The Green Bay Packers had a lot of positive things happen in the 2014 season but perhaps the most important was the development of the offensive line, which turned out to be the best in Green Bay in over a decade.
Not only were the Packers able to routinely run the football against tough defenses—with over 100 yards rushing against Detroit, Dallas and Seattle in the three most important games of the season, the hogs up front also did a better job of protecting Aaron Rodgers than ever before.
There were plenty of reasons for that but one big one was the healthy return of right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who missed the entire 2013 season and a good chunk of 2012 with injuries.
This season, Bulaga was back to his old self and he was one of the best right tackles in football. According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the offensive line graded out as the team’s top unit this season, grading out ever high than the quarterback position, which of course is essentially just Rodgers.
In part because Bulaga’s return to form, the Packers surrendered just 30 sacks in 2014, which was good enough for a tie for ninth place. Green Bay was also 11th in total rushing yards and 10th in yards per carry.
That’s why bringing back Bulaga is essential for Green Bay going forward. The former 2010 first-round pick out of Iowa is set to hit free agency this off-season and if the Packers let him walk, it would definitely be a blow to an offensive line that both Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers said is the best they have seen in their respective tenures.
If Bulaga leaves, restricted free agent Don Barclay, who started at right tackle throughout the 2013 season and did so admirably, would likely fill his place. And while Barclay is serviceable, he is not Bulaga.
For his part, Bulaga wants to return as he said earlier this week:
“Right now, I’m really not even thinking about it to be honest with you. That’s really the last thing on my mind,” Bulaga told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently. “It’s a ‘we’ll see what happens’ kind of deal. This just ended yesterday. It’s kind of hard to look at it right now.”
Hopefully for his sake, the sake of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers Super Bowl hopes in 2015, Bulaga and the Packers can work out a long-term deal. Bulaga earned it and is deserving and Green Bay would be foolish to let him go.