Making the Case – The One Remaining Free Agent the Packers Must Retain

Now that Randall Cobb is safely in the fold, it is time to turn our attention to the top remaining Green Bay Packers free agents.

If not signed by Tuesday at 4 PM, they become fair game for any club looking to throw money their way. For the Green Bay Packers it means that they team must decide which of their own 14 FA will be offered contracts.

The top remaining unrestricted free agents for the team are generally agreed to be: Right Offensive Tackle Bryan Bulaga and cornerbacks, Tramon Williams and Devon House.

The Packers had about $32.5 M to spend prior to the Cobb signing– the 10th highest of any team entering free agency according to the web site Over The Cap.

Today we make the case for the one unrestricted free agent the team MUST re-sign.

Bryan Bulaga

The Skinny: Age – 26. Pro Football Focus has Bulaga rated the #4 right tackle in the league with +1.9 overall rating for the just completed 2014 season (very good). ESPN’s #11 overall top free agent regardless of position. Also Pro Football Focus’ number 11 overall free agent.

What will he cost the team: A four to five-year contract in the neighborhood of $7M – $8M per year with upwards of $12M – $15 guaranteed money.

The Rumors: The Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins and Indianapolis Colts are said to be very interested in pursuing Bulaga in the early stages of free agency.

Why he may not be back: Bulaga is arguably the best offensive tackle on the free agent market and there will be robust bidding for his services. Coming off a strong injury free season, Bulaga is technique-sound, athletic and could project to the left tackle position as he has done in the past. The Packers have a proven, albeit less talented, replacement in Don Barclay. He will surely garner a high compensatory draft pick in the 2016 draft should he sign for big money elsewhere.

Why he must be retained: The Good Lord only makes so many 6’5” 314 lbs. athletic and skilled human beings. Bulaga is one of them. The Packers’ offense ranked sixth in total yardage (386.1 per game) and first in scoring (30.4) while the front five started 17 of 18 games together. Together, David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Corey Linsley, T.J. Lang and Bulaga formed one of the best front five in the league and best Packers unit since the superb unit from 2004. He is tight with his fellow OL mates and has expressed a strong desire to stay in Green Bay.

Tramon Williams

The Skinny: Age – 32. He led all Packers cornerbacks in tackles per snap – one every 6.7 – while missing only 9. Still very athletic and in superb physical condition, Williams has said he feels that he has four more good years left in him. He is the number 19 free agent overall, and the number 9 corner according to Pro Football Focus.

What will he cost the team: a contract between 2-3 years, averaging $9M to $10m including $12M guaranteed money.

The Rumors: The Seattle Seahawks, looking at a certain loss of their own starting cornerback Byron Maxwell in FA, are said to be have Williams pegged as their top acquisition target.

Why he may not be back: He is the wrong side of 30 and some noted a dip in his play this past season. There are other younger versions of Williams to step into the starter’s role. As an accomplished starter he will be a prime target to plug a hole for a playoff-type team intent on taking the next step.

Why he must be retained: The steady Williams is a quiet locker room and field leader. He is the most reliable and durable corner the Packers have on the roster and most accomplished man defender on the team. Of the top 10 cornerbacks entering free agency, Williams played the second most snaps at 1032 and had a rating of +1.6 according to Pro Football Focus.  He is fond of his team mates and the organization and is a model citizen.

Davon House

The Skinny: Age – 25. House led all Packers CBs in passes defensed per snap (one every 36.8). He was not a starter but averaged 27 snaps per game before a fractured scapula knocked him out of games 13-16.

What will he cost the team: 3-4 years at $6M average per year and $8M – $10M in guaranteed money.

The Rumors: There is a quiet buzz about House among those teams looking for a starting physical press corner. He has not been tied to any one suitor but is rumored as the best second option if teams don’t land their primary CB.

Why he may not be back: House was quoted on Friday saying that he hasn’t heard anything from the Packers regarding his possible return. He has not been a starter, has had injury problems and there are capable replacements should he leave in FA with Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde and Demitri Goodson. Even if Williams does leave the team, there is no guarantee that House would replace him as the starter. He is rated the number seven cornerback by NFL.COM, ahead of number eight Tramon Williams.

Why he must be retained: He is young, can play press corner and he matches up well against larger more physical receivers. Corners who can play man coverage are the key to the 3-4 defense which Green Bay runs a majority of the time. He knows the system and the coaching staff seems to be comfortable with him. After grooming him in their system the past four seasons he is primed for a starting role. He is anxious to stay in Green Bay and is a good team-mate.

In deciding which one free agent that the Packers must sign, I assess current and future production as well as cost to retain their services and other intangibles.

The popular pick would be Bulaga. The cohesiveness of the Packers young and talented offensive line is key to continuing their dynamic offense and winning ways. Bulaga’ s backup, Don Barclay, is coming off a full year on injured reserve and a drop off in talent on the right side. The problem is that he is not their best offensive lineman and a contract topping $9M would send the wrong message to All Pro guard Josh Sitton and imperil the contract negotiations of TJ Lang after next season. The Packers cannot and should not grossly overpay for the oft-injured tackle.

Williams is still more than serviceable (in fact, he is their best cover corner) and the Packers are said not to have seen a drop-off despite his age. There is no proven backup to immediately step in and take his position. Where Williams indicates he has four more good years left, he certainly can be counted on for two. Signing him would solidify one of the better D-backfields in the league and keep him out of the hands of the rival Seattle Seahawks.

House is young, physical and gifted, but has not been able to win a starting job. In addition, there are capable back-ups waiting in the wings to compete for playing time. If the bidding gets out of hand, and I believe that it will, the Packers will not match nor should they.

It is for all the reasons above that Tramon Williams is the one unrestricted free agent that the Packers must sign and bring back into the fold for 2015 and beyond.


Jeff Albrecht grew up just north of Green Bay and was lucky enough to attend some of the Lombardi Era classic games, like the 1962 championship and the Ice Bowl. Jeff went on to play HS football in the Green Bay area and College ball at UW - Stevens Point. Jeff is retired but still does some writing for his local paper. Jeff is a writer with and you can follow him on twitter at @pointerjeff .


40 thoughts on “Making the Case – The One Remaining Free Agent the Packers Must Retain

  1. I actually think that Bulaga is quite underrated. Before the ACL, I thought he might be a top 5 RT. He was quite good this year too, but top 5 is probably pushing it.

    I don’t think the injuries will prevent the Packers from resigning him. Money might. He’s a very good player, but 7-8 million is a whole lot of coin for someone who isn’t an annual probowler. Barclay would be a definite step down in performance and it would eliminate our OL depth, but it’s a 6-7 million dollar difference in salary.

    1. You are right that 7-8 million is a lot of coin, but its actually (gulp) a reasonable going rate for a starting left tackle, which is where the ‘tackle needy’ teams likely to tarhet Bulaga will likley project him.
      That said, I think it is not unreasonable for the Packers to sign Bulaga for something in that ballpark. My reasons are:
      1) With Aaron’s mobility and the use of ‘wide split’ and H-back’ TEs in the offense, the athletic requirements for a Packers right tackle are not all that different from the requirements for a Packers left Tackle.
      2) While Bakhtiari looks good so far, he has yet to show more than being a regular starter at LT. Bulaga is still the better player.
      3) Aaron isn’t getting younger. Protecting him becomes increasingly important as time goes on.
      4) This is where push comes to shove on the idea of making a ‘run’ while Aaron is still in his prime. Sitton and Lang are locked up through 2016, Bakhtiari and Linsley are on rookie contracts. All 5 are relatively young. Re-signing Bulaga will give us two more years (a total of 3) with essentially the same OL, a position group that improves with continuity.
      Sorry, but Tramon can be replaced, and even if he has 4 good years left they will not be at the same peak athleticism as the past 2-3. House is a gamble, even if he still has upside.
      The ‘must sign’ player is Bulaga all the way.

      1. I think we’re pretty much on the same page, Ed. I agree that Bulaga is the player that I would most like to have back. The one thing that I’m skeptical about is the comment, “it’s actually (gulp) a reasonable going rate for a starting left tackle, which is where the ‘tackle needy’ teams likely to target Bulaga will likely project him.”

        I don’t doubt that what you say is true. My point would be that you can’t base you salaries on what players are worth to OTHER TEAMS. I get it that the market sets the price, but if he’s not worth that TO YOU, then you have to let him walk.

        If Bulaga gets up in the 7-8 million range, I think there is a good chance that they will let him walk, but I’m not very good at making these predictions.

        1. TT has always been pretty good about NOT letting the market dictate what he’s willing to pay a player. The Packers don’t see Bulaga as a LT, he’s not going to play LT, so they’re not going to pay him like a LT. It sounds like a reasonable fiscal approach to me…but at some point, you need to pay someone to keep from creating gaping holes that can’t be filled adequately on the fly.

        2. Dobber gave TT’s answer but mine is that I think Bulaga is worth LT money to the Packers, for the reasons I stated in points 1,2 and 3 of mu post..
          Now he is not worth outrageous (= Franchise tag) LT money, so like with Cobb there is an upper limit to what I would pay. But 7-8 million per yera or so is wiuthin that limit, dependin on contract structiure.

  2. Jeff – I actually think that you made a stronger case for signing Bulaga than for signing Tramon. Bulaga is younger, he is key to maintaining continuity on a relatively young and improving OL, he will cost less money than Williams and the drop off in talent is more dramatic behind Bulaga than it is behind Williams. The concern for the Packers is it will probably take $9.0 – 10.0 mil to keep Bulaga, especially if a team wants him for their LT position. I’m afraid that this is more than TT wants to spend. If we can get Bulaga for $8.0 – 8.5 we should do it. I don’t know if Bulaga is motivated by the chance for an SB or not. He has a ring from 2010. If I had to choose between keeping Bulaga or T.Williams I would keep Bulaga. In a perfect world I would keep both. Also, if we lose Bulaga I would prefer that the Packers try Tretter at RT, since he was a tackle in college and keep Barclay as the backup C/G. Also, the Packers can draft an OT to backup Tretter or even start if the pick is a better player than Tretter, ala Linsley at Center. Thanks, Since ’61

    1. “Also, if we lose Bulaga I would prefer that the Packers try Tretter at RT”

      I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the plan going into OTAs if Bulaga walks. They seem to like Tretter very much…they just need to settle him into a primary position on the OL.

      If Bulaga goes, they either need to find a swing tackle on the open market or draft one on day 1 or 2.

      Hey, Big T, I hear Marshall Newhouse is available…

    2. Read my comment above Since’61. I was thinking Lang to RT and Tretter or Barclay at RG.

      1. Nick – Generally, I prefer not to move OLs around. Your idea could work but it could also weaken both RG and RT. Lang is a known commodity at RG and the interior of the OL with Sitton, Linsley and Lang was solid last season. I might consider it if Tretter, Barclay and maybe a draft pick totally fail at RT. My preferred approach would be to keep the other OLs in place and find a solid replacement for Bulaga from Tretter, Barclay, a draft pick or an FA. Thanks, Since ’61

        1. I agree with you. But somehow, I think Bryan is as smart as Randall… I think we will see him next seasons in green & gold!

        2. Thanks, Reynoldo said pretty much the same thing about moving OL around. Just a thought, thanks for taking the time!

    3. I agree with the reasoning. I would even gulp really hard and pay that much. Still would want to keep the guaranteed money down around 30%, but if there is enough interest, that might not be possible. The other reason I have is I view Bulaga as the back up LT. Tretter is the back up OC and OG. If Bulaga walks, GB would be pressured to draft an OT high, in round 1 or 2, and not later that the 3rd, and I would think GB would have to tender Barclay (the deadline for extending tenders is today, March 10, so we will soon see).

      I have no interest in Tramon at all if the price is anything like that suggested by the author. I’d consider 2yrs, $9 or (gulp) $10 million.

      I don’t have too much interest in House if he will command a Burnett-sized contract, but since he played only part time, I am more open to the coaches evaluating him.

  3. I think Jeff gets it right. Bulaga, unless he is willing to give something up to stay with the Packers is going to be too pricey, and that will screw up, as Jeff says, the contracts coming do, or even morale, with the likes of Sitton, making less. Tramon can still play. He was our best DB last year and surely best cover guy. He has good instincts; and just has his head in the right place. He outplayed Shields by a considerable margin, and when a couple of years ago he showed some reluctance to tackle, you rarely see that from him anymore. if anything he has gotten better with age. again, though, depends on the price.

    1. I don’t think paying Bulaga more than Lang or Sitton is even an issue. Pretty sure Sitton and Lang know that tackles make more money than guards, and have for decades.

  4. Bulaga is Packer people. He also is a darn good RT. Can we survive w/o him? Sure. But why would we want to? TT passed on D Thomas and Dez Bryant to draft this guy and except for some injuries, has panned out as an upper echelon OT. You don’t let such guys walk away at 27 yo if you can help it. GB has lots of cap money to spend. What better way to spend it than on protecting the franchise (#12)? If TT can get this guy for $7-8MM I say do it. I’d rather keep Bulaga and lose both TW and House. The latter have holes in their game. Bulaga doesn’t.

  5. Also, why are we overpaying for Peppers ($9.5MM)? Nobody in our front 7 not named CMIII is worth that kind of money. I’m still hoping (not expecting) TT to sign Dan Williams NT.

    1. Peppers doesn’t have a really big roster bonus, so they can wait until later in the summer to restructure his contract, if they even want to.
      The reason you would not restructure a contract like peppers’ is that all restructuring does is push a cap hit into dead money when he finally leaves after this season or next. There no reason to do that — the Packers have plenty of cap space, and one of the reasons theydo is because they (TT)tend to “pay as you go” instead of shoving everyithing into ‘restructurings’ that create cap space now at the expense of ‘dead’ money later.

      1. Agree that we shouldn’t re-structure Peppers’ contract. TT should ask him to take a straight pay cut, but only if he is going to spend the money and not increase the amount of cap rolled over to next year.

  6. Another plus to signing Bulaga is if anything were to happen to our LT, Bulaga could switch over and Barclay, if signed, could fill in at RT. Could you imagine not signing Bulaga and then something happens to Bak? We’d be screwed

    1. “We’d be screwed”,
      Not necessarily. Derek Sherrod I believe is still out there and rumor has it his leg is almost back to 100% in a few months plus I forgot his name but the Packers are high on that Russian guy they picked up last year.

        1. Thank you!! Yep, that’s the guy I was thinking of. I think his dad was a pitcher for the Brewers in the 80’s

          1. The Brewer you are remembering was named Vukovich, not Vujnovich. That is a big difference, plus Vuk was from Pennsylvania, not Croatia. (I know its hard to keep those foreign countries straight 🙂

            1. lol… Yes, I knew that. Was just having a little fun with the name. I remember “Vuk” very well.

  7. Bulaga is the most important UFA to resign – even more important than Cobb. IMO, the offensive line was the greatest strength of the team during the second half of the season and it is important to keep the unit intact. Keeping Bulaga means the starting 5 will all be signed for the next two seasons.

    Davon House would be next on my list. GB has some depth at CB and can turn to the draft for another guy, but when healthy House has shown he can stay with top WR in the league (like Julio Jones).

    Williams is valuable, but they may have enough depth without him and should work to develop some younger talent through the draft. Demitri Goodson should also be able to contribute next year. A compensatory pick or two in 2016 would be nice.

    1. It is true that teams with top OL usually win. Especially when combined with a great QB, great WRs, and a great RB. All we need is a great TE. Draft looks weak at TE this year. Draft is strong at DL and edge rushers. So we should draft from the strength of the draft and fix offense in FA. A really good TE would make this offense ridiculous.

      1. Archie, if you had to make the call and keep either Bryan Bulaga or you can sign Julius Thomas what do you do?

        1. That is a tough one. I would very much like having both. Bulaga is a known quantity in GB with a checkered health history. Thomas is naturally gifted, doesn’t block and supposedly is in football just for the money. Bulaga is a leader of men. What’s easier to replace, a blue chip TE or a super red chipper RT. Probably the RT. So as long as I wasn’t turned off by Thomas’ personality/motivation I’d go with Thomas. In this offense, with AROD, Thomas could become an elite TE, equal to Gronk or Grahm.

          1. You might be right, but Thomas has a pretty “checkered health history” of his own.

  8. Let me bounce this off you guys. Move Lang to RT, let Barclay and Tretter battle it out for RG which are really where both were projected to play, would the Packers lose THAT much? I’m asking because it seems friggin nuts to pay a guy $8 million a year who’s played in 17 games counting playoffs since week 9 of 2012. and hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year. I think Tretter would be hell of a guard myself, then again he can’t friggin stay healthy either. Oh no, I’m starting to panic again!!

    1. I’d just as soon move Sitton to center. I really don’t want to play musical chairs with the O-line. It is a better than average year for ROTs in the draft. I’d rather do that than move proven, near elite guys around, but what you suggest is one option if Bulaga walks. IIRC, Lang has been our back-up OC, LT, RT, and LG.

      I think Tretter is best suited for OC and LT. He just doesn’t look like he has the power and weight to play OG and RT. He certainly can move and reach the 2nd level.

  9. I read what all of you have said. Very good observation, but, with one small remark. Bryan never played one game, even preseason game, on the position of left tackle. We can predict, expect, think, hope etc. that he is that good at LOT as he is good at ROT. But there is no evidence of that. To support my doubts, I will remind you that Bryan suffered from very serious injury the very first time he was playing LOT. That injury might be ” accidental”, but, as most of the injuries, I think it comes from applying wrong movements for the position he started to play… I think if any team sign Bryan as LOT, they will have problem with Bryan’s injuries…

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