Uncertainty at Right Tackle Heading into 2020

After years of watching Bryan Bulaga hold down the right tackle position for the Green Bay Packers, there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding that position heading into 2020. 

While Bryan Bulaga caught his share of flack from some Green Bay Packers' fans due to his injury history - which wasn't nearly as bad as it's made out to be - he was one of the better right tackles in the NFL for a number of years. Not to mention that the combination of him and David Bakhtiari on the left side formed one of, if not the best tackle duo in the league during that same span. 

However, Bulaga's contract was up after the 2020 season, and given a number of factors including age, cost, and the fact that Green Bay just doesn't hand out third contracts to offensive linemen, Bulaga now finds himself in Los Angeles with the Chargers. 

Taking over for Bulaga at right tackle - or at least that's what we assume - is Rick Wagner who the Packers signed fairly quickly once the free agency period began. In comparison to Bulaga, Wagner is going to be a downgrade, but in his defense, most other options were.

However, the big question is, how much a downgrade will he be? 

Since taking over as a full-time starter back in 2014, Wagner has played in all 16 games just one time and that includes a career-low 12 games in 2019. On top of that when he was on the field last year, he would struggle and by Pro Football Focus' metrics, Wagner is coming off the worst season of his career. 

After allowing eight sacks and 36 total pressures in 2018, Wagner would give up three sacks and 32 total pressures this past season, but keep in mind with his injuries, he was only on the field for 467 pass-blocking attempts. For comparison's sake, Bulaga had 612 pass-blocking snaps in 2019 and allowed four sacks and 27 pressures during that span.

Meanwhile, compared to the rest of the offensive tackles around the NFL, Wagner's pass-blocking efficiency - which measures pressures allowed per-snap with more weighting towards sacks - ranked 42nd out of 58 qualifying tackles who played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps. 

As I said, we aren't expecting Wagner to be an upgrade over Bulaga. In fact, after the draft, Head Coach Matt LaFleur mentioned that Wagner would be competing for the starting right tackle job. Which given his recent play and injury history, I can understand. But in all honesty, who is going to compete with him?

There is very little experience on the depth chart behind Wagner and based on past seasons, odds are he is going to miss some time with an injury. Meaning, Green Bay is likely going to need a reliable backup option to take some snaps in 2020 and at this point, I don't know that they have that. 

One option is moving Billy Turner over to right tackle if Wagner has to miss some time and then having Lane Taylor or Lucas Patrick for example, take over at right guard. However, even at guard Turner had issues when he was in space. Seeing him consistently out on the edge is not something that I'm exactly looking forward to. 

Another candidate could be Taylor if he makes it to Week 1, since he has filled in at left tackle for Bakhtiari in the past. But that was only for two weeks and that was back in 2017. So once again, how reliable of an option is he?

A few other players include Alex Light, but I'm sure we all remember how that went last season. Along with Yosh Nijman, John Leglue, Cody Conway, and Travis Bruffy. All of which have no NFL experience. 

This tweet of mine from a few weeks ago shows just how much inexperience there is at the tackle position on the current Packers' roster:

So although LaFleur said that Wagner would be competing for the starting job, it belongs to him, and the hope is that he is able to find his old form from past seasons.

With a quarterback that likes to hold on to the football, turns 37 during the season, and an offense under LaFleur that runs the outside-zone running scheme which requires the tackles to get a seal on the edge, Wagner is going to be vital to the Packers' success in 2020. And with no viable backup options behind him, he must stay healthy, and he must play well. 

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (20)

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PresidentRaygun's picture

May 29, 2020 at 01:23 pm

Why don't they re-sign Jared Veldheer? Thought he was solid last year.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 29, 2020 at 04:49 pm

Age and money. Mostly money.

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jannes bjornson's picture

May 29, 2020 at 10:54 pm

Mostly age. What guarantee would there be with Bulaga? He lasted most of the year, but still missed a couple games. I like the Wagner and Runyun competition.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 30, 2020 at 07:47 am

Cap rules over all. Both cost too much to keep. In that Wagner's lower Cap number called the tune. Runyun is irrelevant until TC opens...

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Leatherhead's picture

May 29, 2020 at 02:37 pm

A guy who has been a starter in the league for 7 years and has never played in less than 12 games doesn’t represent a lot of uncertainty, IMO.

This is a veteran offensive line.

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dobber's picture

May 29, 2020 at 03:37 pm

Certainly Wagner didn't get high-end starter's money on his contract...15th in cap hit at right tackle for 2020, but very cuttable after 2021 with a $5M savings on his deal if he's let go. His deal is structured in a way that his cap hit would be a net loss (not gain) for the Packers if they let him go prior to that, so he's going to be a Packer in 2020 even if he gets outplayed.

This argues that he's very likely a one-year guy, and says that either (1) the Packers like the looks of a couple of their young guys and think one might mature, or (2) they're going to be thinking hard about how to invest in that position for 2021. The potential need to look for a new RT in 2021, either through the draft or FA, limits how they handle their LT problem, though. I suspect they've got someone they really like as an OT for 2021...maybe it's Wagner, but that contract structure and his age argue not.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 29, 2020 at 09:28 pm

Everybody is a two year guy. If Gutekunst doesn’t win, changes are gonna be made.

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mnbadger's picture

May 29, 2020 at 03:48 pm

Didn't learn anything new. How about some details regarding Nijman? His name gets thrown around, but what do we know about him?
Also, cut Turner and start Taylor.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 29, 2020 at 05:17 pm

Lot we don't and won't know until this group gets on the field. So many unanswered questions. My take is this is the last year for this starting unit. Losing Bulaga was only the prelude to the end of a great run for this unit. I thought only the Cap determined whether the rebuild came this year or next. Nope, looks like Covid-19 may be the final boss instead of the Cap after all. IF. If they do play this year the pro leagues will need to greatly expand the rosters. (Heck, NFL may need two full 55 to replace players who go down with the 'rona') NFL been real cagey about how their going to handle training camp, much less a full season. Would be nice to have some real sports reporting on this for once. What a strange sporting year....

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flackcatcher's picture

May 29, 2020 at 05:28 pm

Who knows if there is even going to be College football season this year. Despite some of the public statements from some College Presidents (SEC mostly, wouldn't you know) there are real public health and legal issues that have not been addressed yet. How that spills into the pro game the NFL has not dared to get close too. (Draft anyone) We are in unknown territory here...

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gkarl's picture

May 29, 2020 at 05:19 pm

Wagner is far from the best RT in the NFL, but we can't expect the best at every position. For the 5M, I like the value and would rather have him start than any of our other options at this point. 12 games a year minimum since 2014 seems pretty durable to me especially for OL. Taylor made almost as much as Wagner will and missed most of LY.

Wagner is suppose to be a better run blocker than pass protector, that fits with the direction the offense is heading. As for his declining play remember there are lies, damn lies and PFF metrics.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 29, 2020 at 05:33 pm

Yes. Wagner will be a far better player playing next to Taylor or Turner than the wreck of that O line the Lions put out last season.

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Packers0808's picture

May 29, 2020 at 05:29 pm

Isn't conjecture just a great thing?

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wildbill's picture

May 29, 2020 at 07:48 pm

For the money he is a good pickup. There will be veteran cuts later on and we might pick up some more insurance

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fish's picture

May 29, 2020 at 08:33 pm

I'll be watching Nijman in the preseason more than probably any other player. Last preseason I decided to keep an eye on him in particular, and I thought he played quite well. I don't recall what level of players he was up against, but he seemed to win all the battles.

I wouldn't be surprised if in 3 years the line is Nijman, Jenkins, Hanson, Madison, and Runyan.

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Since'61's picture

May 29, 2020 at 11:55 pm

Right side of the OL is my biggest concern on offense for 2020. I don’t see us running effectively to the right side behind Turner and Wagner.

In the passing game I see Rodgers running for his life yet again unless the Packers go with the quick passing game.

DCs will feast on the right side of our OL.

Hope for the best. Thanks, Since ‘61

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Johnblood27's picture

May 30, 2020 at 12:19 am

How in the world did BG ever throw 8M/yr at Turner?

His name should be Turnstile.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 30, 2020 at 07:41 am

Because he was, what the Packers judged to be, the best available in that free agent class last year. Don't forget how thin the Packers were in the O line. No starter at RG, Taylor with a bad shoulder at LG, and no replacement at either position before the draft. As things played out Taylor went down when his partly healed shoulder opened up in the Bears game and that left Jenkins, a rookie as the only remaining guard on the roster to start. (Madison was done early in TC) No depth at all across the roster, starters were pretty much it. So Turner earned every bit of his salary last year. A good signing by Gute....

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gkarl's picture

May 31, 2020 at 08:54 am

Don't be surprised if Turner is gone after TY. I believe his contract was set up to be much easier to get out of after year 2. This assumes someone develops to take his spot, that's far from a sure thing at this point.

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Archie's picture

May 30, 2020 at 09:17 am

Probably one and done for Wagner. Probably last year for Turner as well as our C. Even Bakhtiari looms as a major ?. Packer fans need to get used to the idea that letting Bulaga go was the beginning of the end of our veteran OL. We will probably have to draft an OT in R1 next year. Maybe in both R1 & R2.

We got 4 stars to re-ink next year. And we don't have the dough to do it. And especially not if cap doesn't continue 7% rise due to COVID19. Someone mentioned that we might be forced to let Preston Smith go to create cap space. This will be another great test for Gute - does he have a plan that let's him afford to keep his top players. My guess is not - unless they unload Rodgers after 2020. Even that wouldn't be a big help till 2022. Other possibility is that major injuries reduce market value/interest in Packer stars but that isn't a good scenario either. So something must give, we can't afford what we have much longer.

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