General manager Ted Thompson didn’t boldly trade up in the second round of last year’s draft to select Jason Spriggs only to have him sit on the sidelines until he leaves as an unrestricted free agent in 2020. The former Indiana star will eventually be the team’s starting right tackle – it just won’t be this season.
That’s because of a couple of things. One, Spriggs didn’t play as well as expected as a rookie. And two, Bryan Bulaga played better than expected. Thus, things will almost certainly stay the same in ’17 – Bulaga will start for a fourth consecutive season and Spriggs will again be the first tackle off the bench.
But 2018 figures to be a different story. Unless either Spriggs continues to struggle in his second season or Bulaga plays like Forrest Gregg reincarnate, I fully expect a changing of the tackle to take place. What that would mean for Spriggs is pretty obvious, but what that would mean for Bulaga is not nearly so clear.
There’s a chance the coaches could ask Bulaga to slide a few feet to his left and play right guard, a possibility that would increase should the position still be unsettled a year from now. While the former Iowa star is clearly best suited for the outside, it’s hard to imagine him not being better inside than the likes of Don Barclay, Lucas Patrick, Kyle Murphy, Justin McCray or a player picked on day 3 of next month’s draft.
There’s also a chance the 28-year-old Bulaga could be traded or even released if his play slips a bit in 2017. His salary cap number will be over $8 million a year from now, and while that’s not exorbitant, it could be more than the Packers are willing to pay. And considering all the wear and tear his body has been through since entering the National Football League in 2010, it’s not hard to imagine Bulaga slipping a bit.
Of course, all of this is predicated on Spriggs showing a lot of improvement this season. He struggled as a rookie with speed and especially power. That wasn’t at all shocking considering he weighed barely 300 pounds by the end of camp and his technique was extremely inconsistent. But Spriggs has the frame to put on weight, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see him closer to 315 pounds a year or so from now.
At that size, along with extremely quick feet, really long arms and a willingness to finish, Spriggs would possess all the physical attributes needed to excel at right tackle. He’d also be a much younger, much healthier and much cheaper alternative to Bulaga. That’s why Thompson did something he rarely does (trade up in an early round) and it’s why there’s little chance of Spriggs staying on the bench after this season.