David Bakhtiari’s status in 2023 another tough decision for Packers

Nov 27, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Green Bay Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari (69) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Green Bay Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari (69) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

Much of the attention is already focused on whether or not Aaron Rodgers will be back in 2023, along with Jordan Love’s future as well. But another complicated decision that the Green Bay Packers have to make centers around left tackle David Bakhtiari.

By now, Bakhtiari’s injury history over the last nearly 24 months has been well-documented. Even at this point, with him back on the football field in 2022, his knee could flare up at any moment and cause him to miss time, as was the case prior to the Washington game and in the second half against Detroit—although it felt like things had been improving over the last month. However, then to pile on, Bakhtiari missed Sunday’s game in Chicago due to an appendectomy that could keep him sidelined for “a while,” as Matt LaFleur put it.

While there is still some level of uncertainty each week on what Bakhtiari’s status will be, and he still isn’t practicing all three days prior to the games, when he is on the field, it’s almost as if he hasn’t missed any time at all, as he continues to play at a very high level.

In 279 pass-blocking snaps that have spanned nine games, Bakhtiari is yet to allow a sack this season, and he’s given up just eight pressures. Among 84 eligible tackles, Bakhtiari ranks fifth in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency metric and 21st by their run-blocking grade.

However, to further complicate things, Bakhtiari’s cap hit in 2023 jumps from $13.4 million this season to $29.06 million and would almost certainly require the Packers to restructure his contract, further kicking cap charges down the road and stressing the Packers’ salary cap situation in future years.

Can the Packers take on the risk of keeping Bakhtiari in 2023 at that cap hit with the uncertainty around his status each week? As GM Brian Gutekunst said on Monday, it’s not as if left tackles grow on trees. But there’s also an old saying that says, ‘a player’s best ability is their availability.’

"“He’s playing at a very, very high level,” said Gutekunst via Packers.com. “Left tackles don’t grow on trees. We’ve had some guys fill in excellent for him–Zach Tom coming in and doing what he’s done as a rookie, and some of the last-minute fires he’s been thrown into has been pretty impressive. But again, another offseason decision. We will try to get through all of that stuff and see how everything fits. There’s so many things that are interdependent on each other, but he’s playing at a really high level for us.”"

In place of Bakhtiari, the Packers already have a few inexpensive replacement options on the roster. Yosh Nijman will be a restricted free agent in 2023 and has held up well at left tackle in Bakhtiari’s absence. Rookie Zach Tom is another candidate, and he has allowed just one pressure in 165 snaps at left tackle this season.

With that said, and not that things can’t change, but the playbook with Nijman or Tom at left tackle is different than when Bakhtiari is out there–LaFleur even said so following the Washington game. Because of Bakhtiari’s abilities, LaFleur simply has more options as a play-caller.

If the Packers were to cut Bakhtiari in the offseason, they would incur a dead cap hit — money that is still on the books even if the player isn’t on the roster — of $23.1 million. It would save them $5.9 million versus keeping him. So now I’ll pose the question, is $6 million in savings — a relatively small amount when dealing with a $225-$230 million salary cap — worth it if it means moving on from a player of Bakhtiari’s caliber at one of the most important positions in football?

It also needs to be mentioned that Bakhtiari is Aaron Rodgers’ best friend. With Rodgers being a larger part of the roster-building discussion over the last year or so, how would he feel about the Packers moving on from Bakhtiari? While this likely won’t be a determining factor in the ultimate decision, I’d bet it is a factor.

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to this decision. From Bakhtiari’s health to his play to his contract to his potential replacement, all will play a role in determining his future with the team. The futures of Rodgers and Love are not the only tough decision the Packers have ahead of them this offseason.