What Packers LT David Bakhtiari’s latest knee issue means for him and the team

It seems no one knows what the future holds for Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari and his knee, not even Bakhtiari himself.

Not the future like next year, or next week or even later this week. The future as in literally Tuesday, or any day after that.

There could be weeks like Week 3, his first game back, and Week 5, with his international flight to London and his grass pitch, when the situation forced Bakhtiari to accept a limited workload and share some time. time with Yosh Nijman. Or there could be weeks like Week 4, when he felt strong enough to play all but one series against the Patriots, and Week 6, when he played all series before garbage time against the Jets.

But there could also be weeks like this, when Bakhtiari arrived at Lambeau Field on Saturday with his knee not feeling well. He was added to the injury report as questionable and underwent a pre-game warm-up at FedEx Field ahead of Sunday’s game against the Commanders, after which he was ruled inactive.

“He’s back in his groove now,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said of Bakhtiari last Thursday, four days after he played 69 offensive snaps against the Jets — and played them better than any of the four players. offensive linemen alongside him in a 27-10 loss. .

What’s obvious now is that the Packers can’t rely on Bakhtiari to be available for an extended period. On any given day, he could fall asleep feeling ready to take on any edge runner in sight and wake up feeling the opposite. It’s the sobering reality for the five-time All-Pro left tackle, even after playing his first set of games this season since tearing his ACL on Dec. 31, 2020 and needing three procedures over the next 17 months to repair various problems.

LaFleur said earlier this season that even when Bakhtiari returns to games, he won’t practice three days a week. However, he even did it last week, but he never fully participated in practice as the Packers remain cautious with their franchise left tackle.

“I think it’s more about balancing the workload,” LaFleur said. “It’s the total overall workload, so he’s been restricted every day. It just got to this situation where he wanted to train, and so it’s a shame it happened that way. But we “We’ve been doing that for the last few weeks and he’s been able to play and play at a pretty good level. He was playing pretty well… we’re a better attack with him, that’s for sure.

The Packers had planned to start Nijman at right tackle against the Commanders, so he practiced there all week while Bakhtiari was blindside quarterback Aaron Rodgers. By the time the Packers learned Bakhtiari’s status had changed on Saturday, it was too late to return Nijman to left tackle, where he had shone last season. So fourth-round rookie pick Zach Tom started at left tackle instead. Tom said he gets reps at all five positions in a normal training week, so he feels like he can plug in anywhere. Green Bay moved Elgton Jenkins from right tackle to left guard, where he was named the 2020 Pro Bowl starter, to help Tom.

“It was huge,” Tom said of having Jenkins by his side. “He obviously knows the five positions, so he knows the attack quite well. Just having him right there so he could communicate with me, even telling me stuff during the game about technical stuff that I can do better, just having that – and even Bakh being on the sidelines he was watching me too, so the have there to give me advice and things they see.

The Packers kept Josh Myers at center and moved Jon Runyan Jr. from left guard to right guard, where he played next to Nijman, as he did across the line last season. and this season.

“Yeah, it’s disappointing,” Rodgers said of Bakhtiari’s absence. “We all found out about it probably at the same time as you. That’s the change they made, two guys who played together a lot on the left side, two guys who played together a lot on the right side, even if they played together on the left side mostly When Dave couldn’t go we adapted and kind of changed a lot of things to try and help Zach but we’re a better football team when 69 is over there.

The Packers’ ideal starting five includes Bakhtiari at left tackle, but the second best option at left tackle, Nijman, is also right tackle in the top five. With Bakhtiari’s status perpetually in doubt, are the Packers practicing Nijman at right tackle and hoping that Bakhtiari’s knee doesn’t start again or split Nijman’s reps between tackle positions in case it happens? And if they like Tom enough at left tackle, does Nijman represent right tackle regardless of Bakhtiari’s status? Or is he still working at left tackle in case the rookie struggles and Nijman needs to fill in mid-game (which LaFleur said on Monday was a pregame possibility before Tom held)?

“That’s one of the challenges in terms of planning for a week,” LaFleur said. “And you try to get the reps they need in the right places, and we certainly did a lot of shuffles down the line last week, moving Elgton to left guard and then Runyan to right guard. We just felt like it was, for the situation we were in, it was the game and we were going to adjust if we needed to in the game if we needed to fire Yosh and then go in the direction we were going to go with right tackle.

The Commanders didn’t fire Rodgers and generated just one hit from the quarterback while mustering only three pressures. They didn’t rush more than four defenders until the last play of the game to ensure Rodgers didn’t have enough time to throw a Hail Mary pass. In the running game, however, Green Bay averaged just 3.2 yards per carry on 12 carries.

Rodgers helped his new offensive line get comfortable by getting rid of the ball quickly. According to Next Gen Stats, heading into the Monday night game, he tied for the fastest average time out in Week 7 (2.35 seconds). That’s part of why Tom didn’t allow any pressure in 41 passing block snaps, according to PFF.

“Obviously you can never really rely on that, but it certainly makes it easier,” Tom said. “I don’t walk into a game thinking, ‘Man, I hope the quarterback gets the ball off the hook quickly. But yeah, it really helps. … I think there are still things I need to improve. Using my hands will be something I will continue to emphasize. Overall, I think I did well.

Perhaps the silver lining here is the Packers taking a look at Tom, who could be their left tackle of the future. Bakhtiari became the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history when he signed a four-year, $92 million contract extension in Week 10 of the 2020 season, so the understudy no so silver, beyond having a left tackle whose knee might never be in the clear, is having a player with his cap number (around $13.4 million in 2022, according to Over the Cap ) who struggles to be and now stay healthy. It seems inevitable that the Packers will cut or trade Bakhtiari after this season if those issues persist. It carries an upper cap of $29 million for 2023, and the Packers would release just under $6 million from the cap if they were to cut or trade it before June 1, 2023.

Nine of Green Bay’s 10 offensive linemen on the active roster walked through the locker room Monday morning during the 45 minutes it was open to reporters. The only one who didn’t was Bakhtiari, probably in a shrewd veteran move to avoid answering questions about his knee.

And who can blame him? The answers that matter most, about what his future holds for him, are the ones he himself doesn’t have.

(Photo by David Bakhtiari: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)