GREEN BAY — If the Green Bay Packers are planning to ask Bryan Bulaga to take a pay cut — or are mulling outright releasing the veteran right tackle — no one has mentioned it to him. At least, not yet.
Bulaga said in an interview on ESPN Wisconsin’s “Wilde & Tausch” Thursday morning that Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and executive vice president Russ Ball, the team’s chief contract negotiator, did not speak with his representatives during last week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, where such conversations traditionally take place.
“I haven’t heard anything. My agents were in Indy last week and we haven’t heard anything. I guess my thought process is, ‘No news is good news,’ ” Bulaga, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the Packers’ Nov. 6 loss to Detroit, said from his offseason home in Florida. “I’m getting ready to help the Green Bay Packers win football games next year. That’s what I’m doing. I’m preparing myself, getting myself back ready to help this team win football games.
“I’m not even really worried about any financial aspects of what’s going on or contract talks. That’s out of my hands. We haven’t heard anything but even if we did, I’m not even worried about that. I’m more worried about getting back, getting ready as soon as possible and being ready to contribute when I get back.”
Bulaga has two years remaining on the five-year, $33.75 million deal he signed before the 2015 season. He’s set to earn a base salary of $5.85 million and count $7.9 million against the salary cap this season and earn a $5.8 million base salary and count $8.35 million against the cap in 2019. The Packers could gain as much as $6.3 million in cap room if they released Bulaga and designated him as a post-June 1 cut.
Of course, there’s also the matter of who’d play right tackle if the Packers decided to move on from him, and the depth chart there is an ugly, injury-plagued mess at the moment.
While Bulaga is rehabilitating the knee, going through his offseason workout regimen and back to playing golf a few days a week — although he’s using a cart, he joked — two would-be replacements for him are also coming off season-ending injuries: Jason Spriggs, who dislocated his kneecap late in the year and joined Bulaga on injured reserve; and Kyle Murphy, who landed on IR with a significant foot injury after being forced into action when injuries decimated the line early last season.
Bulaga has sustained two other season-ending injuries during his career — a hip injury midway through the 2012 season and a torn left ACL in training camp in 2013 — but he started 43 of a possible 48 regular-season games from 2014 through 2016 and is among the NFL’s best right tackles when healthy. Packers team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie did Bulaga’s right ACL reconstruction just days after the injury occurred, with Bulaga well aware that the timeline could be challenging for him to get back in time for training camp in late July — and to avoid starting the regular season on the physically unable to perform list.
Bulaga acknowledged that he won’t be ready for the team’s offseason program, which kicks off April 16, and won’t do much during the organized team activity practices in May, either.
“ ‘Doc’ told me when I met with him in the office after the game and rechecked the knee just to confirm everything, he said, ‘OK, we’ll meet in four and five days and we’ll check the swelling.’ And I kind of looked at him and said, ‘I want to get (the surgery) done as soon as possible,’” said Bulaga, who believes the knee injury actually traces back to a high-ankle sprain he suffered in training camp. “I said, ‘Can I get it done tomorrow?’ He said, ‘Well, we kind of need to let it settle down.’ I said, ‘OK, can we get it done Tuesday?’ He said, ‘Can we do it Wednesday?’ I said, ‘Sounds good.’ I wanted to get it done and get this thing rolling.
“I feel good about where I’m at right now,” Bulaga said. “Obviously, this is a process that is going to take me all the way up to training camp. It’s not like I’m going to be perfectly fine by the time I get back for OTAs. That’s not the case. I’m going to need as much time as possible. But I feel like I’m making good strides, and I’m confident in what’s going on.”
The Packers are looking to create some salary cap room in order to be “aggressive” in free agency, which Gutekunst said during the combine is his intent. But, whether it would be Bulaga, wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson or outside linebacker Clay Matthews, Gutekunst implied he’s reluctant to seek big pay cuts from those players.
“You need to keep really good players, and you don’t let them walk out the door just for that reason,” Gutekunst said.
Bulaga, who will turn 29 on March 21, entered the league as a 21-year-old first-round pick in 2010 and went on to become the youngest player in NFL history to start a Super Bowl. While he has battled his share of injuries, he’s one of those players who seems to be older than he is because he’s played so long and came in at such a young age.
“Obviously I’ve had some injuries and I understand that better than anybody (because) I’ve had to deal with them,’’ Bulaga said. “But from the standpoint of how much longer? I feel like I can play a lot longer. My body feels good. Obviously I’m rehabbing an injury so that may sound kind of stupid, but I feel good. I feel like I’m continuing to get stronger, working out, I feel like I’m still as quick and I can move well and I can bend and do all those things an offensive lineman needs to do. When I’m playing, I feel like I’m playing at a high level and I’m doing my job.
“I feel like I can continue to play and play at a high level,” Bulaga said. “That’s just kind of the way I look at it. I feel like I still have a lot left to give — only being 29 years old, it’s kind of the way I look at it. Some people may look at it differently. That’s OK. But I know what I’m capable of, I know how my body feels, I know how everything’s going and I feel like (I’ve got) a lot of good years left, personally.”