GREEN BAY - It wound up costing them market price, but the Green Bay Packers avoided having to replace the entire left side of their offensive line next season by negotiating a deal to keep tackle David Bakhtiari through the 2020 season
The Packers agreed to terms on a four-year contract extension that will pay Bakhtiari up to $51.67 million the night before the Packers took on the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon, according to a source with knowledge of the deal. Bakhtiari, in the final year of his rookie contract, was scheduled to earn $1.671 million this year.
In terms of new money, the source said, the deal averages $12 million per year, which puts Bakhtiari among the top five highest-paid offensive linemen in the NFL.
According to the source, Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick in 2013, will receive roughly $17 million in guaranteed money at the time of signing and then an additional $10.7 million in March roster bonuses and workout pay. While the $10.7 million isn't fully guaranteed, it's unlikely the Packers would cut Bakhtiari in the next seven months, making it highly likely he'll receive it as well.
Bakhtiari said on his Twitter account, "Surreal and lost for words."
Numerous teammates tweeted congratulations to Bakhtiari upon hearing news of the deal, including guard T.J. Lang, who said, "So happy for @DBak69 hard work pays off my friend. Free dinner for the rest of the year!!!!!"
During training camp, the Packers had told veteran guards Josh Sitton and Lang, two other linemen whose contracts were to expire after this season, that they would be working on the deals for their younger linemen first and they were true to their word. The extension for Bakhtiari, who turns 25 at the end of the month, came roughly two weeks after the Packers released Sitton, whom they tried to trade before the final roster cuts.
Once they chose to get rid of Sitton, the Packers had to make sure they were going to get Bakhtiari signed or risk having to replace both players after this season. Bakhtiari and Sitton are good friends and it's unlikely there would have been bitterness between them had Sitton remained, but the Packers decided they could live without Sitton and needed to let him go before his $6.125 million base salary became guaranteed on Sept. 4.
In order to get Bakhtiari to give up free agency, especially after seeing that Sitton could get $10 million guaranteed from the Chicago Bears a day after he was cut, the Packers had to offer him a market deal. And it appears they did so given the $12 million average he received in new money.
The five highest-paid offensive linemen in the NFL all make an average of $12 million per year or more.
Washington's Trent Williams averages $13.6 million, New Orleans' Terron Armstead $13 million, Dallas' Tyron Smith $12.2 million, Kansas City's Eric Fisher $12 million and Buffalo's Cordy Glenn $12 million. All are left tackles and now Bakhtiari ranks in the very same neighborhood.
Bakhtiari's deal greatly surpasses the five-year, $33.75 million contract that right tackle Bryan Bulaga in March of 2015 and the four-year, $22.06 million deal that Lang signed in August of 2012.
Bakhtiari came into this season having started 47 of 49 regular-season games. He is just the fourth Packers tackle since the merger in 1970 to start the season at left tackle and was the only rookie in the NFL in '13 to start all 16 games.
The Packers discovered just how valuable Bakhtiari was last season when he suffered a left knee injury against Detroit and managed to come back and play the next week. He injured the knee again in practice the following week, but was able to play against Chicago on a Thursday night.
Bakhtiari tore ligaments in his left ankle against Oakland and missed the final two games of the regular season and the first playoff game against Washington. The Packers found out just how much they missed him in the Arizona game Dec. 27 when Don Barclay was no match for the Cardinals' pass rush.
In the regular-season finale the next week, coach Mike McCarthy started Sitton at left tackle instead of Barclay, but the results weren't much better. Backup center JC Tretter finally stopped the bleeding long enough for the Packers to beat Washington and Bakhtiari's return for the Arizona playoff game turned out to be a big reason the game was much closer than the earlier meeting.
Bakhtiari ranked tied for third among offensive tackles with 11 accepted penalties during the regular season, including six holding calls, but he allowed just five sacks and greatly improved his play in the run game. His toughness and added strength over the past two years likely gave the Packers confidence he would become a high-level starter.
During training camp, Bakhtiari was healthy and played at a very high level, finishing 12-0 in the highly competitive one-on-one pass-rush drill and in the season opener against Jacksonville, he and left guard Lane Taylor were extremely effective executing double-team blocks in the run game.
Bakhtiari's deal is likely to eat up a good chunk of cap space this year but with the release of Sitton, the Packers stood at $16.9 million under the cap and were likely able to avoid huge cap hits in future years. The Packers probably still want to sign Tretter and Lang to contract extensions, but there's no question that Bakhtiari was their priority.
More than likely, Tretter will be the Packers' next target, but it will mean opening their pocketbook considerably since Tretter has a chance to go out on the free-agent market as a starter and would be highly coveted given the need at the position around the NFL. Tretter's ability to play multiple positions also will make him valuable.