Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst discussed many topics during his press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine. One of them was the team’s offensive line. It looks like some changes may be coming to this unit as we head into the new season.
Gutekunst made a few things clear. The first is that former Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari will be back next season and that the team is working on restructuring his contract to free up additional cap space. That means that the team’s long-term starting left tackle is likely to be back and in the starting lineup protecting the quarterback’s blind side regardless of whether Aaron Rodgers is back or Jordan Love is the new starting quarterback.
It is still not clear if the Packers will ask Bakhtiari to take a pay cut. Because of a litany of injuries, the former Colorado star has played just 12 total games over the last two seasons. While the Packers don’t need Bakhtiari’s permission to restructure his contract, they do need the player to agree if they want him to take a pay cut.
It does appear, however, that Gutekunst wants to have Bakhtiari back at left tackle in 2023 at the age of 31 (he’ll turn 32 in September).
Elgton Jenkins is the returning starter at left guard. The Packers just signed Jenkins to a contract extension last offseason and the former Pro Bowler is part of the team’s long-term plans. While Jenkins is versatile and can play any position along the offensive line, he is likely to continue to start at left guard.
Jon Runyan, Jr. is firmly established as the starting right guard. He is a good pass blocker and an average run blocker who gives the Packers a steady presence and toughness in the middle of the offensive line. He started the season at left guard but moved to the right side after Jenkins was moved from tackle back to left guard.
The two areas that are very much unsettled, however, are center and right tackle. Josh Myers was the starting center last season but was inconsistent overall and really struggled as a run blocker.
Right tackle is also up for grabs with Yosh Nijman presently a restricted free agent. The Packers are expected to make a second-round tender to Nijman and then re-sign him. Nijman will be in the mix for the right tackle spot in training camp.
The wild card as of now is second-year man Zach Tom. Tom played four positions along the line last season the only exception being center. But scouts felt that center may be his best position coming out college.
“He’s versatile, like we like,” Gutekunst said when asked about Tom. “I thought coming out that his best spot might be center. I think he could do that very well. The way he played at tackle and guard this year maybe opened my eyes that he’s got maybe more potential there as well. Certainly, he’s going to be in the mix and competing for not only a starting spot, but if I’ve learned anything over my time, it’s that you better have seven. You’re going to need all seven before the end of it. Whether you call them starters or not-starters, you’re going to need seven by the time it’s done, and he’ll be one of those guys.”
So, Tom may compete with Myers for the starting center job and he may also battle with Nijman for the right tackle spot assuming the Nijman re-signs with the Packers and doesn’t get signed by another team.
The wild card of course is the upcoming NFL Draft. Gutekunst has added three offensive linemen in each of the last three drafts. Seven of the nine picks came in on day three of the draft while Myers was a second round selection in 2021 and Sean Rhyan a third round pick in 2022. It is extremely likely that the Packers will draft at some more offensive linemen who may compete for roster spots and possibly even starting jobs although there are other positions that will likely be higher priorities in the draft like safety and tight end.
As of now, Tom is the player already on the roster who is most likely to crack the starting lineup next season. Some changes are potentially ahead along the Packers offensive line.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
Click here for more great Packers coverage