Packers: Money for nothing

Both Bulaga and Cobb took hometown discounts to stay in Green Bay

As a general rule, when an NFL player utters the phrase It’s not about the money, it’s usually safe to assume that it is, in fact, about the money.

To their credit, at no point in the past several days – since signing contracts that are worth a combined $77.75 million – has Randall Cobb or Bryan Bulaga said that, smart enough to realize how foolish that sounds when you’ve been paid what they’ve been paid.

But in both their cases, their decisions to re-sign with the Packers – Cobb inked a four-year, $40 million deal ($13 million guaranteed) on Monday, while Bulaga signed a five-year, $33.75 million deal ($8 million guaranteed) on Wednesday – did not come down to finances. Both players received more lucrative offers from other teams before deciding to return to the Packers and continue their NFL careers where they began.

“At the end of the day my heart was in Green Bay, and I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” Cobb said during a conference call with beat writers earlier this week. “I knew I had a good thing going for me – and still I signed a pretty lucrative deal that I can [make] last for the rest of my life.”

Cobb said he had at least five offers from other teams – a sixth, he thought, came in to agent Jimmy Sexton after Cobb had told him to focus solely on a deal with the Packers – and Bulaga had interest from at least four other teams.

“There’s obviously [more] lucrative contracts or more money in other contracts,” Bulaga said during his conference call Thursday morning. “But you have to weigh your options and make a smart decision not only yourself professionally but also your family. That’s kind of the way I looked at it throughout the entire process.”

For Bulaga, who turns 26 next week, it was also about friendship. When the Packers took him in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft and he replaced an injured Mark Tauscher as the starting right tackle, the rest of the offensive line consisted of left tackle Chad Clifton, left guard Daryn Colledge, center Scott Wells and right guard Josh Sitton, while T.J. Lang was an up-and-coming backup.

Bulaga became the youngest player in NFL history to start in a Super Bowl that year, but much changed after that. He suffered a season-ending hip injury midway through the 2012 season, then missed the entire 2013 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee suffered in training camp.

Meanwhile, Wells and Colledge left via free agency and Clifton was released before retiring. Last season, the Packers started second-year left tackle David Bakhtiari, Sitton, rookie center Corey Linsley, Lang and Bulaga on the line.

While a close-knit group as a whole, Bulaga, Lang and Sitton have become best friends. Bulaga said he spoke to each of them “three, four times a week” during free agency and that neither of them believed him when he called to tell them he was re-signing with the Packers.

“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.

“To me, it was just how comfortable I am with what we have going on in Green Bay right now. … When it comes to your teammates. when you can go to work every day and you enjoy going to work every day, that makes this process all worth it. When you can show up every day and practice and every day is fun, that’s what makes Sunday so much more worth it. When you have a good group of guys, that’s what it’s all about.”

The 24-year-old Cobb was part of such a group in 2011 and 2012, his first two seasons in Green Bay. But he watched veteran Greg Jennings depart as a free agent to Minnesota after the 2012 season, and James Jones leave for Oakland as a free agent after the 2013 season. In his two seasons in Minnesota, Jennings has averaged 63.5 receptions for 773 yards and five TDs. Last season in Oakland, Jones caught 73 passes for 666 yards and six TDs. Cobb said he didn’t talk to either player as free agency approached, but he thought about how things have played out for them.

“They made the decisions that they felt was best for them at the time, and whenever you make the decision – a life-altering decision like this – you have to live it with it,” Cobb said. “So I didn’t [talk to them], but I saw what they went through; saw, obviously, what they’ve done after leaving.

“I had to make the best decision for me and not really worry about what other guys have done and how it worked for them.”

Cobb did talk with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and fellow receiver Jordy Nelson, however.

“I never felt like they were selling me on anything – which, they didn’t have to sell me on anything, because I knew what I had in both of them, I knew what I had in this team,” Cobb said. “At the end of the day, I think they would’ve been happy with me [with] any decision that I made, but I know how much I value them and how much they mean to me. To be able to win a championship with them, I think it would mean that much more to me.”

Chasing that championship is also a motivation for both Bulaga and Cobb given what happened in the Packers’ season-ending loss at Seattle in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 18, when they let a 16-0 halftime lead and a 19-7 lead in the closing minutes evaporate in a 28-22 overtime loss.

“To get that close … that’s difficult,” Bulaga said. “My thought process is how talented of a football team we do have. 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, is competing for championships and making runs like that.

“I think we have to remember what happened in that game. We need to be better, but it’s not something we can just harp on. I think we have a good group of guys, a veteran group of guys who have played a lot of football games and know we can learn from it. We just have to move on from it and just be better. That’s really all it is.”

Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at