The Green Bay Packers played their game Sunday against the Washington Commanders without All Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari’s injured knee swelled up late last week and he was unable to play on Sunday. Rookie Zach Tom filled in at left tackle for the Packers who made many changes along their offensive line.
It has now been 22 months since Bakhtiari first injured his knee prior to the Packers season finale in 2020. Bakhtiari missed nearly all of the 2021 season and spent training camp this year on the PUP list before finally being activated for the Packers Week 3 game against the Buccaneers. He alternated series with Yosh Nijman at left tackle at first but played nearly all offensive snaps against the Patriots and Jets.
But missing the Commanders game was a reminder that Bakhtiari’s status for each game this season remains up in the air, something Bakhtiari himself is aware of.
“The tough part is how fluid this whole process is,” Bakhtiari said. “I’d like to be in a position – and in a game where you like to be consistent – this is very much, ‘Where is it at today? OK, we have to address and accept where it is today.’ You can’t force it because the last thing we want to do is force it and it puts us down a road where I’ve been before and it doesn’t end really well.”
The Packers had a plan to limit Bakhtiari’s reps in practice. Originally, they decided not to have Bakhtiari participate in all three days of practice during each week, giving him a chance to rest his knee. The idea was that this would make him more likely to be available on game day.
Having veterans miss a day of practice each week is nothing unusual. Older players like Marcedes Lewis and Aaron Rodgers have sat out a day of practice which the team deems “veteran rest” on the injury report. Bakhtiari started the season missing at least one day of practice each week.
The week before the game in Washington, Bakhtiari indicated he wanted to be out there on the practice field each day. He did not want to take a day off and the coaches acquiesced. Unfortunately, the result was that he wasn’t ready for the game. Saturday, his knee swelled up and the team added him to the injury report.
“I think it’s more about balancing the workload,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “It’s the total overall workload, so he’s been limited every day. It just kind of got to that situation where he wanted to practice, and so it’s unfortunate it went that way. But we’ve been doing that the last couple of weeks and he’s been able to play and play at a pretty good level. He was playing pretty well … we’re a better offense with him, no doubt about it.”
Tom indicated that it was obvious that Bakhtiari’s knee wasn’t always good enough for him to perform at the highest level. “You can just see it the way he looks in practice sometimes. You’ve just always got to be ready.”
The Packers will likely adjust and reduce Bakhtiari’s practice schedule in the coming weeks to try to prevent this from happening again. “I think that’s definitely a discussion that’s going to be had with all of us – myself, Dave, our medical staff – in terms of what’s best,” LaFleur said.
Bakhtiari is playing at a high level when he has been in the lineup. He may not be back to the All Pro level he was playing at before the knee injury, but he’s still the best left tackle available on the roster and one of the better left tackles in the league.
The short term question is when Bakhtiari will be able to play every week and then play entire games. How much can he help the team this season?
But then, the Packers must also answer some long-term questions about Bakhtiari’s future. Now, almost two years after the initial injury, will he ever be able to be a full-time player again? Will his knee improve, will he continue to be a part-time player or will he decide it’s time to retire?
Bakhtiari’s cap hit for 2023 is more than $29 million which includes a $9.5 million roster bonus due to him on the third day of the new league year next March. GM Brian Gutekunst must decide whether it’s worth paying Bakhtiari all that money and what he can contribute to the team in 2023.
If he’s healthy, there’s no doubt the Packers are better off with Bakhtiari in the lineup. Hopefully, they will find a way to get him ready to play as often as possible without doing any long term damage to his knee. Right now, there are more questions than answers surrounding Bakhtiari which has the organization concerned about his future.
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