David Bakhtiari gets creative training with Clay Matthews, preparing for contract year
GREEN BAY - It was a most peculiar contract David Bakhtiari signed this spring, not at all like the one he hopes to sign sometime before next spring, but necessary all the same.
Forced to call an audible on his offseason training amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Green Bay Packers left tackle did what employees across America are doing using geography to maximize workplace production. For the past eight offseasons, Bakhtiari has trained with former teammate Clay Matthews. No, social distancing was not going to disrupt their routine, even with COVID-19 precautions limiting access to their offseason training grounds at ProActive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, California.
They just had to be careful, and get creative.
Inside Matthews’ new home, where the former Packers edge rusher (now a free agent) built a formidable home gym, the longtime teammates pushed each other this spring.
“It was almost like a little mini-ProActive that I had,” Bakhtiari said. “So we were able to have our trainers print out a form, and we kind of made an agreement, like, ‘Hey, you’re not going to go out and do anything, I’m not going to do the same.’ That way we’re not exposing ourselves to anything outside, and we were able to push each other and train during a time when it was true social distancing and isolation.”
Bakhtiari hopes those training sessions propel him into what could be a critical 2020 season. With the final season of his four-year, $48 million contract looming, Bakhtiari is positioned for a big payday with his third contract. The market at his position is soaring, with Houston’s Laremy Tunsil (three years, $66 million) and Indianapolis’ Anthony Castonzo (two years, $33 million) signing the two richest contracts at the position this spring. Bakhtiari, a first-team All-Pro in 2018 and two-time Pro Bowler, could further set the market within the year.
He won’t be cheap for the Packers to re-sign, that much is clear. Entering his age-29 season, Bakhtiari has established himself as one of the top left tackles in the NFL. When asked Tuesday whether any ongoing negotiations had encouraged him about his future with the team, Bakhtiari didn’t tip his hand.
“Even if I were to be talking,” he said, “I wouldn’t disclose that information.”
Four years ago, Bakhtiari signed an extension on the eve of the 2016 season. He left open the possibility of signing an extension even after the 2020 season begins this time, saying he wouldn’t rule anything out. An extension this summer could be more team friendly than if a deal is reached on the brink of Bakhtiari hitting the open market, something the Packers surely know.
Of course, Bakhtiari is no less aware. While his 2016 extension made him a top-five left tackle at the time, it has proved to be a team-friendly deal as Bakhtiari blossomed into one of the league’s top players. Bakhtiari is the 12th-highest-paid player at his position.
Castonzo, the league’s second-highest-paid left tackle, will make $16.5 million annually despite never being selected to the Pro Bowl or All-Pro lists.
“At the end of the day,” Bakhtiari said, “I look to how I did in ’16. I get paid to play. I’m the left tackle, and I’m under contract for another season, and that’s what I’m focused on. Whatever the organization decides they want to do moving forward with me, we can have that conversation when it’s there. But, yeah, as of right now, I’m just focusing on making sure I play good football whenever it comes up, because the times right now have definitely been different. So I think a lot of guys right now are changing their preparation and process so that’s been taking the center stage.
“I’m not really thinking about what goes into the next step because I need to make sure I take this right step that’s happening right now.”
Where Bakhtiari’s market value ultimately lies might depend on what he does this fall. After his career year in 2018, Bakhtiari regressed slightly as he acclimated to a new system. He had 12 penalties, his most since 2015 and more than double his five in 2018. His career-high five false starts were especially indicative of a player adjusting to a new playbook.
“The false starts are ... I mean, that’s just unacceptable," Bakhtiari said. "That just really comes down to thinking more about the concepts. Also just being new to a bunch of new things that are going on, So I’m taking my thought process away from the cadence. I think I kind of situated that and ironed that out.”
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Bakhtiar’s last false start in 2019 came in Week 13 at the New York Giants. He had no penalties in the season’s final four games. By then, he was back to his normally dominant self.
If he stays there in 2020, Bakhtiari could dominate the market by next spring.
“Staying up on my football IQ,” Bakhtiari said, “with making sure I’m attending all the classes with my strength and conditioning side, that’s always been easier, I think, for me. I enjoy, I love, and I accept a new grind in the offseason. So it’s not really hard for me to wake up six days a week and kind of get after it. I trust my training program. That’s why I’ve been with (ProActive) for eight years, and I don’t want to change that. They know when to push me, when to take off, the recovery side.
“When this whole thing comes together … if they don’t want to put any leashes on us, I’m expecting to go, and go fully.”