By Brian E. Murphy, Packers Insider senior editor
~The Packers didn’t “need” a left tackle in 2013 when Colorado’s David Bakhtiari’s name was called on day three of the NFL Draft as the Packers’ fourth round pick (109 overall).
It was a surprising pick to many. First, the Packers seemed in good shape at the position, especially with 2010 first round pick Bryan Bulaga being moved to left tackle that off-season.
Now, three seasons later, Bakhtiari has started all but three games (including playoffs), in his career, all at left tackle. He started the first 49 games of his career.
He’s been a bargain.
According to a provision in the rookie wage scale that was added to the collective bargaining agreement in 2011, players drafted in Rounds 3-7 can receive a “proven performance escalator” in their final year by playing at least 35 percent of the offensive or defensive snaps in two of their first three seasons.
Bakhtiari easily qualified. According to NFL Players Association salary records, Bakhtiari’s base salary for this coming season increased from $675,000 to $1.696 million.
His first three years, he made: $518k, $608k, and $698k last year.
Currently, 60% of the Packers’ starting offensive line are in the final year of their contracts.
Both guards, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang are set to become free agents after this season, as is Bakhtiari.
Bakhtiari is the most valuable, however, for two main reasons.
First of all, he’s the left tackle, which is the most important position on an offensive line, especially one with a QB who decides if the team is great or not.
Second, at age 24, he’s still very young. Lang is 29, and Sitton is 30.
Bakhtiari, in fact, was born just two months earlier in 1991 than rookie Kyler Fackrell was.
Bakhtiari’s value was on display late last regular season, no time more so than week 16 at Arizona, when he missed the game.
Aaron Rodgers was battered and bruised all game long, and it was basically a miracle he came out of that game in one piece. Rodgers was sacked eight times that afternoon, and knocked down and crushed another half dozen times, in the 30-point blowout.
Don Barclay was nothing more than a turnstyle. The following week, the Pro-Bowl guard Josh Sitton was moved over there, and he also was beaten regularly, as one might expect from a guard.
The next week, again in Arizona, Bakhtiari was back, and the protection in front of Rodgers was remarkably better, especially on the left edge. He had suffered five torn ligaments just three weeks earlier, in Oakland.
Still, he was able to grit it out in the rematch in the desert, and perform well.
“A lot of damage,” the Green Bay Packers left tackle said as he cleaned out his locker the day after the Packers’ season ended in overtime.
There have been talks between the Packers and his agent.
“I think it’s mutual,” Bakhtiari said of his interest in sticking with the Packers. “I like it here, and they like me. I have another year. So I think if they want to do it early, awesome. If not, then we have one more year to work together. So we can talk about it then. I do think it’s too early though.”
As a result of the shambles the line was in when he went out, as well as the fact that RT Bulaga seems to suffer more than his fair share of bad luck with injuries, Packers general manager Ted Thompson traded up nine spots in the second round to draft Indiana tackle Jason Spriggs last month.
“I completely understand it,” Bakhtiari said. “When I went down, or when Bryan went down, we had a complete shuffle of the offensive line trying new guys every week. We even tried a guard out there. I think that if you put me in an organization (perspective), I completely understand it. It’s very smart.
“I think that just really adds depth and really shores up, because that’s a scary thing that you have No. 12 sitting back there, and he has his tackles go down — especially in the same game. I 100% can see how the draft unfolded based on that.”
Still, it remains to be seen if Spriggs can handle NFL OLB’s and DE’s.
However, being able to afford Bakhtiari’s price tag may become the ultimate factor.
Cordy Glenn, a four-year starter at left tackle, re-signed with the Buffalo Bills for five years and $65 million ($13 million annual average). Glenn has graded out as a better run blocker than David has, but Bakhtiari’s pass blocking has been slightly better than the 2012 second-round pick.
Bakhtiari won’t confirm that negotiations have taken place already, but he admits it can become a distraction.
“You’re (meaning I) aware of it,” Bakhtiari said, “but that ain’t going to change anything I’m going to do. The more I think about it, it’s a distraction at the end of the day. So the number one thing I’m going to do is just stay the status quo, keep trying to improve, keep working harder to make the team better, to make myself better, and let that part sort itself out.
“Me talking about it, me thinking about it, ain’t going to get it done. Me just coming in working hard and doing what I have to do every day, that’ll be the only contributing factor that I can do toward the next phase.”
In addition to Bakhtiari, Sitton, and Lang being in their final years of their contracts, backup J.C. Tretter is also in his last year. He proved to be the best, the only decent one really, backup tackle on the roster. He’s also a starting-caliber center.
I expect the Packers to pay the big bucks to retain Bakhtiari, and keep either Lang or Sitton, whichever proves to be the best deal. I also believe someone else out there will give Tretter a much bigger deal, starting money, than the Packers will be able to offer him.
Just like the Packers lost guards Adam Timmerman, Marco Rivera, Mike Wahl, and more recently Daryn Colledge off the Super Bowl XLV win, it’s hard to keep an offensive line in tact for more than a few seasons.
Barring injuries between now and opening day (which we know are always possible), this will be the third straight year the Packers open with the same five starters on their offensive line.
The Packers had one of the NFL’s best units in 2014, primarily because the same five starters played the final 16 games (counting playoffs).
With health, Bakhtiari said, there is no limit to how good the Packers’ offensive line can be this season.
“I think everyone already knows,” Bakhtiari said. “I mean, without a doubt top five. Without a doubt. That’s not even a question. Talking Nos. 1, 2, 3 (in the NFL) — that’s something we’re going to work on in the off-season, make sure we can elevate our game not only as individuals but collectively as a unit.
“I think across the board, we’ve got some of the best linemen in the league.”
If the Packers want their great offensive line play to continue beyond this season, the most important part will be to extend Bakhtiari, and sooner than later. He’s already outperformed his rookie contract, and been a bargain to the Packers.
Greg Jennings was already close to 30 when he got away from Thompson, despite Ted’s pursuit to keep him. Bakhtiari is much younger, and at an equally-important position.
It’s time to pay the man.