If you think you’re frustrated, try being David Bakhtiari.
Let’s start by winding the clocks back about two years. On November 15, 2020, it was announced that the Green Bay Packers had agreed to a four-year $105.5 million extension with the All-Pro left tackle. Packers fans rejoiced as the cornerstone of the offensive line would not enter free agency and would be in Green Bay for years to come.
Then all hell broke loose just a month and a half later.
As the Packers were preparing for their regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears, Bakhtiari tore his ACL during practice. That was December 31, 2020.
Since then, Bakhtiari has seen the field only once, and it was for all intents and purposes a cameo appearance in a meaningless season finale game in Detroit this past January.
We all knew that, due to the timing of his ACL tear, participation in any significant chunk of the 2021 season was iffy at best for Bakhtiari. ACL recoveries are as unique as fingerprints, as no two tears are the same and there are also other ligaments that may have been damaged.
After Bakhtiari left the game against Detroit, no one really thought too much of it. The game was insignificant in terms of season standings. Maybe the Packers just kept him on a pitch count to preserve him for the upcoming playoff run?
That was a plausible theory until Green Bay made him inactive for the divisional round against the San Francisco 49ers. That was the first signal that something was wrong, although at the time it was assumed he’d be ready by training camp and back to normal for Week 1.
You know what they say about assuming? It came true in this case.
After the Packers maintained optimism all offseason that Bakhtiari would be ready in July for training camp, he was placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to start camp and couldn’t even start practicing until he was removed from the PUP list on August 21.
So what happened? Since the 2021 season ended, reports have emerged that Bakhtiari had numerous setbacks, including multiple other procedures (plural) on the knee: one to reduce swelling and an unknown third one that was presumably to clean it out.
As the team convened for training camp, general manager Brian Gutekunst revealed Bakhtiari suffered “much more than an ACL way back when it occurred.” Gutekunst also noted that after Bakhtiari wasn’t happy with how his knee responded in Detroit, he went ahead with another procedure, throwing the time return timeline into question.
This is where the story gets sticky and perhaps even ugly. Since coming off PUP, Bakhtiari practiced on and off for the last month. As the regular season approached, anticipation began to grow about Bakhtiari returning for Week 1.
That didn’t happen. It seemed inevitable he would miss the game after missing Friday practice and that was indeed the case.
So maybe he’d be ready for Week 2 against the Chicago Bears?
Following the loss to the Vikings, head coach Matt LaFleur said Bakhtiari would not practice for three consecutive days and that he’d be on a one-on, one-off schedule. LaFleur said this would be the case “even when he’s fully back.” This indicated a red flag as that meant Bakhtiari was indeed not quite ready to go.
The Packers, of course, went out and won in Week 2 against the Bears, a game that featured the notable return of Elgton Jenkins. The right tackle came back on Sunday following his recovery from a torn ACL that he suffered in November of last year. That was a 10-month timeline, a much shorter one than Bakhtiari’s, and it should be noted Jenkins went the distance on Sunday night.
That elevates concern about Bakhtiari even more, but it was LaFleur’s comments after the win over the Bears that have set off a sort of mini-firestorm around the left tackle.
LaFleur gushed about Jenkins’ return to the lineup and even said he thought the Packers “would not have won this game” without him. Some have interpreted this comment as a backhanded challenge to Bakhtiari, but it’s also possible he meant it due to the run-heavy nature of the game plan.
Adding to the intrigue (and further raising some eyebrows) was quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Bakhtiari’s best friend on the team, who during his weekly stint on the Pat McAfee show yesterday echoed LaFleur’s words on Jenkins. Rodgers even went a bit further.
When speaking about Jenkins’ return from injury, Rodgers noted the mental hurdle that needs to be cleared, especially for a position that plants his feet and puts a lot of pressure on legs. “Getting over the block and getting out there, that’s the warrior’s mindset,” he said. “And I need the warriors to show up.”
People can interpret things however they want, but it is fair to assume this was aimed at Bakhtiari, especially when McAfee brought up the left tackle immediately after Rodgers finished the above quote and the quarterback didn’t push back.
Today, LaFleur bluntly stated, “I have no idea,” when he was asked about Bakhtiari’s availability against the Buccaneers after he missed Wednesday’s practice. That was an off-schedule miss from what the head coach had stated just a week prior.
Patience is now wearing thin, particularly among the fan base. With the Packers continually moving the goalposts, fans are left flummoxed about when they will finally see their beloved left tackle back on the field in more than just a practicing capacity.
To be fair, one cannot and should not judge the mental hurdles of professional athletes coming back from injury. Bakhtiari’s recover has been especially difficult, with multiple procedures and setbacks. The pressure of fan and media attention can take its toll.
The contract he signed immediately before his injury is also a source of pressure. Sure he’s still getting paid, but he’s also carrying the burden of the expectations the organization had of him when he signed that deal and that they still maintain. Those are not easy obstacles for anyone to overcome, even for a veteran and highly successful professional athlete.
That being said, football is still a business, and it’s not always a pleasant one. Bakhtiari’s contract makes an outright release all but impossible, and the team already reworked his deal once this spring to free up space. If this saga can continue to play out, the Packers will be faced with a tough decision, considering that they have gotten zero return on investment in that very expensive extension.
Maybe Bakhtiari comes back and returns to an elite level, writing a comeback story for the ages. That’s the ending everyone wants regardless of how you feel about the situation currently.
Or maybe things continue to remain the same and don’t improve enough. This is a worst-case scenario but it is one responsible franchises must plan for. The Packers will have to do so as well.
With a cap number of $29 million in 2023 and $33 million in 2024 per Over the Cap, the Packers will be forced to do something if Bakhtiari continues to miss time. It just doesn’t make financial sense to let things continue to play out. This could be as simple as asking Bakhtiari to take a pay cut or it could mean a full restructure or even an outright release, but that would be the biggest doomsday scenario of them all.
Bakhtiari also could, of course, retire, but that does not appear to be on the table at all, and it probably shouldn’t be. All signs are that he’s close to playing, but there are a few more landmarks to hit before he’s ready to take off. Whether those hurdles are mental, physical, or both are known only to Bakhtiari and the Packers.
This will all work itself out soon enough. Until then, let’s put a pause on telling professional athletes how to handle their bodies, but we can do so while also understanding that the Packers are in a pickle and have a right to be antsy while this is sorted out.
Ultimately, the most important thing in this situation is Bakhtiari’s well-being — both physical and mental.
Hopefully, Bakh is back soon. But the clock is ticking.