David Bakhtiari achieves goal with historic deal that will keep him in Green Bay
GREEN BAY – When the negotiations began, David Bakhtiari knowing these talks would be much more contentious than four years ago, the Green Bay Packers left tackle gave agent Mark Humenik unmistakably clear instructions.
There was a line Bakhtiari would not cross. One unwavering demand. Bakhtiari had worked his way up from fourth-round pick to Day 1 starter. He had waited patiently while Pro Bowl nods he rightly deserved went to someone else. He had already signed an extension that became a home-town discount, a contract that put him among the league’s five highest-paid left tackles, but not No. 1.
Bakhtiari, an All-Pro, had climbed from that woeful Colorado team to become one of the NFL’s best players. He was in no mood to settle now. As free-agency closed, Bakhtiari did not merely want a contract extension with the team that’s become his home.
He wanted history.
“The one thing that I had trusted him with,” Bakhtiari said, “and I told him I was going to ask this question before I’d ever sign, was he needs to be able to confidently say that this is the best contract. This contract is deserving for the highest paid offensive lineman.”
His agent called late Saturday night, unusual since the Packers were about to host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field. “That’s either good news,” Bakhtiari said, “or bad news.” Then they talked.
What Bakhtiari heard still had his face red as he choked back tears minutes after the Packers held on to beat the lowly Jaguars, 24-20.
Bakhtiari didn’t just have an offer from the Packers. This was history.
With a four-year deal worth up to $105.5 million in new money, Bakhtiari became the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. His base salary will average $23 million annually, $1 million more than the contract Laremy Tunsil signed with the Houston Texans this offseason. That deal had been the richest among offensive linemen in league history.
“That was something,” Bakhtiari said, “that I've been chasing for a while. In having the talks with my family, to have that monetary validation for all the hard work that I've put in really meant a lot, and that was something that I can hold onto and have that title for the rest of my life. That is something special that I've been chasing really ever since I got in the league. I have goals, very lofty ones, and I always wanted to say that I was the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history and today I get to say that.”
Bakhtiari’s new contract includes a $30 million signing bonus, and by the end of 2022, he will likely have made $62.8 million, a source told PackersNews. The way the contract is structured, the source said, Bakhtiari's salary cap number will only go up $1.5 million this year and could be as low as $11 million in '21General manager Brian Gutekunst believes the contract’s structure will give the Packers needed “flexibility” with the cap expected to decline next season to $175 million because of COVID-19 ramifications. The Packers still have a handful of pending free agents, including running back Aaron Jones, cornerback Kevin King and center Corey Linsley, but Bakhtiari was the priority.
He was the All-Pro. Of the group, he played the most important position. And at only 29 years old, Bakhtiari is expected to have plenty of All-Pro years ahead of him.
“Wrapping him up,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “seemed to be of some benefit to the organization long term. Best left tackle in the game. Future hall of famer, probably.”
The Packers had been negotiating with Bakhtiari through the offseason. Those negotiations would get “heated,” to use Bakhtiari’s word, much different than the 12-day talks that led to his team-friendly extension in 2016. Each time there was an offer, Bakhtiari didn’t budge. Instead, he held firm to his conviction, that with his body of work he should be the league’s highest-paid offensive lineman.
On the outside, it seemed clear the Packers would not allow such a young, talented player at a foundational position walk in free agency. Never mind what it cost to keep him. Bakhtiari is the type of core piece championship contenders can’t afford to lose. Internally, Bakhtiari said, there were moments he wondered whether his future might be elsewhere. He would constantly remind himself to enjoy this season, knowing it could be his last with the Packers.
“I think it was probably a willingness on both sides to want to get it done,” Gutekunst said. “I think certainly from our side of things, what he brings to the table not only as a player but a leader in our locker room, we felt it was important. I don’t want to speak for David, but I think he really wanted to be here. I think this place is important to him.”
The negotiations picked up in the past week, Gutekunst said. When the Packers made an offer that pushed the monetary value over that historic threshold, there was a rush Saturday to complete the deal before midnight. If not, the deal could not process before Bakhtiari stepped on the field Sunday, exposing himself to injury.
That Bakhtiari played for the first time Sunday in almost a month might have helped expedite the deal. Bakhtiari hadn’t been on the field since leaving with broken ribs midway through the Packers loss at Tampa Bay in October.
“I think it gave time,” Bakhtiari said, “for us to kind of communicate a little bit more. We had been talking for a while, and with me wanting to focus on the season, I didn’t really want that to be a distraction. But we both felt that with me being out because of my injury, that we could both handle it in a mature, quiet nature.
“That was the one positive. The negative was breaking your rib isn’t the best thing.”
The deal was signed so late Saturday night, Gutekunst did not have time to inform coach Matt LaFleur until Sunday morning. There was no time to speak with Bakhtiari before the game, LaFleur said. It wasn’t until receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling opened the second quarter with a 78-yard touchdown that LaFleur had a chance to catch up with his franchise left tackle.
“He came running off,” LaFleur said, “and I hugged him and told him I’m happy he’s going to be a Packer for a really long time.”
So is Bakhtiari’s quarterback.
Rodgers said he was “privy” to the negotiations throughout. He has become “really close” friends with Bakhtiari throughout the past eight seasons. “I would say best friends,” Rodgers quipped. “I’m not sure if he would.” When Rodgers heard Bakhtiari signed his extension Saturday night, the quarterback who signed what was at the time the NFL’s richest-ever contract in 2018 began drafting postgame celebration plans.
No, a pandemic wasn’t keeping these best friends apart Sunday night.
“I’m sure I’ll bring over a bottle at some point and enjoy it with him and his sweet lady,” Rodgers said, referring to Bakhtiari’s fiancée, Frankie Shebby.
Bakhtiari might prefer a different beverage. He’s a beer chugger, remember. Since the Packers drafted him in 2013, Bakhtiari has ingratiated himself with Wisconsinites. He went viral during Milwaukee Bucks games, chugging Miller Lite – sometimes two – on the Jumbotron during timeouts.
Asked what he plans do to Sunday night to celebrate not only a win but the history he set hours earlier, Bakhtiari answered exactly as expected.
“Some beer,” he said. “Lot of beer. More beer.”
Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.