picture

October 25, 2019 at 03:18 am

That's ridiculous.

Even if you do take a significant gamble by signing Bulaga you have to use a significant draft pick on OT. Otherwise you get 100 percent what you deserve when his knee gives way again and you are left with no RT.

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flackcatcher's picture

October 25, 2019 at 07:34 pm

Reality sucks Michael. Sorry about that. Cap calls the tune if the Packers a possible replacement already in place. That's a GM call. Bahk is already signed, but they have to think about extending. There is no replacement for Bulaga on this roster, and the Packers have learned from hard experience in 2007 (ask Ted Thompson) when a team drafts and cuts their starting RT, and their replacement fails. So yes, Gute signs him because he has no choice. (Hey, you be guy to tell Aaron Rodgers why his body is going to be all mashed for the next season. Good luck with that...)

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 24, 2019 at 07:41 pm

If GB drafted Bulaga's replacement and that player was a decent selection, the replacement is probably a downgrade from Bulaga. What I mean is that even if the team uses a 1st of 2nd round pick to replace an excellent player, the drafted player is unlikely to become the best player in the NFL at his position. That would need a home-run type of draft selection.

If GB gives Bulaga a 3-year deal (that's what the market will give him, IMO), I don't think GB should target a RT in the first or the second round of the draft (unless some OL falls and is too good to pass up). Roll the dice and use the premium picks on other weak spots. If the talent level is equal, I'd prefer to use premium picks (1st to 3rd) an ILB, DL, WR, or CB.

I favor a smaller signing bonus with plenty of guaranteed base and roster bonuses in year one and some in year two. I'd be fine with signing Bulaga to a deal that has a cap charge of $9M for 2020. That's a hit, but doable even while re-signing Martinez and extending Clark.

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Slim11's picture

October 25, 2019 at 09:24 am

I believe Graham and Taylor will be gone next season due to cap concerns. Tramon Williams is in the second year of a two year deal so he is not a cap casualty/cut.

I don’t see Turner as a tackle except in an emergency. Light might...MIGHT...be a short-term replacement. I don’t think the next starter at RT is on the Packers’ roster right now.

Of the needs you cited, I think the emphasis needs to be ILB before the others.

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stockholder's picture

October 24, 2019 at 03:55 pm

8 mil. plus is to much. He wouldn't take a pay cut, when he played bad. And you can't say the packers didn't almost release him. I question his loyalty. BB is playing good. But it's for the money! If the packers sign him to more then 5mil. a year, their suckers. Expect the same injuries to pop up. Expect a lesser BB. There are other free agents with a better history, that can take his place. Not to mention a draft pick; that will be faster and give us more hope for the future. If Daniels, Cm3, and Cobb can all be replaced. So can Bryan Bulaga.

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4thand1's picture

October 24, 2019 at 04:11 pm

I don't think it's fair to say he played bad. He played hurt a lot and suited up and showed up as long as he could. He is one of the best RT's in the game IMO.

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stockholder's picture

October 24, 2019 at 04:51 pm

Look at how much he is practicing! Their resting him to much now. The packers plan is to move Turner over. His biggest problem is speed rushers. You just can't break the bank on a player like Bulaga.

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4thand1's picture

October 24, 2019 at 07:12 pm

I'm not saying to break the bank, lets see what happens at the end of the year. After Lang and Sitton Gute may just let him walk depending on his health.

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Houndog's picture

October 25, 2019 at 07:59 am

4thand1,
You DO know the it was Ted Thompson and Not Gutekunst that let Lang walk and cut Sitton, don't you?
Just checkin'.

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4thand1's picture

October 27, 2019 at 02:43 pm

yes dog, just sayin it would have been a waste of money, Lang and Sitton didn't do shit after TT didn't sign em. I'm sayin lesson learned if BB isn't healthy at the end of the year.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 24, 2019 at 07:58 pm

$8M AAV won't sign Bulaga. You really have no respect for Bulaga. I don't know about his loyalty, strictly speaking, but I have no doubt about his dedication and professionalism. He worked hard and came back from his injuries faster than anticipated. There was no malingering. If GB asked Bulaga to take a pay cut, he was right to say no.

Here is the list of FA left tackles. It is dreadful or ancient. Now look at the RTs. There isn't a FA with a better history that can take his place. Spriggs gave us hope for the future, well until he continually stunk up the joint. Even really good players can be replaced, but don't be surprised if it take multiple draft picks to do it, and even multiple FAs.

https://www.spotrac.com/nfl/free-agents/all/left-tackle/

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stockholder's picture

October 25, 2019 at 08:26 am

Respect had nothing to do with this. I believe he has dedication and professionalism. {The problem is the packers were on the verge of cutting him. } His injuries! Your right about Spriggs etc. Thats on TT. But isn't Turner his replacement? And the packers can't pay him market value, or what he thinks he worth.. ( And keep this Defense intact, and going up. ) To many veterans have a good year, and flop. And the packers wouldn't have asked for a pay cut, if he didn't flop/Regress. Bulaga's year isn't over yet. He still will have to face Mack, and others again. Signing him to an extension now, would be a mistake. I believe Turner is his replacement.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 25, 2019 at 10:04 pm

Bhaktiari is due the following year. Who gets the re-up? 2020 draft one of the best for OTs in the past five years and the best of the bunch, the kid from Tennesse injured. Packers have leverage.

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Lare's picture

October 24, 2019 at 05:08 pm

The Packers should try to re-sign Bulaga as he's still playing well, but really it's up to him if the stays in Green Bay. Other teams with a lot more salary cap space will offer him more money so the ball is in his court. As others have found out, sometimes the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

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Sol's picture

October 24, 2019 at 05:28 pm

Aron Rodgers put it best, Brian is a little grumpy and a warrior that has had to work thorough a lot of injuries that others might not have even tried. I feel like an offensive line needs a little grumpy and orneriness. As far as injuries go the team doctors are some of the best in the sports world and should be able to make a pretty good guess on his health and things that might happen to affect his availability. Heck why didn't he get cut when he refused to take a pay cut? Because guys like him just don't grow on trees.

I believed Brian Gutekunst when he said he would leave no stone unturned in his quest to build the best roster in the NFL and promote an atmosphere for success. The man truly knows the difference between a horse an a pony and when the price might be to high for team success. Let the guys that have access to all the information decide the future.

Right now I am happy to watch one of the best horses in the NFL play right tackle and turn opponents into ponies every week,

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Michael Hughes's picture

October 24, 2019 at 05:31 pm

The best way to predict injuries is age and injury history. Have no problem whatsoever in giving him a 1 year deal on very good money indeed in fact if he would sign it then I would get it written up asap. But he will want to take advantage of his last chance to cash in so we should walk away.

Giving someone like bulaga a multi year contract on big money has a high probability of becoming a significant problem very quickly. It's asking for trouble. Pay big money for second contract guys still at their peak and you have far better odds.

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Mojo's picture

October 24, 2019 at 05:47 pm

"Boolaga - Iawaa"

Always feel better when hearing that during player intros on nationally televised games.

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Packer_Fan's picture

October 24, 2019 at 06:28 pm

I always wanted to keep Bulaga. And it was a good choice. For depth. We already lost the LG and we got lucky Jentgens is playing well. And we still may lose another starter. We have to extend Clark first. Let Bulaga play out the year. And if there is not another FA signing, sign Bulaga for one more year. And next year draft a replacement tackle.

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mamasboy's picture

October 24, 2019 at 07:19 pm

There is no way Bulaga is going to sign a one year deal. One year deals are "prove yourself" situations. The sun will rise in the west before that happens.

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mamasboy's picture

October 24, 2019 at 06:58 pm

I hope they sign Bulaga before Martinez.

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Turophile's picture

October 25, 2019 at 03:29 am

You can count me as one person that had assumed Bulaga would be allowed to leave when his contract expired after 2019. That was my feeling before the season started. I was never an advocate of letting him walk BEFORE the 2019 season, but I expected him to play elsewhere once his contract had expired.

As this season progressed I began to realise that he was playing at a seriously high level. That might be because he was healthier this year (an optimistic view) or that he was playing at a higher level because it was a contract year (a more pessimistic view). Whichever is true the high level of play is unarguable. He is even playing better than Bakhtiari this year (and that is an almost impossible feat).

As a consequence of that, It slowly dawned on me that we might be better off retaining Bulaga for a third contract. He is never going to accept a one year deal and probably not a two year deal either. Therefore you would be looking at a 3 year deal to retain him as long as the money is enough to tempt him. There are hints that he is enjoying himself more this year than in the past, which might help him be comfortable staying in Green Bay over going elsewhere. He will not be cheap because there are just too many teams in desperate need of a starting level OT.

As it stands now, I'd like to see him return, even though it's likely to cost the Packers $10m pa. Good tackles are just so important for the team, especially for an older QB, and there is very little chance of drafting a tackle in 2020 who is at all close to what Bulaga is providing now. I'd be all for getting an OT this year anyway, but if Bulaga is retained, it allows a more developmental pick than a first (ie a pick in rounds 2 to 4).

Is it a risk given his health record........yes it is, but it is becoming a risk that the Packers might be willing to make. Stockholder's opinion (see comments above this) that $8m pa is too much, is unrealistic in this market. Demand for good OT's (even not so good ones) is far too high for that kind of money being enough to keep him.

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PeteK's picture

October 25, 2019 at 08:56 am

He is definitely a warrior , but he has an extensive injury history which gets worse with age. Letting go of Sitton and Lang were good moves, and so will this one.

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Qoojo's picture

October 25, 2019 at 02:05 pm

I really like Bulaga. He is a tough guy with good character. With that said, I would not give him more than a 2-year extension, given his injury history. I am even second guessing the 2 years. Just have to see how this year goes. This sunday is only the halfway point for packers.

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