Packers' free-agent questions: Blake Martinez gone? Bryan Bulaga back?

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Brian Gutekunst had a much easier task last offseason when it came to his list of unrestricted free agents: The Green Bay Packers general manager said goodbye to most of them.

Of the 11 primary players on that list, he initially re-signed just one of them: tight end Marcedes Lewis for one year and $2.1 million. (He later brought back safety Ibraheim Campbell, but not until training camp and only for a minimum deal.)

The rest -- including players like Randall Cobb, Lance Kendricks, Clay Matthews, Jake Ryan and Bashaud Breeland -- walked out the door and signed with other teams.

Gutekunst's job looks much more difficult this time around, with 15 players headed for unrestricted free agency in March. Among them are longtime, high-level contributors and fan favorites: right tackle Bryan Bulaga, kicker Mason Crosby and cornerback Tramon Williams.

"Those three particular guys have meant a lot to this place," Gutekunst said last week. "They're excellent football players. I got a lot of [former Packers GM] Ted Thompson in me. I'd like to keep them all. I wish our roster size could be a lot bigger than what it is. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

"To see what those guys have done what they've done in their careers, but even at this stage of their careers, produce like they produced, that's big time. It meant so much to our team. Not just this year but for multiple years. Not only their production on the field but what they've helped do in this locker room has been really important to us."

But Gutekunst doesn't have the salary-cap space (about $28.3 million, according to ESPN Stats & Information, at this point) that he had last spring, when he went on a free-agent spending spree and signed Adrian Amos, Preston Smith, Za'Darius Smith and Billy Turner from other teams. And he has at least one big contract extension in the works -- for defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who will enter the final year of his rookie deal in 2020.

Gutekunst has exclusive negotiating rights with the Packers' free agents until March 16 at 4 p.m. ET, when the NFL allows teams to begin talks with players set to become unrestricted free agents.

Here's a look at Packers with expiring contracts:


Unrestricted free agents (players with four or more accrued seasons)

Bryan Bulaga, RT: There was a time a few years ago when it looked like the veteran wouldn't see the end of the $33.75 million contract extension he signed in 2015. But he bucked the injury bug, and since his second ACL tear in 2017 he's started all but three games (and one of those absences was due to an illness) in the past two seasons.

The former first-round pick will turn 31 in March, so the concern is body breakdown. The Packers don't have an heir apparent at tackle unless they're planning to move Elgton Jenkins from guard after a standout rookie season. That could be why they signed backup guard Lucas Patrick to a contract extension last month.

Bulaga said unequivocally that he plans to keep playing, but he didn't know whether it would be for the Packers. "I know I can still contribute at a high level and play really good football; I think I showed I can still do that this year," Bulaga said after the season. "We'll see what happens." 2019 pay: $6.75 million.

Geronimo Allison, WR: The Packers brought him back last season on a one-year deal with the thought that he would be their No. 2 receiver and could move into the slot with Cobb's departure, but Allison never took the jump they hoped. He finished sixth on the team in receptions (34) despite playing in every game, and he had four drops, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Gutekunst said receiver will "be a position we look to add [to this offseason]." 2019 pay: $2.8 million.

Marcedes Lewis, TE: The 2019 season was a rebirth for the 35-year-old, who started 11 games and caught 15 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown after being used almost exclusively as a blocker the previous year. He's one of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' favorite teammates and has expressed no desire to retire. If Gutekunst cuts Jimmy Graham as expected and wants a veteran presence for young tight end Jace Sternberger then Lewis could be back. 2019 pay: $2.1 million.

Danny Vitale, FB: He became more important to the Packers with the hiring of Matt LaFleur as coach, but LeFleur didn't involve Vitale as much as it looked like he might based on what we saw in training camp. Still, Vitale had a place in the offense -- not as a ball carrier but as a blocker and receiver (seven catches for 97 yards, including a 27-yard near touchdown) until a late-season knee injury. 2019 pay: $720,000.

Tyler Ervin, RB/PR: A Week 14 waiver claim, Ervin averaged 9.6 yards per punt return to spark a struggling unit. By season's end, LaFleur had incorporated him into the offense on jet-sweep action plays. He could be a low-cost answer to the Packers' return-game problems. 2019 pay: $720,000.

Ryan Grant, WR: He was signed in mid-October after injuries hit the receiver position but was inactive for every game. There's no reason to believe he will be back if he couldn't crack the lineup. 2019 pay: $805,000.

Jared Veldheer, OT: The veteran tackle retired last spring because he didn't want to go through another offseason of work but came back late in the season and was claimed off waivers by the Packers. He started and played well in the divisional playoff game against the Seahawks when Bulaga came down with an illness. 2019 pay: $1.5 million.

Jason Spriggs, OT: The former second-round pick spent the entire season on injured reserve because of a trap muscle injury. The Packers actually waived him injured, but because no one claimed him, he reverted to IR. Even if the Packers don't re-sign Bulaga, it's unlikely Spriggs is in the future plans at tackle. 2019 pay: $1,139,924.

Restricted free agents (players with three accrued seasons but not four; can be tendered by March 18 for the Packers to retain the right to match any offer from another team.)

Malcolm Johnson, FB: He spent all season on injured reserve (shoulder). 2019 pay: $645,000.

Exclusive rights (players with fewer than three accrued seasons; must be offered minimum salary tenders by March 18 or they become street free agents): Allen Lazard, WR; Jake Kumerow, WR; Robert Tonyan, TE.


Unrestricted free agents

Blake Martinez, LB: This might be the hardest call of them all, although Gutekunst perhaps gave a hint as to which way he was leaning when he said: "Obviously Blake Martinez is up, and I think we're going have to take a long look at the inside linebacker thing, make sure we're squared away there."

Yes, Martinez is a tackle machine, ranking first, second and second in the NFL the past three years. He played the second part of this season with a broken bone in his hand. He made a few more big plays -- three sacks, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble and an interception.

But when asked if a speed upgrade is crucial at inside linebacker, Gutekunst answered affirmatively. Someone could pay Martinez if he hits the opener and the Packers likely will wait to see if that happens. If it doesn't, then perhaps he could return. 2019 pay: $2.025 million.

Kyler Fackrell, LB: From sack leader in 2018 (10.5) to afterthought (1.0 sack) with the arrival of the Smiths, why would the former third-round pick would want to come back, especially with 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary waiting in the wings for more playing time? 2019 pay: $2.02 million.

B.J. Goodson, LB: Acquired in a Week 1 trade with the Giants, Goodson was the base inside linebacker next to Martinez. He's not a three-down linebacker like Martinez, but if the Packers want to play more with two inside backers on the field next year, then Goodson is a viable option. 2019 pay: $720,000.

Tramon Williams, CB: Seemingly ageless at 36 (he will turn 37 in March), Williams ranked third on the team in snaps played by cornerbacks this season and gave no indication he's done yet. 2019 pay: $4.75 million.

Ibraheim Campbell, S: He was re-signed in August but was not activated off PUP until Nov. 8 because he was rehabbing his torn ACL. He doubled as an inside linebacker in sub packages over the final seven weeks of the season plus playoffs. 2019 pay: $805,000.

Will Redmond, DB: He appeared in 13 of 16 regular-season games and tied for the team lead in special-teams tackles. 2019 pay: $570,000.

Exclusive rights: Tyler Lancaster, DT; Chandon Sullivan, CB; Tim Williams, OLB.


Unrestricted free agents

Mason Crosby, K: He made a career-best 91.7% of his regular-season field goals, tying the franchise record, and missed just one of 41 extra points on the way to being a first alternate for the Pro Bowl. At age 35, Crosby showed no signs of diminished leg strength.

He might be No. 1 on the Packers' list to re-sign after Gutekunst said: "From my scout's eye, his leg strength, his power, his accuracy, it's all there. Mason is going to kick for quite a while longer if he wants to, and we'd certainly love to have him back." 2019 pay: $3.6 million.