Packers choose to be prudent with David Bakhtiari while padding offensive line on their initial 53
GREEN BAY - In the end, the Green Bay Packers saw no path to responsibly returning their All-Pro left tackle to the field before the midway point of their 2021 season.
There is no other explanation for why the Packers kept David Bakhtiari on the physically unable to perform list Tuesday, the deadline for NFL teams to submit their 53-man rosters to the league office. With Bakhtiari on PUP, where he started training camp while recovering from a torn ACL, the Packers were able to place 53 healthy players on their initial roster.
They also ensured Bakhtiari would miss at least the first six weeks of this season, and likely longer. Bakhtiari is ineligible to begin practicing until he’s cleared from PUP, which can’t happen until six weeks into this season. At that point, he will be nine and a half months removed from reconstructive surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee, within the standard window to return to football activity.
“We’re going to do what’s best for David and for this football team,” coach Matt LaFleur said Sunday when asked about the possibility of Bakhtiari being activated from PUP.
General manager Brian Gutekunst was scheduled to address reporters on his roster Tuesday afternoon, but the news conference was moved to Wednesday morning.
Assuming Bakhtiari requires a week or two to practice before playing in a game, that could put his return on track for Nov. 7 at Kansas City, barring setbacks. The Packers have a short-week trip to Arizona the preceding week, their eighth game of the season.
In the meantime, they’ll transfer Elgton Jenkins from left guard to left tackle, replacing Bakhtiari. Jenkins’ move outside should give the Packers a capable fill-in until their All-Pro blindside blocker returns. It also makes their interior much weaker.
Jenkins was a Pro Bowl left guard last season, his second in the NFL. Without him, the Packers will line up either Lucas Patrick or Jon Runyan at left guard. Rookie Royce Newman appears to be on track as the starting right guard. If Newman retains that job, he will line up next to fellow rookie starter Josh Myers.
The Packers will have gone from having a Pro Bowler (Jenkins) and All-Pro (center Corey Linsley) among their three interior positions to a pair of rookies and either a former undrafted player (Patrick) or second-year lineman (Runyan) in the middle.
Gutekunst padded the offensive line on his initial 53, keeping nine linemen. Tackles Dennis Kelly and Yosh Nijman along with backup center Jake Hanson, a sixth-round pick in 2020, were kept on the active roster. Hanson’s inclusion on the roster might have come at the expense of Ben Braden, who was released Tuesday after being in the running for a starting guard job early in camp.
The Packers also went heavy on their defensive line, where they kept six players, including Tyler Lancaster and undrafted rookie Jack Heflin. They team also kept a fifth outside linebacker in Chauncey Rivers, and a fifth inside linebacker in sixth-round rookie Isaiah McDuffie.
To accommodate the extra depth, the Packers went surprisingly light in their secondary. Among the most surprising cuts Tuesday were cornerback Kabion Ento, who lost out on a spot to fellow corner Isaac Yiadom primarily for special teams reasons. Ento’s poor tackling this preseason might have been the difference for a job on the 53. The Packers also kept only four safeties, releasing both Christian Uphoff and Innis Gaines.
BLOG REPLAY: Packers roster cutdown updates with Tom Silverstein
The Packers chose to move on from a handful of former draft picks, including receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (sixth round, 2018) and running back Dexter Williams (sixth round, 2019). St. Brown showed promise as a rookie, catching 21 passes for 328 yards. He missed all of 2019 with a knee injury, and health has been elusive for him ever since, including in this camp. Williams had perhaps his finest camp in three years with the team, but he remained at the bottom of the running back depth chart.
Quarterback Kurt Benkert confirmed via Twitter that he was cut, but he could return to the team via the practice squad if he goes unclaimed on waivers.
In maybe the biggest roster surprise, the Packers made a move at punter. Gutekunst traded a sixth-round pick in 2023 for Los Angeles Rams punter Corey Bojorquez and a 2023 seventh-round pick. The Packers also released JK Scott, whom they drafted in the fifth round in 2019.
When the punter is the biggest surprise, it qualifies as a cutdown day of few genuine surprises. The Packers have known the top of their 53-man roster since the beginning of camp. They believe their team, led by reigning MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, is strong enough to compete for a Super Bowl title this season.
Much of those hopes hinge on Bakhtiari’s left knee. So the Packers did the prudent thing, giving him as much time to recover as he needs, hoping he will be completely healthy for the season’s stretch run.
QB (2): Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
RB (3): Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, Kylin Hill
WR (6): Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Amari Rodgers, Randall Cobb, Malik Taylor
TE (4): Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Dominique Dafney
OL (9): Elgton Jenkins, Billy Turner, Josh Myers, Royce Newman, Dennis Kelly, Yosh Nijman, Lucas Patrick, Jon Runyan, Jake Hanson
DL (6): Kenny Clark, Kingsley Keke, Dean Lowry, T.J. Slaton, Tyler Lancaster, Jack Heflin
OLB (5): Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Jonathan Garvin, Chauncey Rivers
ILB (5): Krys Barnes, De'Vondre Campbell, Oren Burks, Ty Summers, Isaiah McDuffie
CB (6): Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Eric Stokes, Chandon Sullivan, Shermar Jean-Charles, Isaac Yiadom
S (4): Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Henry Black, Vernon Scott
Specialists (2): Mason Crosby, Hunter Bradley
DL Abdullah Anderson, WR Reggie Begelton, QB Kurt Benkert, G Ben Braden, G/T Jacob Capra, G/T Coy Cronk, CB Stephen Denmark, CB Kabion Ento, CB Rojesterman Farris, S Innis Gaines, LB Tipa Galeai, LB De’Jon Harris, WR Damon Hazelton, TE Bronson Kaufusi, DL Carlo Kemp, K JJ Molson, DL Willington Previlon, LB Delontae Scott, P JK Scott, WR Equanimeous St. Brown, RB Patrick Taylor, S Christian Uphoff, T/G Cole Van Lanen, LB Ray Wilborn, RB Dexter Williams, WR Juwann Winfree
The Packers placed David Bakhtiari on reserve/physically unable to perform and TE Jace Sternberger on reserve/suspended.