Bryan Bulaga's return speaks to the importance of continuity

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike McCarthy believes last season's offensive line was the best one he has had in his nine years as the Green Bay Packers' coach.

The reason?

"History will tell you if you have five guys who line up and play together week in and week out, you're going to have a pretty good offensive line," McCarthy said last month at the NFL scouting combine. "This line is the best line I've coached in my time in Green Bay all the way through. What we ask of them as far as their responsibility is more than we've ever done. The continuity they've created has been awesome. The production is definitely the best we've had. This has definitely been our best group."

That no doubt had to play a part in general manager Ted Thompson's willingness to pay right tackle Bryan Bulaga more than he had originally hoped. Bulaga agreed to a deal to return to the Packers on Tuesday, a few hours before he would have hit free agency. His new contract was expected to come in slightly under $7 million per year for five years.

The same five offensive linemen started 17 of the Packers' 18 games, including playoffs, last season. The only one who missed a game was Bulaga, who suffered a knee injury in the opener but returned in Week 3. It was a group that helped Eddie Lacy rush for 1,139 yards and kept Aaron Rodgers upright. Rodgers was sacked just 28 times.

With Bulaga's deal done, the Packers are in position to keep their starting offensive line together through at least 2016. They have guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton plus left tackle David Bakhtiari signed through that season, while starting center Corey Linsley is under contract through 2017.

The Packers also will retain backup Don Barclay, who started at right tackle for part of 2012 and all of 2013 while Bulaga was injured. Barclay was given the low restricted free-agent tender Tuesday, according to his agent, Joe Linta. That will pay Barclay a $1.542 million salary for this season (if he makes the roster) unless another team signs him to an offer sheet, which is unlikely considering Barclay is coming off a knee injury that kept him out all of last season. The Packers would have the chance to match any offer to Barclay.

The big winner in all of this is Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP who was at risk of losing both Bulaga and receiver Randall Cobb. Within a span of less than 48 hours, both agreed to return.

Not only is the offensive line intact for at least two more years, but the entire starting 11 is as well. Lacy is under contract through 2016, while Cobb and Jordy Nelson are signed through 2018 and No. 3 receiver Davante Adams and tight end Richard Rodgers are signed through 2017. Rodgers' deal runs through 2019.

Injuries, of course, could change things, and that was the biggest risk with Bulaga, given his hip and knee injuries of 2012 and 2013, respectively. But with Bulaga back, the Packers not only have their entire offensive line, but also every key component to what was the highest-scoring offense in the NFL last season.