Bryan Bulaga

NFC North Notes: Lions, Stafford, Packers

Will the Lions select a quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick? Many have pondered the possibility, but GM Bob Quinn says he’s “totally comfortable and happy Matthew Stafford‘s our quarterback,” (Twitter link via SiriusXM).

He’s going to be in full health once the offseason program starts its course, he’s pretty much in full health right now,” Quinn said. “To see him in coach mode has been pretty cool because he really cares about, not only our team, but his teammates and helping those other young quarterbacks. I feel great about Matthew he’s going to come back strong and we’re ready to go for next year.”

The Lions, at least publicly, are committed to Stafford as their Week 1 starter. That won’t stop speculation about an early QB selection, however. Stafford, in theory, could be tasked with going into “coach mode” for one of this year’s top signal callers – every QB not named Joe Burrow should be there for Detroit to consider.

Here’s more from the NFC North:

  • Packers tight end Marcedes Lewis says he wants to continue playing next year. “I felt like I got into a groove with my role in this offense,” said the 35-year-old (via Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel). “It was really fun. I love the game. I knew I still had more football to give. Being in this offense and having [Matt] LaFleur and conceptually what he wanted and then having (former Jaguars offensive coordinator) [Nathaniel] Hackett here, it all went hand in hand. I just think it was a good situation. Mentally, you were coming to a place where guys cared about you, you know?” Lewis, who played in every regular season game, is ticketed for unrestricted free agency in March.
  • Ditto for Packes tackle Bryan Bulaga, who is ticketed to reach free agency just before his 31st birthday in March. The 6’5″ bulldozer says he plans to continue playing in 2020, regardless of how the offseason shakes out.

Injury Notes: Ingram, 49ers, Thielen, Fuller

With every team booked into divisional-round action having now begun practice, here is the latest from the injury front going into Round 2. We’ll start with a midweek Vikings setback:

  • Stefon Diggs has missed two Vikings practices because of illness this week, but Mike Zimmer expects him to suit up in San Francisco. However, Adam Thielen suffered an ankle injury at practice and was limited on Wednesday as a result. Thielen was not on Minnesota’s Tuesday injury report. The Pro Bowl wideout missed much of this season with a hamstring injury. He caught seven passes for a game-high 129 yards against the Saints.
  • The NFL’s other purple-wearing team will likely go into its second-round game with backfield uncertainty. Previously expected to return for the Ravens‘ playoff opener, Mark Ingram has missed both Ravens practices this week. Ingram experienced a setback with his injured calf last week, leading to the Ravens to shut him down for a bit, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link). The Ravens are indicating there is a “realistic chance” Ingram plays. Baltimore backup Gus Edwards‘ 5.2 yards per carry ranked third in the NFL this season.
  • 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander has been cleared for game action, per Rapoport (video link), meaning it’s now Kyle Shanahan‘s call on whether to redeploy the high-priced defender Saturday. The 49ers used their second IR-return spot on Alexander, who is attempting to return from a midseason pectoral tear, but have not activated him yet.
  • Winding down an oft-injured season, Dee Ford is back at 49ers practice and appears ready to return at a key juncture. The veteran defensive end has dealt with a few maladies, his most recent being a hamstring issue that he aggravated in December. Ford’s gone through limited practices the past two days.
  • One of the NFL’s most important No. 2 wideouts, Will Fuller is trending in the right direction for the Texans‘ divisional-round rematch in Kansas City. The Texans expect their deep threat to return against the Chiefs, Rapoport tweets. Fuller was limited Wednesday. Deshaun Watson‘s QBR figure is 16 points higher when Fuller is on the field compared to when he’s not. The injury-prone wideout missed six games this season, the latest because of the groin injury he sustained in December.
  • Among the healthiest of the divisional-round teams, the Packers will have their right tackle back in the mix. Bryan Bulaga suffered a concussion in Week 17 but passed the protocol Wednesday, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com notes. Kenny Clark, however, missed practice with a back injury. The contract-year defensive lineman played all 16 Packer games this season.

Packers RT Bryan Bulaga Returns To Practice

Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga returned to practice on Thursday, according to Tom Silverstein and Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bulaga left Green Bay’s loss to the 49ers last Sunday with a right knee injury and did not return. Bulaga took part in all of the team’s pre-practice drills with the starters, which generally suggests he played in 11-on-11s (reporters were not allowed to watch that portion of practice). While he was listed as just a limited participant in practice, he is already ahead of schedule.

Green Bay made a series of roster moves early in the week that suggested they were skeptical Bulaga would be able to play. After Alex Light-Bulaga’s replacement-was dominated by San Francisco, the Packers promoted offensive tackle Yosh Nijman from the practice squad and claimed veteran Jared Veldheer off waivers. However, per the report, those moves may end up superfluous.

Bulaga has been a key part of the Packers offensive line since they drafted him in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. When healthy, he has started nearly every game for Green Bay, but injuries have allowed him to play in at least 13 games just four times in his nine-year career. Those limitations have not been due to toughness though. Bulaga showed that by playing through a right shoulder injury earlier this season. Now Packers fans will just have to wait and see if he can take the field on Sunday against the Giants.

Tackle Notes: Saints, Bulaga, Bolles, Eagles

The Saints have encountered more offensive line injury trouble, and it comes at a bad time. Left tackle Terron Armstead is believed to have suffered a high ankle sprain, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The standout blocker will miss Thursday’s game against the Falcons, and while New Orleans’ subsequent mini-bye would give the seventh-year blocker a chance to return against the 49ers, these are usually multi-week injuries. With left guard Andrus Peat sidelined with a broken arm, the Saints may be missing the left side of their high-end offensive line when they face the 49ers’ dominant pass rush in Week 14. Journeyman Patrick Omameh, whom the Giants cut after his short run as one of their guard starters, replaced Armstead on Sunday.

A lot of news affecting tackles around the league has emerged. Here is the latest:

  • Bryan Bulaga‘s knee injury appears to be a minor issue. The Packers‘ longtime right tackle left Sunday night’s game in San Francisco, but Rapoport notes (via Twitter) he is believed to be battling an MCL sprain instead of ACL trouble. Bulaga will likely miss some time but looks to be able to return this season.
  • As an Eagles season with Super Bowl aspirations veers closer to one of the more disappointing campaigns in recent NFL history, Philadelphia at least will likely have its Pro Bowl right tackle back this week. Lane Johnson expects to be cleared from concussion protocol on Tuesday, Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets. Johnson missed Sunday’s loss against the Seahawks.
  • Vic Fangio appears ready to either bench underwhelming left tackle Garett Bolles or minimize his playing time. The Broncos’ first-year coach said Monday he’s going to shake up left tackle, Mike Klis of 9News tweets. This will be contingent on right tackle Ja’Wuan James‘ availability. Fangio said the seldom-seen free agent signing has been cleared from his latest injury, but it doesn’t look like James is a lock to return to action. He would likely play right tackle, with current right tackle Elijah Wilkinson shifting to the left side. If James returns, Bolles may be set for the first benching of his three-year career. The former first-round pick has not come especially close to living up to expectations, and the Broncos are unlikely to pick up his fifth-year option.
  • The Bears will be without their right tackle for a bit. Bobby Massie suffered a high ankle sprain against the Giants and will miss a few weeks, Rapoport tweets. This is Massie’s fourth season as Chicago’s starting right tackle; he re-signed this offseason on a four-year extension. Massie has only missed two games in his Bears tenure.
  • After their third straight 34-point game, the Jets are likely to have to again reconfigure their offensive line. Rookie right tackle Chuma Edoga suffered an MCL sprain, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News (on Twitter). Adam Gase confirmed the 2019 draftee is dealing with an MCL issue and is week-to-week. The Jets have made numerous changes on their offensive front this season. Benched right tackle Brandon Shell, who came in for Kelvin Beachum after he suffered an ankle malady Sunday, may be called upon to re-enter the lineup. Beachum suffered a sprained ankle but may not miss any time.

Bryan Bulaga Cleared To Return To Practice

Sidelined since tearing an ACL midway through last season, Bryan Bulaga received clearance to return to practice, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com reports.

The Packers took Bulaga off the PUP list Friday, though Mike McCarthy said the 29-year-old tackle will be taking part in limited practices in the near future. But this week’s brought some pleasant news for the longtime Packer blocker.

Green Bay’s ninth-year right tackle has impressed the team during his recovery, and his roster spot is no longer considered to be in doubt. McCarthy is optimistic Bulaga, who suffered his most recent injury in early November of last year, will be ready to go by Week 1. This came after an uncertain offseason.

Jason Spriggs, Byron Bell and Kyle Murphy have split time at right tackle during Bulaga’s absence.

Bulaga’s suffered multiple severe injuries as a pro — the other coming when he tore an ACL during camp in 2013 — but has started 81 games for the Packers since his 2010 rookie year. He’s in the fourth season of a five-year, $33.75MM contract and denied a rumor the Packers approached him about a pay cut this offseason, Demovsky adds.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Packers OT Bryan Bulaga

Given that he ended the 2017 season on injured reserve, Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga wasn’t considered a lock to earn a spot on Green Bay’s roster for the upcoming campaign. However, Bulaga’s recovery has reportedly been “impressive,” tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, and the 29-year-old offensive lineman is no longer on the Packers’ roster bubble.

Bulaga has been no stranger to poor injury luck during his NFL career, and his 2017 ACL tear was the second of his pro tenure (he missed the entire 2013 season with same injury). Indeed, Bulaga has only appeared in all 16 games twice during his eight-year run: once during his rookie year in 2010, and again in 2016. Due roughly $8MM in cap charges in each of the next two seasons, Bulaga could have also been viewed as a potential cap casualty, as Green Bay would save more than $6MM in both 2017 and 2018 by cutting him now.

At his best, Bulaga is one of the league’s top right tackles. A former first-round pick, Bulaga received top-seven tackle grades from Pro Football Focus in both 2014 and 2016. And while he slipped to No. 39 in PFF’s rankings a season ago, a multitude of injuries — even before the campaign-ending ACL tear — likely contributed to Bulaga’s ineffective play.

Although Bulaga is currently on the active/physically unable to perform list, he’s expected to be ready for Week 1. If he’s not available at any point during the season, the Packers would turn to veteran Byron Bell, Jason Spriggs, or Kyle Murphy to play right tackle.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Packers GM Discusses Offseason, Bulaga, Lewis

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has been a busy man since being promoted to the gig in January. After having previously served as the team’s director of college scouting and director of player personnel, the executive is now hands-on with every aspect of the organization.

The 44-year-old recently appeared on a pair of Packers-centric podcasts, “Nagler’s Never Right” and PackersNews.com, to discuss some of his team’s offseason additions and his role as general manager (via Aaron Nagler of JSOnline.com and Jason B. Hirschhorn of NFL.com)…

On the signing of offensive lineman Byron Bell, and whether the addition was an indication that the Packers weren’t optimistic about starting tight tackle Bryan Bulaga‘s recovery from a torn ACL:

“I think moreso for us, we had an opportunity to add a guy who not only has started and played tackle, but guard as well. Having a guy that’s going to be able to compete with our group that has 40-some starts under his belt, I think that was something that was attractive to us…It was one of those things that as we moved on, we felt it would improve the entire group.”

On the addition of free agent tight end Marcedes Lewis:

“I don’t think that’s something we expected, for him to come loose. Obviously he had not only been a really good player for (the Jaguars) but an exceptional leader and teammate there.

“For us, I just think that we’re tickled to be able to get him. The amount of experience he has at that position, I think it’s really going to be valuable to us. The tight end position is one of those positions that it’s really tough for young players to come in and make an impact. Obviously, as much experience he has not only in the passing game, but as a blocker as well, I think it’s something that will hopefully provide a lot of positive things for us coming forward.”

On the fact that team president Mark Murphy retained the power to fire and hire head coaches (as opposed to the GM making the decision):

“It was certainly different than what I’ve been exposed to here in Green Bay. I needed some time to kind of process it. I think the thing to me that made it OK with me was the people. The relationships I already had with Mark [Murphy] and Mike McCarthy and Russ Ball. I think that’s what made it OK and made it easier for me. But it was certainly something I hadn’t seen or been a part of in my professional career.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Steelers, Packers, Vikings

When the Packers signed Byron Bell earlier today, most assumed it was for a reserve, depth role. But now Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press Gazette writes that Bell may end up starting for the Packers. Wood notes that there is concern in the organization about longtime right tackle Bryan Bulaga‘s recovery from his ACL tear.

Bulaga, the Packers’ first-round pick back in 2010, tore his left ACL in week nine of last season. According to Wood, Bulaga is unlikely to be ready for week one, and there’s no real timetable for when he might be ready. Wood thinks placing Bulaga on the PUP list and holding him out at least the first six weeks of the season is a real possibility.

The good news for the Packers is that Bell has plenty of starting experience. He’s started 74 games since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2011. There was some talk earlier this offseason that the team could move on from Bulaga after he refused to take a pay cut, but the Packers seem committed to his return for now.

Here’s more from around the league’s northern divisions:

  • It’s yet to be officially diagnosed by team doctors, but Steelers tight end Jake McGee appears to have suffered a torn Achilles in practice, according to Mike Garafalo of NFL Network (Twitter link). McGee spent last year on the practice squad but Garafalo notes that some thought he could make the 53-man roster this year. If it is confirmed to be a torn Achilles, his season will be over.
  • The Steelers suffered another injury during Wednesday’s workout when backup offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins went down with a torn quad (Twitter link via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN). Fowler notes that Hawkins could go on injured reserve, but if he follows the normal timeline for a torn quad, he could be back in time for the regular season.
  • It was reported yesterday that Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr had reported to OTAs after skipping the first few sessions. Now, Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune says that he “wouldn’t be surprised if there were some candid talks in the last week” and adds that the Vikings have a “long and productive” relationship with Barr’s agent (Twitter link). It’s nothing concrete, but it’s another sign that Barr and the Vikings could be inching closer to working something out.

NFC Notes: Bulaga, Foles, Cowboys

Given that the Packers could save nearly $5MM by releasing RT Bryan Bulaga, and given Bulaga’s recent injury history, there was some chatter that Green Bay could part ways with the ninth-year pro (especially since Bulaga is not even guaranteed to be ready for the start of the 2018 season after tearing his ACL on November 6). But we recently heard that Bulaga remains in the team’s 2018 plans, and head coach Mike McCarthy said Bulaga’s rehab is ahead of schedule (per Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com). Therefore, it certainly sounds as if Bulaga will be back for the fourth year of the five-year pact he signed prior to the 2015 season.

  • In a series of tweets, Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com passes along more details on Nick Foles‘ reworked deal. Foles’ cap number is now $9.6MM, fourth-highest on the Eagles, but if the team were to trade him after June 1, it would save $7MM in cap space, more than it would have saved prior to the restructure. As such, the restructure looks like a win-win in that Foles gets more money and incentives and it’s easier for the Eagles to deal him if someone comes along with a great offer. Shorr-Parks, though, still does not expect Foles to be traded.
  • The Cowboys selected Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White in the fifth round of this year’s draft, which marked just the sixth time Dallas has drafted a QB since Jerry Jones purchased the franchise in 1989. White is expected to compete with Cooper Rush for the backup job, though Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News writes that executive vice president Stephen Jones is open to carrying three signal-callers in 2018.
  • Per Mike Triplett of ESPN.com (via Twitter), Saints head coach Sean Payton does not know if the team will bring in a fourth QB to compete with Tom Savage and Taysom Hill. Payton said the Saints considered drafting a signal-caller this weekend, but they are anxious to see what Savage and Hill can do.
  • Brady Henderson of ESPN.com says the Seahawks see Shaquem Griffin, whom they selected in the fifth round of this weekend’s draft, as a weak-side LB at the next level, and he also reports that Seattle viewed fourth-round pick Will Dissly as the best blocking tight end in the class (Twitter links).
  • The Lions apparently disappointed at least a couple of teams in this weekend’s draft. Per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (via Twitter), Detroit selected Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson one pick before the Redskins were prepared to take him, and the Panthers were going to take UL-Lafayette CB Tracy Walker with the No. 85 overall pick, but the Lions nabbed him with their No. 82 pick.

NFC North Rumors: Packers, Ebron, Vikings

Bryan Bulaga has now seen two of his past five seasons either wiped out or largely nullified by severe injuries, and the Packers‘ starting right tackle is now entering the seasons of his contract where a cap-casualty cut is not incredibly prohibitive. Yet, the ninth-year blocker is expected to return for the fourth season of said deal.

Whenever players are injured it’s tough as personnel guys who are not 100 percent sure of when they’re coming back,” Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst said, via Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “But I know that he’s been working exceptionally hard. We’ve got a lot of faith that he’s going to come back sooner rather than later, and obviously when Bryan is in there, Bryan is a good player.”

Mike McCarthy also wants Bulaga to be part of the 2018 Packers, indicating he’s heard the 29-year-old edge protector is on schedule following an ACL tear. It would only save the Packers $4.2MM to release Bulaga while tagging them with a $3.2MM dead-money penalty. That savings figure spikes to nearly $7MM in 2019, so Bulaga staying healthy will likely be paramount to him seeing the final year of that contract.

Here’s the more out of Green Bay as well as some of the Packers’ top rivals.

  • Jahri Evans remains in the picture, to some degree, for a second season with the Packers. Although, the former perennial All-Pro is going to turn 35 next season. “Jahri is definitely part of the conversation,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know exactly where he is as far as what his goals are, but we’re open (to him returning.” On the strength of his pass-blocking, Evans graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 30 guard last season. While his 71.7 grade was slightly down from his Seahawks season, Evans showed in 14 games he’s still a viable NFL starter. He didn’t sign with the Packers initially until late April of last year, so the door may still be open on that front.
  • The Lions dangled Eric Ebron up until the deadline for his fifth-year option to vest before ultimately releasing him. Bob Quinn elaborated about why the former first-round pick ended up as a free agent instead of netting the Lions a draft pick in a deal. “I guess the general response that I got was, ‘The number’s too big,'” Quinn said, via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com, of Ebron’s then-$8.25MM cap figure attached to the 2018 option. “The salary that came along with the fifth-year option was something that we weighed, you know, really up until the last minute, to be honest. It was just one of those things that we knew was coming down the pike, we obviously had some trade conversations with a few teams that didn’t work out.” Ebron ended up with the Colts on a two-year, $13MM pact.
  • Not receiving any compensation for Ebron, the Lions are targeting picks via trades prior to this draft. Detroit holds just six picks. “That’s something that’ll definitely be in the talks I’d say, a week or two leading up to the draft — try to get more picks,” Quinn said, via Meinke. The Lions have a basic draft allotment, holding all their own picks save for the sixth-rounder they surrendered for Greg Robinson last year.
  • With Joe Berger and Jeremiah Sirles now out of the picture, the Vikings‘ top remaining need is on their offensive line, Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes. Although the team signed swing blocker Tom Compton, draft help is likely en route. Rick Spielman recently attended Billy Price‘s pro day at Ohio State, and Goessling notes the team could be on the lookout for another veteran. The Vikings still have $19MM-plus in cap space.