Bryan Bulaga had plenty of reasons to stay in Green Bay — almost 34 million reasons, to be exact.
Maybe as much as the $33.75 million over five years, it’s the camaraderie with his fellow offensive linemen. Most offensive lines are a tight-knit bunch, and that’s especially true with Green Bay’s front wall.
“When I let them know the morning whenever the terms were finalized, they were pretty excited,” Bulaga said in a conference call on Thursday, one day after the team made the signing official. “They didn’t really believe me at first. They thought I was just screwing with them. I think T.J. (Lang) finally settled into the idea that I was staying after I told him he was going to have to be paying me out when I beat him in golf all summer. I think he’s finally settled into the realization of that. They were fired up. They were excited. Just keeping the same group of guys together I think is a great thing.”
With Bulaga signed, the Packers’ starting five is under contract through 2016 — Bulaga through 2019, center Corey Linsley through 2017, and left tackle David Bakhtiari and guards Josh Sitton and Lang through 2016. That means at least two more seasons together for the talented, intelligent and fun-loving bunch.
“What it came down to, really, for me, was comfort level with the organization, with the Packers, with the coaches, the teammates and just how much I enjoy playing for Green Bay and for the guys that I play with – T.J., Sitton,” Bulaga said. “I just really enjoy being there. That’s really what it came down to.”
Bulaga said he declined overtures from “around four” other teams. Bulaga, obviously tiptoeing around what’s legal and what’s not legal during the so-called “legal tampering period,” said he didn’t actually receive a contract offer so wasn’t sure if he turned down more money elsewhere.
It’s hard to believe that Bulaga couldn’t have received more money from another team. After all, Jacksonville signed right tackle Jermey Parnell away from Dallas for five years and $32 million. Bulaga got less than $2 million more even with a substantially longer resume.
Regardless, keeping Bulaga was a coup for the Packers. The offensive line blossomed into a major strength of the team this past season. After Bulaga shook off the rust from missing the second half of 2012 with a hip injury and all of 2013 with a torn ACL, and after rookie center Corey Linsley settled into the job, the offense flourished.
Bulaga said the line can be even better, which might help push the Packers over the hump after getting excruciatingly close to the Super Bowl.
“We weren’t able to finish and didn’t make it to the championship game. That’s difficult,” Bulaga said. “My thought process is how talented of a football team we do have. So, knowing that is also a big reason in my mind why I would choose Green Bay over a lot of places, because I know year in and year out we’re going to be competing for a championship, and that’s fun. That’s what playing this game is all about. It’s competing for championships and making runs like that. From the offensive line standpoint, I think we can be better. I think as a group any guy would say it, as a group we started a little slow at the beginning of the year. So, I think we can get better. Everyone is going to be one year older. Corey will be a year older, a year wiser. Dave, too. Everyone has another year under their belt. I think we have a really good group of guys upfront, I think we can be even better.”
That goes for Bulaga, whose tireless work ethic was rewarded with an excellent 2014 and, now, a big payday and job security.
“Especially as this year was going on, my wife and I really just kind of talked and be like it’s just so much more fun and so much better when I’m playing and coming home and I actually feel like talking about football when I’m not playing,” Bulaga said. “When I was hurt, I just wouldn’t even want to talk about anything. I didn’t really want to talk about football. I came home after working out or rehabbing it was go golf, not talk about football. To be able to come home and talk to your family, your wife, about something you love and you care about, which is football, that makes a big difference.
“When I tore my ACL and was down here in Florida rehabbing, we didn’t really know what my role was going to be. I didn’t know if even this year if they’d have me back. The future was a little bit uncertain. All I knew is I could control what I can control and that was go out there and play as good of football as I can. Having this deal done and be coming back to Green Bay for five more years, I’m as excited as anyone could be. I’m fired up about it. My family is. My wife is. We’re thrilled about it.”
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