Player grades are a tried-and-true staple at the end of every season. We put our usual spin on them by grading the players on a salary-cap curve. Stats are from STATS and the NFL. Salary comparisons are from OverTheCap.com.
LT David Bakhtiari: Left tackle is a premium position. Of the 32 starters, 19 of them were drafted in the first round. That’s exactly the same numbers as at quarterback. So, what a steal Bakhtiari has been as one of just seven starters taken in the fourth round or later. His cap number was just shy of $699,000. Talk about a value: 40 left tackles had a higher cap charge than Bakhtiari. Among them was the guy he replaced at left tackle, Marshall Newhouse, whose cap charge of $1.3 million with the Giants was almost double Bakhtiari’s. Until Bakhtiari was sidelined for three games by an ankle injury, he had started every game in his three-year career. Starting 14 times in the regular season, he allowed five sacks (compared to 14.5 during his first two seasons). After fighting through a knee injury that sidelined him for most of the preseason, he didn’t allow a sack in his final 10 games. The downside? Penalties and run blocking. He’s been flagged six times for holding in each of his three seasons. His 11 total penalties — most of his career — ranked sixth among all offensive tackles. He might not be a great run blocker — the Packers ranked 12th in rushing average behind left tackle and 25th around left end — but left tackle is about protecting the quarterback. With that, he’s in line for a big payday as he enters his final season under contract. Grade: A.
LG Josh Sitton: Sitton is headed to a second consecutive Pro Bowl and was named a second-team All-Pro for the third consecutive season, but this was not his finest season. Statistically, in fact, it was his poorest, with career-worst figures of 6.5 sacks, eight penalties and six holding penalties. Over his previous five seasons combined, Sitton had given up six sacks. In 2014, Sitton allowed no sacks and was flagged only three times (once for holding). Of course, two of those sacks came in Week 17 against Minnesota, when Sitton took one for the team and moved to left tackle. The sacks notwithstanding, Sitton mostly took care of business in the passing game. However, the Packers ranked just 24th in rushing average behind left guard. As tough as always, Sitton labored through all sorts of stuff during the second half of the season, including a sore back — never a friend of a lineman. He missed only eight snaps as the team’s only lineman to start every game. His cap charge of $7 million was tied with Tampa Bay’s Logan Mankins for tops among left guards. For that much, you’d expect his usual dominance. His cap figure dips to $6.6 million in 2016, his final season under contract. Grade: C.
C Corey Linsley: Linsley looked like a budding standout at the position as a rookie but took a step backward this season. He went from one sack and four penalties (three holding) in 16 games as a rookie to three sacks and three penalties (three holding) in 13 games this season. Moreover, the Packers averaged 0.27 yards more per run with Linsley sidelined than when he was in the game. His cap figure of $556,250 ranked 42nd at the position, making him a bargain, especially when compared to the $3.75 million cap charge for the man he replaced, Tampa Bay’s Evan Smith (formerly Evan Dietrich-Smith), who was benched at midseason. It will be interesting to see if the powerful Linsley will wind up battling the athletic J.C. Tretter once the offseason practices start. Grade: B-minus.
RG T.J. Lang: The perennially underrated Lang might have been the team’s best offensive lineman. As was the case with Sitton, Lang battled injuries throughout the season, including knee and shoulder problems. Still, he started 15 games and allowed a career-low 1.5 sacks. He was penalized two times — matching the best of his career — and was flagged only once for holding. Green Bay ranked 14th in rushing average behind right guard. His cap charge of $5.8 million ranked fifth among right guards. It rises to $6.2 million in 2016, also his final season under contract. Grade: B.
RT Bryan Bulaga: The Packers faced a difficult decision last offseason: Re-sign Bulaga to a big contract, despite his injury history, or take a big step backward on what had been the team’s strongest position. So, the Packers bit the bullet and signed Bulaga to a five-year deal worth $33.75 million. His cap charge of $3.57 million in 2015 was quite affordable — 10th at the position. Still, Bulaga’s injury history reared its ugly head again as he missed four games with knee and ankle injuries. In 12 starts, he allowed 5.5 sacks and was flagged four times (three for holding). Compare that to 15 starts in 2014, when he yielded 4.5 sacks and was flagged five times (two for holding). Green Bay’s right-side run game was one of the best in the league. He played his best down the stretch, with excellent performances vs. Oakland’s Khalil Mack and Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan. Grade: C.
T/G Don Barclay: Coming off a torn ACL that cost him all of 2014, Barclay was given a $1.542 million restricted free-agent tender, with that figure ranking 29th among right tackles. He played in all 16 games, with four starts at right tackle and one at left tackle. He also played extensively at left tackle vs. Detroit in Week 10. He gave up a whopping 10.5 sacks — with 6.5 at right tackle and the other four coming at left tackle at Arizona in Week 16. It’s not Barclay’s fault he was asked to play a position in which he’s totally ill-equipped, but the NFL is a bottom-line business. Grade: F.
C/T J.C. Tretter: Tretter was slated to be the team’s starting center in 2014 before he was injured in the preseason. Now what? In three starts at center in place of the injured Linsley, Tretter didn’t allow a sack and was flagged once (holding). The team averaged 0.19 rushing yards more per carry with Tretter on the field than when on the sideline. In the playoffs, he started at left tackle vs. Washington and was spotless other than the first-quarter sack/safety. His cap number of almost $689,000 ranked 36th among centers. Grade: C.
G Lane Taylor: Taylor started twice — in place of Lang at Detroit in Week 13 and in Sitton’s spot vs. Minnesota in Week 17. He performed relatively well in those games, with a half-sack allowed and no penalties. Taylor, who is slated to be a restricted free agent, had a cap charge of $585,000. It’s hard to believe the Packers think enough of him at this point to believe he’s a younger and cheaper version of Sitton or Lang for 2017. Perhaps he’ll change that thinking if he returns for 2016. Grade: D-plus.
G/T Josh Walker: Walker had an excellent training camp and played surprisingly well against Rams stud Aaron Donald when Lang went down in the second quarter of their Week 5 clash. He didn’t do nearly as well in one snap at left tackle at Detroit in Week 13 (sack) or in extended action at right tackle at Arizona in Week 16 (one sack and a few pressures before being benched). His cap number was $435,000. He’s definitely worth another long look. Grade: D.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.