GREEN BAY, Wis. – If the Green Bay Packers need some salary-cap space and decide to keep receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson at their current contracts, then veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga could be in trouble.
New Packers GM Brian Gutekunst wants to be more involved in free agency than his predecessor yet he has only $15.4 million in salary-cap space, according to the NFL Players Association.
The Packers could pick up $4,703,125 million on their cap if they released Bulaga. That number would jump to $6,303,125 if they designated him as a post-June 1 cut.
Bulaga, although only 28, is coming off his second ACL reconstruction and there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready for the start of this season.
While most of the talk about the Packers and any salary-cap related moves has centered around the two receivers, there has been little mention of Bulaga. The same is true from his side of things, too. Bulaga said Thursday during a radio appearance on ESPN Milwaukee that he hasn’t heard anything from the Packers as it relates to his contract or his roster status. Bulaga has two years left on a five-year, $33.75 million deal.
“My agents were in Indy [at the combine] last week, and we haven’t heard anything,” Bulaga said on the Wilde & Tausch show. “I guess my thought process on all of that is, ‘No news is good news.’ To me, I’m getting ready to help the Green Bay Packers win football games next year. That’s what I’m doing. I’m preparing myself, getting myself back ready to help this team win football games. To me, I’m not even really worried about any financial aspects of what’s going on or contract talks. That’s out of my hands. We haven’t heard anything but even if we did, I’m not even worried about that. I’m more worried about getting back, getting ready as soon as possible and being ready to contribute when I get back.”
The Packers don’t have a sure-fire replacement for Bulaga, although they drafted a pair of tackles in 2016 – Jason Spriggs (second round) and Kyle Murphy (sixth). Both ended last season on injured reserve along with Bulaga.
Bulaga suffered a torn ACL in his right knee on Nov. 6 against the Detroit Lions. He said on the radio show that he believes his training camp ankle sprain, which sidelined him for three of the first four regular-season games, led to his season-ending knee injury. He missed all of the 2013 season because of a torn ACL in his left knee. Bulaga has been rehabbing at the IMG Academy near his offseason home in Bradenton, Florida.
Packers oach Mike McCarthy said at the combine that the latest medical report on Bulaga was: “So far, everything looks good. It’s all been positive feedback.”
“Obviously this is a process that is going to take me all the way up to training camp,” Bulaga said. “It’s not like I’m going to be perfectly fine by the time I get back for OTAs; that’s not the case. I’m going to need as much time as possible. But I feel like I’m making good strides, and I’m confident in what’s going on.”
When healthy, Bulaga has been one of the top right tackles in the NFL. The former first-round pick became a starter as a rookie in 2010 and has played in 85 career regular-season games.
“Some people may forget that I’m only going to be 29 on March 21,” Bulaga said. “Obviously I’ve had some injuries and I understand that better than anybody; I mean I’ve had to deal with them. But from the standpoint of how much longer? I feel like I can play a lot longer. My body feels good. Obviously I’m rehabbing an injury so that may sound kind of stupid, but I feel good. I feel like I’m continuing to get stronger, working out, I feel like I’m still as quick and I can move well and I can bend and do all those things an offensive lineman needs to do. When I’m playing, I feel like I’m playing at a high level and I’m doing my job.
“I feel like I can continue to play and play at a high level. That’s just kind of the way I look at it. I feel like I still have a lot left to give – only being 29 years old, it’s kind of the way I look at it. Some people may look at it differently. That’s OK. But I know what I’m capable of, I know how my body feels, I know how everything’s going and I feel like [I’ve got] a lot of good years left, personally.”
Gutekunst was asked last week at the combine about keeping high-priced veterans Cobb, Nelson and Clay Matthews – and said he wouldn’t let good players “walk out the door just for that reason” – but he was not asked specifically about Bulaga.