Sports

Frustration surrounding David Bakhtiari’s situation is reaching a boiling point for the Packers

If you think you are frustrated, try being David Bakhtiari.

Let’s start winding the clocks about two years back. On November 15, 2020, it was announced that the Green Bay Packers had agreed to a $105.5 million four-year extension with the All-Pro left tackle. Packers fans rejoiced because the cornerstone of the offensive line would not come unscathed and would remain in Green Bay for years to come.

Then all hell broke loose a month and a half later.

As the Packers prepared for their regular season finale against the Chicago Bears, Bakhtiari tore his ACL in practice. That was December 31, 2020.

Since then, Bakhtiari has only seen the field once, and it was by all means a cameo appearance in a pointless season finale game in Detroit last January.

We all knew that, due to the timing of his ACL tear, taking part in a significant portion of the 2021 season was dubious at best for Bakhtiari. ACL repair is as unique as fingerprints because no two tears are the same and there are other ligaments that may have been damaged as well.

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After Bakhtiari left the Detroit game, no one really thought about it anymore. The competition was insignificant in terms of season standings. Maybe the Packers just kept him on a pitch count to keep him for the upcoming playoff run?

That was a plausible theory until Green Bay made him inactive for the division round against the San Francisco 49ers. That was the first sign that something was wrong, although it was believed at the time that he would be done by training camp and be back to normal by week 1.

You know what they say about hiring? That came true in this case.

After the Packers remained optimistic throughout the offseason that Bakhtiari would be ready for training camp in July, he was put 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 has come to an end, reports have surfaced that Bakhtiari had numerous setbacks, including multiple other procedures (plural) to the knee: one to reduce swelling and an unknown third believed to be to clear it up.

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When the team gathered for training camp, general manager Brian Gutekunst revealed that Bakhtiari was suffering”much more than an ACL long ago when it happened.” Gutekunst also noted that after Bakhtiari was unhappy with his knee’s reaction in Detroit, he went ahead with another procedure, which cast doubt on the time-return timeline.

This is where the story gets tacky and maybe even ugly. Since he got out of PUP, Bakhtiari has been practicing occasionally for the past month. As the regular season approached, expectations began to grow that Bakhtiari would return for Week 1.

That didn’t happen. It seemed inevitable that he would miss the game after missing Friday practice and indeed he did.

So maybe he would be ready for week 2 against the Chicago Bears?

After the loss to the Vikings, head coach Matt LaFleur said Bakhtiari would not train for three consecutive days and that he would be on a one-time schedule. LaFleur said it would be “even if he’s fully back.” This signaled a red flag, as it meant that Bakhtiari was indeed not quite ready to leave.

The Packers went out, of course, and won against the Bears in Week 2, a game that featured the remarkable return of Elgton Jenkins. The right tackle came back on Sunday after recovering from a torn ACL he sustained last November. That was a 10-month timeline, a much shorter timeline than Bakhtiari’s, and it should be noted that Jenkins went all the way on Sunday night.

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That raises concerns about Bakhtiari even more, but it was LaFleur’s comments after the win over the Bears that set off a sort of mini firestorm around the left tackle.

LaFleur gushed about Jenkins’ return to the lineup, even saying that he thought the Packers “wouldn’t have won this game” without him. Some have interpreted this comment as an underhanded challenge to Bakhtiari, but it’s also possible he meant it because of the heavy nature of the game plan.

Adding to the intrigue (and raising eyebrows even more) was quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Bakhtiari’s best friend on the team, who repeated LaFleur’s words about Jenkins during his weekly stint on the Pat McAfee show yesterday. Rodgers even went a step further.

Speaking about Jenkins’ return from injury, Rodgers noted the mental hurdle that must be taken, especially for a position that plants his feet and puts a lot of pressure on the legs. “Coming over the threshold and going out, that’s the warrior mentality,” he said. “And I need the warriors to show up.”

People can interpret things as they please, but it’s fair to assume this was aimed at Bakhtiari, especially when McAfee brought up the left tackle immediately after Rodgers ended the quote above and didn’t push the quarterback back.

Today, LaFleur said bluntly, “I have no idea,” when asked about Bakhtiari’s availability against the Buccaneers after missing Wednesday’s practice. That was an off-schedule miss from what the head coach had said a week earlier.

Patience is now running out, especially among the fan base. With the Packers constantly moving the goalposts, fans will be stunned when they will finally see their beloved left tackle back on the field in more than just a practice capacity.

To be fair, one cannot and should not judge the mental hurdles of professional athletes coming back from injury. Bakhtiari’s recovery was particularly difficult, with multiple procedures and setbacks. The pressure of fan and media attention can take its toll.

The contract he signed just before his injury is also a source of pressure. Sure, he’s still getting paid, but he’s also bearing the brunt of the expectations the organization had of him when he signed that deal and which they’re still upholding. Those are not easy obstacles for anyone to overcome, not even an experienced and highly successful professional athlete.

That said, football is still a business, and it’s not always a pleasant one. Bakhtiari’s contract makes an outright release virtually impossible, and the team has already reworked its deal once this spring to free up space. If this saga can continue playing, the Packers will face a tough decision as they didn’t get a return on the investment in that very expensive expansion.

Maybe Bakhtiari will come back and return to an elite level, writing a comeback story for the ages. That’s the ending everyone wants, no matter how you feel about the current situation.

Or maybe things stay the same and don’t improve enough. This is a worst-case scenario, but it’s one that responsible franchisees should consider. So will the Packers.

With a cap of $29 million in 2023 and $33 million in 2024 per Over the Cap, the Packers will have to do something if Bakhtiari continues to run out of time. It just doesn’t make any financial sense to keep things going. This could be as simple as asking Bakhtiari for a pay cut or it could mean a full restructuring or even an outright release, but that would be the worst doomsday scenario of all.

Bakhtiari could also retire, of course, but that doesn’t seem to be on the table at all and probably shouldn’t be. All indications are that he is about to play, but there are still a few milestones to be reached before he is ready to take off. Whether those hurdles are mental, physical, or both are known only to Bakhtiari and the Packers.

This will all happen soon enough. Until then, let’s stop telling professional athletes how to handle their bodies, but we can do this while also understanding that the Packers are in a bind and have a right to be antsy while this is being resolved.

Ultimately, the most important thing in this situation is the well-being of Bakhtiari – both physical and mental.

Hopefully Bakh will be back soon. But the clock is ticking.

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