The Green Bay Packers offensive line have two stellar starters right now. Although curiously, Pro Bowl voters might not think so. Left tackle David Bakhtiari has proven that he is one of the best left tackles in the game. In 2013, former Packers general manager Ted Thompson got a steal when he selected him in the fourth round. In his rookie season, he started in every regular season game at left tackle for the Packers. To date, he has started, and some would say thrived while doing so, 88 career games at left tackle for the Packers.
Fellow Packers offensive lineman Corey Linsley followed in the steps of Bakhtiari. He too started as a rookie, getting 16 starts in 2014. Although he dealt with injuries in 2015 and 2016, he has been healthy so far this season. He has started every game this season and has been the leader of the middle of the Packers offensive line. Unfortunately for the Packers, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the same can’t be said for the right side of the Packers offensive line. The issues are so bad, that it could force Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst to look for help early in this year’s draft.
In 2015, Bulaga signed a new five year $33.75 million contract. Although Bulaga had proven that he was an upper caliber offensive tackle when he signed that deal, there was a risk. From 2010 (his rookie season)-2014, Bulaga had never played a full 16 regular season schedule. Varies injuries caused him to miss time during that span. Included during that time was 2013, when he missed the season because of a knee injury he suffered in training camp. In 2016, after signing his new deal, he did start a full regular season schedule. However, that turned out to be a rare occurrence.
Since that season, he has only been able to start 17 games because of injuries. In 2017, he once again suffered a knee injury and was only able to start and play in five games for the Packers. This season, he has missed the past two starts and it is quite likely he won’t be able to play the rest of the season. While he has started 12 games this season, he hasn’t been able to finish some of those games once again because of injuries.
The Packers and Gutekunst face a difficult decision in regards to Bulaga’s status with the Packers. He has one more year left on his deal and in most situations it would be an obvious move to part ways with the former first round pick. But because of their lack of quality depth, the Packers might be forced to bring Bulaga back for the last year of his deal. Still, even if they bring him back, Gutekunst will either have to draft a tackle high or look for help in free agency. Because of Bulaga’s fragileness, the rest of the Packers offensive line can’t depend on him to play a full regular season schedule.
Gutekunst and the Packers wouldn’t need to bring Bulaga back if they had a player capable of stepping in for him. In 2016, Thompson traded up in the second round to select Spriggs. There isn’t much doubt that Thompson had hoped that Spriggs would be the type of tackle that could be a capable backup, on both sides. The Packers possibly envisioned Spriggs as a starter down the line. Unfortunately, those hopes have been dashed because of Spriggs play.
Since being drafted, Spriggs has played in 36 games for the Packers, starting nine of those games. He has played at guard, left tackle, and right tackle. No matter what the position or which side it has been, he has shown he isn’t capable of contributing to an NFL team.
While he has also dealt with injuries, that isn’t what is causing Spriggs poor play. When he has been healthy, he has struggled with both speed and power pass rushers. Along with his poor pass protection, it appears that Spriggs doesn’t bring much to the run game as well. Last Sunday against the mighty Chicago Bears defensive line, Spriggs poor play was on full display. Not only did the Khalil Mack led Bears pass rush have their way with Spriggs, he also failed to open up holes in the running game. The Packers offense was forced to consistently give Spriggs help, either with a tight end or by asking a running back to help out on his side. Still, the help wasn’t enough to cover up for Spriggs and his poor play. In year three of his career it appears that Thompson and the Packers missed mightily on him.
With Bulaga’s body breaking down and Spriggs illustrating that he isn’t capable of holding his own, the Packers might have to look at spending one of their two first round picks on an offensive tackle. Pass rush seems to be the Packers number one need going into this off-season. But with how badly Spriggs has played and not being able to depend on Bulaga, offensive tackle might have jumped ahead of the off-season list for the Packers.
Tackle isn’t the only position on the right side of the Packers offensive line that needs help. The starting right guard position has struggled just as bad.
Former undrafted street free agent Justin McCray started out the season as the starting right guard. He struggled mightily against the Chicago Bears in the Packers season opener. He did show some improvement in week two, but an injury forced him out of the starting lineup.
In his place, the Packers inserted veteran offensive lineman Byron Bell. Bell was signed as a free agent this off-season. Gutekunst and the Packers were hoping that the veteran Bell still had some left in the tank. Unfortunately, their bet didn’t pay off. It can be argued that Bell performed worse than McCray did. Still, even when McCray got healthy, Bell stayed in the starting lineup, until he was lost for the season due to injury. The chances of Bell returning next season are worse than Bulaga ever playing a full 16 regular season schedule.
Lucas Patrick has got some playing time at both guard positions this season. While Patrick could turn out to be a capable backup for the Packers offensive line, it is highly doubtful that he will ever be the long-term answer at the starting right guard position.
Once again, that will force Gutekunst to either dip into free agency or select a guard high in next year’s draft to fill the starting right guard position. With so many other holes to fill, like at outside linebacker and safety, Gutekunst will have to weigh if guard is more important than those two positions, as well as right tackle.
The Packers spent a fifth round pick on Cole Madison in last year’s draft. He was the only offensive lineman the Packers selected. Unfortunately, Madison never reported to training camp. There has been some mystery to why Madison hasn’t reported. No matter the case, the Packers can’t rely on Madison to show up and if he does, to contribute next season.
Ted Thompson did a lot of things correctly during his time as the Packers general manager. But with so many misses in his last several drafts, the Packers have found themselves in a hole at certain key positions. One being the Packers offensive line. Gutekunst will need to re-load, especially at right guard and right tackle. It wasn’t long ago that the Packers were deep across the starting offensive line. But now with so many holes, the Packers offensive line might have soared up their off-season needs list.