From all indications, the Bryan Bulaga era in Green Bay is over. News broke on Monday that the Green Bay Packers will be signing veteran Rick Wagner to a free-agent deal. With the signing, all arrows are pointing that the Packers are ready to move on from Bulaga. While it might not grab big headlines, the addition of Wagner was a sneaky good move by the Packers.
The Signing of Rick Wagner Is a Shrewd Move by the Packers
Entering last season, the idea of the Packers walking away from Bulaga didn’t seem too far fetched. While Bulaga had been one of the better starting right tackles in the NFL, his injury issues were a major concern. But Bulaga surprised the Packers. For only the second time in his career, he started a full 16 regular-season schedule. Not only did he do that, but his play was solid.
If Bulaga is gone, the decision to sign Rick Wagner over him couldn’t have been easy for Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst. But in our opinion, it is the correct personnel move. While Bulaga played solidly throughout his career, his availability was always up in the air. Even last season, a season that he earned positive reviews, he battled nagging injuries. Some of those nagging injuries caused him to drop out of games.
Along with his injury history, what Bulaga was going to ask for on the open market might have been too much for the Packers. As Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports wrote, on the conservative side, he could be demanding $12 million per season. Compared to what the Packers are reportedly giving Rick Wagner, it just didn’t make sense.
Bulaga gave a lot to the Packers and the Packers gave a lot to Bulaga. But the time had come to move on to the next chapter. In our view, Gutekunst walking away from Bulaga, and signing Rick Wagner, was the proper thing to do.
Wagner Appears to Be Solid Choice
Rick Wagner and his contract look to be a bargain. But he also brings with him an extensive history of starting in the NFL.
Wagner, a former University of Wisconsin product, was selected in the fifth round by the Baltimore Ravens. He started 47 games for the Ravens during his four seasons. The Packers have somebody in their front office that knows Wagner well. Milt Hendrickson, who is now director of football operations, was with the Ravens front office when they selected Wagner. Hendrickson’s presence could be a major reason that the Packers decided to pursue Wagner.
Rick Wagner’s play in Baltimore wasn’t spectacular, but it was solid. It was solid enough to earn him a five year, $47.5 million dollar free-agent contract with the Detroit Lions before the 2017 season. While he might not have played up to his contract, he still played at a starting tackle caliber level. He started 40 games at right tackle during his tenure with the Lions, which ended last week when he was released.
By no means is Rick Wagner a long time answer at right tackle. He is the same age as Bulaga and has some lost some tread on his tires. But with that said, he is a proven starter and will allow Gutekunst and his staff to find a long term answer at right tackle. That could mean spending a first-round pick on the position this year, which is probable.
Rick Wagner might not play at the same level as Bulaga, but he is more durable and most importantly, he comes at the right price.
With giving Rick Wagner the contract they are about to do and passing on Bulaga, the Packers have some spending flexibility. They could use the savings on a possible free-agent tight end, wide receiver, or more importantly, locking up defensive tackle Kenny Clark to a new deal.
Many will think that the Packers should have re-signed Bulaga. But like Ted Thompson once said, it is better to chance on letting a player go a year too early than a year too late. The Bryan Bulaga era appears to be closed. Now starts the Rick Wagner era, with cap flexibility and a player to fill the role for at least one season.