Bakhtiari wants to prove he's among NFL's elite
GREEN BAY – Three years ago, David Bakhtiari was a fourth-round afterthought entering the draft, an offensive tackle who teammates remember weighed 285 pounds "soaking wet" when he arrived in Green Bay.
It was easy to overlook him. Bakhtiari was part of the most top-heavy group of offensive tackles ever to enter the league. Three of the top four picks in 2013 were tackles. The Packers didn't draft their left tackle until the third day.
What did other teams miss? Bakhtiari, now set for life, shrugged when he was asked that question inside the locker room Wednesday.
“Green Bay didn’t,” Bakhtiari said. “That’s the most important thing.”
He said the four-year extension he signed Saturday night – a contract that will pay him up to $51.67 million – brought relief. In terms of new money, he is now among the five highest-paid left tackles in the NFL.
Yes, Bakhtiari said, he believes he’s among the league's best left tackles.
“But I need to go out and show it week in and week out,” Bakhtiari said. “People say, ‘Hey, you reached the top,’ but there’s everyone coming in after you trying to take that spot. I personally always think, I’ve never really seen myself as the guy up on top. I’ve always, no matter what – let’s just say I am – but I always find people I’ll put up there that I want to chase after.”
Bakhtiari said he signed his extension Saturday night before the Packers opened their season at Jacksonville. It will keep him under contract through 2020, when he’ll be 29.
A lot of responsibility comes with being the Packers' left tackle over the next five seasons. It means Bakhtiari will protect Aaron Rodgers’ blindside through the two-time MVP quarterback’s mid-30s, if not the rest of his career.
As a rookie, Bakhtiari said, he used to consider the magnitude of his job.
“Then I put it to rest,” Bakhtiari said, “and was like, ‘I’m not going to build this thing up bigger than it is.’ At the end of the day, this is just a game, and if I am freaking out worrying about that guy and how many millions of dollars (he makes) and how amazing and perfect and blah, blah, blah, then yeah, I’ll psych myself out and whoever that is back there. Whether it be Aaron or some guy we pick up off the street that we have to use, the importance is the importance, and I’ve got to do my job regardless.”
Bakhtiari has gotten better each season since 2013, when he slid into the starting job after Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL in training camp. Counting playoffs, Bakhtiari started the first 49 games of his career.
His value to the offensive line was most clearly seen when he missed three games near the end of the last season. Without Bakhtiari, the Packers’ pass protection didn’t hold up. So Rodgers needs no reminder how important his left tackle is to the offense.
‘I’ve said it over the years,” Rodgers said, “I thought he was a 10- to 12-year guy at left tackle, a mainstay, a guy you can build your offensive line around. And he hasn’t disappointed those expectations. I think he’s done a great job for us over the years of continuing to improve. He’s got a beautiful pass set. He’s really improved his run-game fundamentals and techniques. He’s a guy that you can count on.
“He’s done a good job over the years, a great job of taking care of my back and keeping me clean. So I’m really happy for him. That’s the Packer way, as you guys know. Draft, develop and pay. And he’s another guy that deserved it.”
firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood