When someone makes a big financial investment in something, they usually try to protect it at all costs.
Such is the case with the Green Bay Packers and their quarterback. Aaron Rodgers recently signed a $110 million extension, making him the highest paid player in NFL history (for the moment, anyway). For a small market team like the Packers, this is a remarkable amount of cash to give a player and the team will need to make sure it gets all the possible bang for its buck.
After Rodgers endured a career high 51 sacks last season, it was the clear Green Bay needed to do something with the offensive line. Now that Rodgers is the league’s highest paid player, protecting him has become an even higher priority.
Head coach Mike McCarthy got the message and shook up the offensive line. Bryan Bulaga, who is recovering from a season ending hip injury, and Josh Sitton will move to left tackle and left guard, respectively, and Marshall Newhouse (for now) and T.J. Lang move to right tackle and right guard. Evan Dietrich-Smith remains the team’s starting center.
It’s a pretty big deal when a team literally flips both sides of its offensive line, so what does this mean for Rodgers?
The jury is out until the season gets underway, but a few things already stand out. First, since Rodgers became the starting quarterback in 2008, there has been a constant game of musical chairs with the offensive line. Rodgers has been sacked 202 times in his five years as starter, which is an average of around 40 per season. He’s been sacked at least 50 times in two seasons, last season and in 2009.
Of course, some of the sacks are on Rodgers. He has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long at times looking to make a play. Rodgers needs to work on releasing the ball quicker. It's probably the one flaw in his otherwise stellar play.
Back to the offensive line, however.
Any quarterback, no matter how talented they are, benefits from a stable offensive line. Thanks to both inconsistency as well as injuries, Rodgers never has had that luxury. That actually makes his career numbers thus far look even more impressive. Brett Favre had some of his best years in the 2000s with basically the same offensive line and for Rodgers to exceed those numbers with his line in flux is remarkable.
Aside from the fact that this again forces Rodgers to adjust to a new line, at least the players remain the same, save for the right tackle position. Marshall Newhouse struggled at protecting Rodgers’ blind side, so his move to the other tackle position hopefully takes some pressure off a player not many consider a quality starter.
Thankfully, Newhouse will be pushed in camp this year by Don Barclay and Derek Sherrod. Barclay performed well last season when Bulaga went down, and could steal the starting job from Newhouse. The good news is with this being the right tackle instead of the left, Rodgers will be able to see pressure coming much easier. It’s not the perfect situation of course, but it’s better than constantly being under fire on his blind side.
Speaking of Rodgers’ blind side, moving Bulaga to left tackle puts the Packers back on the same plan they had when they drafted him in 2010. The thinking was Bulaga would eventually replace Chad Clifton at left tackle, but injuries in 2010 forced him to the right side. He played right tackle at a Pro Bowl level, so just thinking of the possibilities when he moves to the left gives Packers fans something to be patient for.
Overall, this move is beneficial to Rodgers. As mentioned above, at least the actors are the same. They’re just playing different roles. Having gone through two of the last three seasons dealing with major injury issues on the offensive line, Rodgers is adaptable enough to handle this shakeup.
Still it would be nice if McCarthy could settle on a line. He has no control over injuries, however. With over $100 million invested in his quarterback, McCarthy has to do whatever is necessary to protect “the franchise” and this was all he really could do. The Packers did select a few tackles in the draft, but none of them are considered NFL starters at the start of training camp.
It might take the line a little bit to adjust, but the move will be beneficial to all involved. With Green Bay now focused on having a solid running game that can run, catch and pass protect, Rodgers should see plenty of reinforcements to help protect him as the 2013 season gets underway.
The Packers don’t want to pay Rodgers that kind of money and have him sit on the injured reserve list while watching their season go up in flames. Nor does Rodgers want to miss playing the game that he loves.
The new offensive line will be one of the big things to watch as training camp opens in July.
Packers fans hope that’s the only time the line is under the microscope the rest of the year.