Packers’ Wagner: ‘I love the state of Wisconsin. I never want to leave’

Rick Wagner had options when the Detroit Lions released him in the middle of March, but only one would bring him back to his home state of Wisconsin. So when the Green Bay Packers made their pitch to the offensive lineman, it didn’t take long for him to jump at the opportunity.

“I grew up a Packer fan and continued to follow them over the last eight years. It was a pretty easy decision to come here,” Wagner told reporters Thursday on a zoom call.

“I love the state of Wisconsin. I never want to leave. I’m very happy to be home.”

Wagner grew up in West Allis before attending the University of Wisconsin. That’s where he went from a 245-pound walk-on tight end to a 310-pound All-Big Ten tackle. He was taken in the fifth-round of the 2013 NFL Draft by Baltimore and started 45 games over his final three years there. Wagner hit free agency in 2017 and became the highest-paid right tackle in the league when he signed a five-year deal with the Lions. He started 40 games for them over the last three seasons.

“It’s definitely cool,” Wagner said of being back in Wisconsin. “In the NFL, you can’t really choose where you go. You’re happy to have a job anywhere. I had a great time in Baltimore and Detroit. I was really happy about my experiences at both places. At this point in my career, I’m really happy to be here. “It’s definitely a special place.”

Wagner was available to come home after a tough 2019. Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 59.0, which was a career low for him.

“I think there’s always room for improvement no matter how you play,” Wagner said. “I had a couple injuries I had to battle through last year. Hopefully, starting with a new team, getting a fresh start here, I can play better.”

The Packers are counting on that. Longtime starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga signed with the Los Angeles Chargers in March and Wagner is the front runner to replace him.

“Every year it’s a competition at every position. There’s no guarantees you’re going to start anywhere,” Wagner said. [I] just have to go out there and prove I can win that starting job. I’m happy for the opportunity.”