Rick Wagner Has Never Been More Valuable

Despite not being a full-time starter, Rick Wagner has performed well in 2020.

2020 didn’t go as planned for Green Bay Packers right tackle Rick Wagner. Wagner, 31, has been a starter since his second NFL season back in 2014. This past year, he found himself starting in only nine games, his lowest total since his rookie season. However, the Packers are now eyeing a trip to their sixth Super Bowl, and Wagner’s role has never been more important.

When David Bakhtiari tore his ACL during Thursday’s practice on December 31, Green Bay lost not only their starting left tackle but arguably the best player at his position for the rest of the season. Thankfully, the Packers did reward Bakhtiari with a record-setting, four-year, $103.5 million contract extension in November, making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. No one was more deserving than Bakhtiari, and had he not been signed prior to his injury, it would have been a travesty.

It is impossible to replace a player of Bakhtiari’s caliber, but Green Bay will have to do it if they hope to make it to Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay. That is where Wagner comes in.

When Bakhtiari missed three games earlier in the year, the usual right tackle Billy Turner was his replacement. And taking Turner’s spot on the right side was none other than Wagner. Most teams experience trouble after shuffling their offensive line personnel, but the Packers' offense was still playing at a high level even without their star left tackle.

During that three-game stretch, they averaged over 30 points per game and 342 yards of offense. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers was sacked only twice. Aside from their week eight downfall against the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay more than managed without Bakhtiari’s presence. And, they will be more than capable of navigating through the playoffs without him.

General manager Brian Gutekunst has done a tremendous job of preparing the Packers for this very moment. He’s built a roster that, even when lacking a key component, can still function at a high level. Last March, he made the difficult decision of letting Bryan Bulaga test the waters of free agency. Instead, Gutekunst signed Wagner, the much cheaper option.

Wagner's two-year deal worth $11 million has been worth every penny and it was further justified during the final five games of the regular season. When center Corey Linsley had to heal from a knee injury, Wagner found himself starting at right tackle yet again. As expected, he performed well.

In their week 17 matchup against the Chicago Bears, Turner filled in for Bakhtiari at left tackle, and Wagner was at his natural position on the right. The Bears’ pass rush, consisting of Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, and Akiem Hicks, did very little to affect Rodgers that night. Green Bay’s quarterback was sacked on one occasion. Wagner did not allow one quarterback hit or even one hurried throw. While protecting Rodgers’ blindside, Turner held his up his end of the bargain and then some.

“I couldn’t be more thankful or proud of the way those guys played today,” said Rodgers.

With the playoffs set to begin this weekend, the Packers have very little room for error. When Green Bay resumes in the divisional round, Turner will be on the left and Wagner on the right.  At that point, what happened in training camp and during the regular season won’t matter. Wagner will be expected to play like the starter he is.

 

 

Brandon Carwile is a Packers writer who also enjoys watching and breaking down film. Follow him on Twitter @PackerScribe.

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Comments (32)

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Guam's picture

January 08, 2021 at 03:18 pm

Wagner is important this year and will be more important next year as he will probably spend most of 2021 starting since it is highly unlikely Bahk will be back for the start of next season and may well be out for most of it. Great free agent signing by Gute!

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 08, 2021 at 04:30 pm

He's another reason why you sign veterans to hold key spots when you build a team. Plug and Play.

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Coldworld's picture

January 09, 2021 at 05:01 pm

Sometimes. He was good value and coming off an injury impacted season. Those signings bring excess value if the health aspect land out. On the other hand, we had Graham and Bennett. I don’t think this proves a rule, but it does indicate where veteran value may be found.

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Packer_Fan's picture

January 08, 2021 at 03:55 pm

People did not think much of Wagner's signing this year. And there wasn't much thought of Turner either. But oh how things turned out. With Taylor coming back and Turner playing well and Patrick playing well, Wagner was a backup. So it ended up with a Oline with multiple good backups. Taylor went down, then Linsley. Linsley came back and now Bak is down. And we still have one good backup left, Runyan.

To get to the Super Bowl, we needed all this depth and quality players. Gute did a good job of providing what was need.

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slant_route's picture

January 09, 2021 at 08:38 am

So true. I anticipated Wagner to be quite a downgrade from Bulaga. No doubt Bulaga was a much better player when healthy. But, Wagner is better than I had hoped for. I also think Bulaga missed about 6 games this year with injury which is one of the reasons we let him go - concern about availability. I was and remain a huge Bulaga fan. And, am now a Wagner fan too.

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PackerBacker77's picture

January 09, 2021 at 09:03 am

The only reason they let Bulawayo go was they could not afford him period.

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TheKanataThrilla's picture

January 08, 2021 at 04:04 pm

It was disappointing moving on from Bulaga, but it was the correct call by Gute. We saved money and RT wasn't the problem many expected it to be with Wagner and Turner being great replacements.

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porupack's picture

January 08, 2021 at 04:06 pm

Well stated case, Brandon. Nice to circle back after the less positive reaction at the signing. Good for all of us to recognize we're pretty limited prognosticators, and be ready to applaud when players we claim are JAGS or discards, then pleasantly surprise us.

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TheVOR's picture

January 08, 2021 at 04:28 pm

I wasn't positive in knowing what to expect with Wagner. he was a risk signing because of the Injuries, but so was Bulaga! Both players were Pro-Bowl caliber RT's, and Wagner was the real risk in him returning to form. As it turned out, both players missed games again this season, but Wagner has been a rock in there whenever called upon. It's going to be important that he stays healthy and available in the playoffs. I like the player a lot! Glad he's under contract for another season.

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mnbadger's picture

January 08, 2021 at 06:56 pm

I was glad we landed RW at the time of the signing, but I have to admit that I was venting loud that BTurner should have been let loose to save $. One more reason I still haven't been offered a job on Gutey's staff. GPG

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

January 08, 2021 at 07:16 pm

Really the only regrettable move in Free Agency by BG so far has been Jimmy Graham. Even Kirksey is looking useful now that he's not playing the Mike linebacker spot.

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GregC's picture

January 08, 2021 at 09:06 pm

In previous years, when one of the OT's went down, it was a disaster. Remember Marshall Newhouse? He was terrible. Or they would slide Jason Spitz out from his guard position, and he would get torched continuously. This year they haven't missed Bulaga at all, and so far they've done okay without Bahktiari too, thanks to Turner and Wagner. The one bad patch I remember was when Bahktiari got hurt in the Tampa Bay game and they threw Wagner in at left tackle. He had a rough time out there, but the game was already out of hand by that point. The next game, he was back at right tackle, with Turner at left tackle, and the O-line did just fine. Credit should also go to Lucas Patrick, who has also held up well as the replacement for Lane Taylor at right guard.

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Stroh's picture

January 09, 2021 at 06:39 pm

Newhouse was a 5th? rd pick. He wasn't nearly ready to step in and be an immediate starter. He's still in the league after a decade or more. He was a great pick and has fashioned a very good career for himself. You should give him his props!

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GregC's picture

January 09, 2021 at 07:31 pm

Newhouse was kind of a studios-looking guy, and I was always pulling for him. Kudos to him for having a decent NFL career. But he was terrible when he played for the Packers, and that's a fact.

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flackcatcher's picture

January 09, 2021 at 10:16 pm

Newhouse was good as a Rookie. Folks forget the Packers lost both OL tackles at Atlanta that year after the strike. Both Rookies came in without preseason and stoned the Falcons the rest of game. Newhouse was OK for this team, not terrible. But to many mental lapses led the Packers to release him. As Stroh says, still in the league, and in today's NFL that says a lot.

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GregC's picture

January 10, 2021 at 05:20 pm

Yeah, he was frustrating because he looked good at times, but then he would completely blow it. He just needed more time to get his act together. We've had a couple other offensive linemen like that, who went on to success with other teams. Breno Giacomini was one of them.

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raedwallaceee's picture

January 09, 2021 at 11:54 am

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SterlingSharpe's picture

January 08, 2021 at 10:01 pm

Rick has done a solid job.

Let's go UNDERDOGS this weekend!

https://www.packersmagazine.com

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Leatherhead's picture

January 08, 2021 at 10:46 pm

Could we agree that we won’t talk about cutting Wagner or Lewis to create ‘cap space’ this off season?

I’m hoping we can add another guy like Jenkins. Keep Rodgers protected and open holes in the run game and we’ll win 13 games next year.

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Coldworld's picture

January 09, 2021 at 12:25 am

Hope Lewis continues to want to play.

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Stroh's picture

January 09, 2021 at 06:41 pm

Wagner too. He may want to call it a career if we win the SB.

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Guam's picture

January 09, 2021 at 07:32 am

If the Packers should win a SB this season, I would not be surprised to see Marcedes Lewis ride off into the sunset. I would be a well deserved ending to a long and productive career.

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PeteK's picture

January 09, 2021 at 09:03 am

I could definitely see that. However, a blocking TE is easier to find than a RT. We might have a smaller but more mobile version in Dequara.

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Stroh's picture

January 09, 2021 at 06:43 pm

If the Packers win the SB, there's a good chance Wagner would retire as well.

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PeteK's picture

January 09, 2021 at 08:58 am

LH, very correct on supporting Wagner. I liked the signing, but then was not in favor of keeping him next year because of his injuries. I've changed my opinion. We will need him for insurance even as Nijman or a drafted rookie will need time. Even in life , we should not skimp on INS.

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NitschkeFan's picture

January 09, 2021 at 09:43 am

Personally I get attached to players that have played well and been on the team for a few seasons. Probably most fans do. So when we lose an Offensive Lineman due to old age or salary cap considerations there is always some feeling of uncertainty about his replacement.

In recent years, I was worried when TJ Lang, Josh Sitton, and of course Bulaga were allowed to leave. Heck I was even disappointed when we lost JC Tretter who I thought provided great interior line depth.

But if you have a good GM, life in the NFL rolls on and good replacements are found. I am happy that even though each of the above players who were very good, we still put out one of the best offensive lines in the league. Great work by the GM and the OL coaching staff (and of course great job by Jenkins, Turner, Wagner).

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porupack's picture

January 09, 2021 at 11:54 am

While we're talking about Oline, since we have a very solid one now, I sure hope they find a way to keep our pro-bowl center; Linsley. Just because Gute stocked the Oline very well, these guys don't just sprout on bushes. When you have a guy that earns that award.....it is a pretty impressive commodity. Since he was home-grown, pay him. Draft and Develop! But then keep him, and keep the core of the team entact for continuity. My thoughts at least.

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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

January 09, 2021 at 04:29 pm

They won’t have the cap space to sign an All-Pro center. Maybe Jenkins moves to center and Jon Runyon replaces him at guard.

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Stroh's picture

January 09, 2021 at 06:55 pm

Funny how everyone, probably you as well, were yelling for Jenkins to play OT (I wasn't) and now you can't wait for him at Center (I agree on this).

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MarkinMadison's picture

January 09, 2021 at 09:12 pm

I never understood all the negativity about Turner's contract. It was pretty much market value for a guard. And with how he has filled in at LT he has exceeded his contract. With Wagner, the major question mark is his ability to stay healthy. Cross our fingers and pray because if he goes down there is not much more depth left. I surely hope that the Packers spend a high draft pick on a true T this draft.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

January 10, 2021 at 04:12 am

IIRC, the Packers got into a bit of a bidding war over Turner with Denver. He was at the time deemed a little pricey. While he was considered a starting RG, he was deemed to be in the somewhat below average area as a starter.

Two years later, he would still be the 10th highest paid RG and the 9th highest paid RT. In 2019, he was a less than average starter, not in the top half. He had a good year in 2020. Due to his versatility and improved play, he is worth his pay this year.

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Stroh's picture

January 10, 2021 at 02:50 pm

Wouldn't say a bidding war, Denver wanted him back and offered a deal. Turner declined it thinking he could get a better deal in FA. He took the Packers offer almost immediately.

Agree with tho. Based on last year it was looking like a bad signing. Fast forward a year and now it's looking like Turner was a quality FA sign. We'll see how the next year plays out, but if he helps get to/win a SB, it would have to go down as a great sign by Gutey.

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