Bryan Bulaga, Jimmy Graham, Blake Martinez… these are a few names of players that could be with other teams in the 2020 NFL season. As the new NFL league year approaches, the Packers have many important decisions that could drastically impact the future of their team. The front office has made one of these decisions already. Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday (3/4) that Jimmy Graham will not return to the Packers in 2020 on the third and final year of his contract.
As a result, the Packers save approximately $8 million on the cap for the 2020 season. Consequently, this decision could be the beginning of other roster moves as free agency starts March 18th. Bryan Bulaga is another free agent decision that looms in the Packer’s front office.
As the Packers right offensive tackle, Bulaga has played 9 seasons in the NFL. Tasked to protect Aaron Rodgers, Bulaga has been invaluable to Packers. As the 2020 league year begins, he will hit free agency for the first time in 5 years. Ideally, the Packers would like to resign Bulaga to a new contract. However, there are many factors that influence the Packer’s ability/willingness to bring back Bulaga.
If the Packers wish to retain Bulaga, they have to be willing to pay him. His previous contract averaged about $6.75 million per season. A new contract would most likely make Bulaga one of the top ten paid offensive linemen in the league. Salaries of the current top ten offensive linemen range from $13.2 to $16.5 million per season. This yearly expense may not be feasible for the 2020 Green Bay Packers and, therefore, may make resigning Bulaga too difficult.
Currently, the Packer’s cap space is around $26.5 million. This estimation includes cap savings from Jimmy Graham’s release. Resigning Bulaga would lower the available cap space in 2020 and for future seasons. Furthermore, the Packers may want to resign Kenny Clark, Aaron Jones and Kevin King to name a few. As a result, bringing Bulaga back may greatly affect their ability to retain these playmakers for future seasons.
In addition to the cost of retaining Bulaga, his injury history creates a few more causes for concern. Over the course of his NFL career, he has sustained many knee injuries. In 2013, he tore his left ACL and, in 2017, he tore his right ACL. The main purpose of the ACL is to aid in overall stability of the knee. Prevalence of ACL injury is highest in athletic populations and, unfortunately, requires a long period of recovery and rehabilitation. Research indicates a greater retear rate in athletes with ACL injury history as well as decreased overall performance in seasons post-ACL injury/repair.
With consideration of Bulaga’s injury history, research would indicate that he is at a higher risk for re-injury. Additionally, research indicates an overall decline in athletic performance with Bulaga’s previous injuries. In 2019, Bulaga was able to formulate a very productive season. He started in all 16 regular season games for the first time since his 2016 season. Although he had an impressive season, the intensity and volume of workload in the NFL as well as his age will impact his ability to continue playing at this high of a level for future seasons.
To Sign or Not to Sign
The Packers have many things to consider as the NFL free agency period quickly approaches. Bryan Bulaga’s future with the team is one of them and perhaps the most important decision of this off-season. Bulaga has been a great asset to the franchise. However, his total cost and durability will affect the Packer’s decision to retain him.
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