While everyone will look back on the 2017 season and recall how much was lost when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, many may not remember the amount of injuries along the offensive line early on in the regular season, specifically at the tackle position. The first seven weeks of the regular season saw seven different starting offensive line combinations and, by the end of the season, the Packers had started a total of 11 different combinations. In fact, the Packers preferred-five starters never even played a full game together over the course of the season.

It’s definitely a testament to offensive line coach James Campen’s ability to be able to work with such a vast amount of guys and still put together a formidable offensive line week-in and week-out. For example, the Packers offensive line was so decimated by injury that in Week 6 against the Chicago Bears they had to start four offensive guards and a center, Corey Linsley, along the offensive line. Most opposing teams’ pass-rushers would’ve had a field day against an offensive line like this. However, the Packers only allowed two sacks all game. The Packers’ line depth was certainly tested over the course of the season and, for the most part, held up, but just like most positions, the offensive line could use a little bit of attention over the offseason.

 

David Bakhtiari:

2017 Stats: 12 games played, 3 sacks allowed

Contract Situation: Signed through 2020 season

Arguably one of Ted Thompson’s best draft choices (aside from Aaron Rodgers, of course), Bakhtiari has developed into an elite NFL left tackle. He’s one of the best in the business at pass blocking, rarely draws a penalty, and holds his own in the run game. The $11-million cap hit he carries into 2018 is a true bargain, and at 26 years old and with three seasons left on his deal there is a strong possibility that the former fourth round pick will only get better. As long as Bakhtiari, a two-time All-Pro, is protecting Rodgers’ blindside, expect the left side of the offensive line to be a strength for the Packers.

 

Lane Taylor:

2017 Stats: 15 games played, 4 sacks allowed

Contract Situation: Signed through 2020 season

Just another example of a diamond in the rough unearthed by the Packers, former undrafted free agent Lane Taylor has developed into an excellent guard along the Packers offensive line. While he took longer than most to develop into a starter, the sixth-year pro quickly helped Packers fans forget about the losses of longtime starting duo of Josh Sitton and TJ Lang. While he may not be on quite the same elite level of either of those two, Taylor proved his worth over the duration of the Packers’ season, stepping up in the absence of David Bakhtiari and starting at left tackle in Week 6 against the Bears. The most impressive part of that story is that the extent of his experience at left tackle before that matchup was just that week’s practice sessions; he had never played tackle professionally or in college before this season. While Bakhtiari is the headliner along the left side of the line, Taylor will continue to impress and show all 31 other teams what they missed out on when they passed him over during the 2013 NFL draft.

 

Corey Linsley:

2017 Stats: 16 games played, 1 sack allowed

Contract Situation: Signed through 2020 season

Linsley was the only member of the 2017 Packers to play every single snap on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball, and was rewarded handsomely with a 3-year, $25.5 million extension. While he may not yet be considered among the best in the league at the center position, Linsley has 4 years of starting experience under his belt ,and at the age of only 26 certainly has his best years ahead of him. The former fifth-round pick continues the trend of late-round, or undrafted, gems along this offensive line and while he may not have had an overly exciting season during 2017, his availability was key to the unit’s overall success.

 

Jahri Evans:

2017 Stats: 14 games played, 4 sacks allowed

Contract Situation: Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) this month

Perhaps the quintessential Ted Thompson free agent signing, Evans was a perfect fit in this offense in the sense that the Packers were in need of a modestly-priced veteran who could hold down the fort for one season as future guard prospects were developed by the Packers coaching staff. Evans did exactly that; he played in the first 14 games of the season, held his own, and only missed time due to injury once Green Bay was eliminated from postseason contention. While the 13-year NFL veteran didn’t come close to replicating his play from his All-Pro days with the Saints, he did exactly what was to be expected from the coaching staff and lived up to his modest $2.25-million contract. While the soon-to-be 35-year old Evans certainly lived up to his billing, he did slow down as the season progressed and I would expect the Packers to move on and look to one of the younger options on the roster to replace him.

 

Bryan Bulaga:

2017 Stats: 5 games played, 1 sack allowed

Contract Situation: Signed through 2019 season

When healthy, Bulaga and Bakhtiari pair to be arguably the league’s best bookends on the offensive line. However, staying healthy is the problem for the Packers 2010 first-round pick. Bulaga tore the ACL in his right knee in the Week 9 matchup against Detroit and went on injured reserve (IR) a couple weeks later. Having torn the ACL in his other knee during the 2013 season and missing many other games due to a number of various ailments over the course of his nine-year career, it’s fair to start wondering how much more Bulaga has left in the tank. Between turning 29 in just under three weeks, being set to carry just under an $8-million cap hit in 2018, and likely to begin the 2018 season on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list due to his ACL injury.

Bulaga has been the subject of a handful of cap casualty rumors. While Green Bay would stand to save about $4.7 million if he were to be cut prior to the preseason, I don’t expect the Packers to cut him over the offseason. Yes, he is getting older in age and has dealt with a number of injuries over his career, but $8 million is a bargain for a top-five right tackle in today’s NFL, which is exactly what he is when healthy. In addition, assuming he starts the season on the PUP list, Bulaga will not count towards the 53-man roster limit for the first six to eight games, giving Green Bay ample time to evaluate his health, or evaluate a replacement if need be.

 

Justin McCray:

2017 Stats: 13 games played, 6 sacks allowed

Contract Situation: Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA) this month

Without a doubt the biggest surprise contributor along the offensive line this past season, McCray was written off by many (myself included) as just a camp body last preseason. Fast forward six months and McCray, assuming he is retained, is the leading candidate for the starting right guard spot heading into 2018. After losing versatile offensive lineman JC Tretter to the Browns this past offseason, McCray stepped up as the first offensive lineman off the bench and absolutely crushed the expectations. He started games at both guard positions, right tackle, and could probably play center in a pinch as well. A bit too slow and heavy-footed at tackle for pass-rushers coming off the edge, McCray is a brute force in the running game at guard and made noticeable strides in pass protection as the year went on. Barring a high draft pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, or a veteran signing on the offensive line, expect McCray to line up as the starter alongside Corey Linsley and Bulaga’s replacement (whomever that may be) in 2018.

 

Jason Spriggs:

2017 Stats: 7 games played, 2 sacks allowed

Contract Situation: Signed through 2019 season

If it wasn’t for a dislocated kneecap in Week 16 this past season, Spriggs would be a contender for the starting right tackle job for 2018. Due to his injury, Spriggs’ availability for the start of 2018 season is in question. To many Packers fans, this may not be such a bad thing. Spriggs is consistently beaten off the edge by bigger and faster pass rushers, and is too small to slide inside to guard. The only thing Spriggs has going for him is his athleticism, but in two seasons he has yet to beef up in the weight room and at this pace won’t last in the NFL. I would expect Green Bay to give the former 2016 second-round pick one last shot this fall, but at this point I wouldn’t expect Spriggs to develop into anything more than a swing tackle.

 

Kyle Murphy:

2017 Stats: 3 games played, 5 sacks allowed

Contract Situation: Signed through 2019 season

A forgotten man along the Packers line due to the number of guys forced into action over the season, Murphy was placed on IR after Week 3 because of a foot injury. Murphy, a 2016 sixth-round pick, filled in for Bulaga Weeks 1 and 3 and Bakhtiari in Week 2, and was solid but not spectacular. Despite being drafted four rounds later, Murphy was the first guy off the bench, before Spriggs, and may have a future as the Packers top backup offensive lineman, in the same vein as Don Barclay, JC Tretter, and Justin McCray. Assuming he is healthy to start the 2018 season, Murphy probably projects as the starter at right tackle in Bulaga’s absence, but I expect the Packers to bring in competition in the form of a veteran tackle, or possibly a Day 2 pick.

 

Lucas Patrick:

2017 Stats: 12 games played, 2 sacks allowed

Contract Situation: Exclusive Rights Free Agent this month

In a way, Patrick reminds me a lot of the guy starting ahead of him, Lane Taylor. A former undrafted free agent who has spent a few seasons on the back-end of the Packers roster, learning the guard position, filling in admirably when called upon, and yet failing to gain more recognition. Heading into his third season, I expect the Packers to retain him on a cheap deal as he is familiar with the offense and has played well in the past. Depending on how the Packers address the offensive line, Patrick could go anywhere from the top backup on the interior of the offensive line to even off the roster if new general manager Brian Gutekunst adds multiple offensive lineman via the draft.

 

Ulrick John, Adam Pankey, Dillon Day:

2017 Stats: 5 games for John

Contract Situation: All three are free agents this month (John is an UFA, Day and Pankey are ERFA’s)

I decided to group these three together because ultimately they never really saw the field for Green Bay over the 2017 season. Pankey, an undrafted rookie, was promoted from the practice squad early in the season as emergency depth for the injury-ridden line. John was poached from Arizona’s practice squad and only saw the field as sixth offensive lineman/tight end in obvious running situations. Day was signed from Denver’s practice squad in the final two weeks after the Packers knew they were eliminated from the playoffs, yet Day never made the gameday active roster either week. I expect the Packers to allow all three to walk this offseason, and if any of them are retained I still would not be shocked to see the Packers try and upgrade their offensive line depth through the upcoming NFL Draft.

 

Position of Need: Medium as it stands, High if Bulaga is released

Overall, the Packers have an elite offensive line from left tackle to center, as well as right tackle when Bulaga is healthy, but right guard and right tackle when Bulaga isn’t healthy are question marks. I expect that between McCray, Patrick, or Murphy, the Packers will make due at the guard spot, although a a mid-round draft pick would be good for interior competition, and the Packers have a history of striking gold with offensive lineman in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft. At right tackle, the Packers could potentially skate by with Murphy, McCray, or Spriggs at tackle for six weeks and rely on Bulaga to then be healthy, but is that really a smart move with the soon-to-be highest paid player in the NFL lining up behind them? Absolutely not, and for that reason I see the Packers investing into a mid-tier free agent signing similar to Jahri Evans a year ago, and probably also drafting an offensive tackle to develop late in the draft to develop.

 

All statistics courtesy of FoxSports.com.

All contract info courtesy of Spotrac.com.

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