David Bakhtiari glad he pushed through retirement thoughts last offseason, finally healthy

Ryan Wood
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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GREEN BAY – After his third surgery, David Bakhtiari thought his career might be over.

There’s only so much punishment a body can take. So many times a person can be anesthetized, cut open, sewn back shut. Bakhtiari tore his ACL in 2020, had two setbacks in 2021, lost a year in his career, and didn’t know if he’d ever rediscover his All-Pro form.

“Does doubts happen? Sure,” said Bakhtiari, the Green Bay Packers left tackle. “(Expletive), third (expletive) time? But I’m like, no. In my perspective, that’s such a quitter, weak mindset. That’s not me. I’m going to go until – this ain’t going to be the reason that’s going to stop me.”

In that moment early last offseason, Bakhtiari remembered a conversation he had several years ago with former teammate Davante Adams. Back in 2015, Adams’ career was at a crossroads. It’s become lore now, part of a comeback legacy for the All-Pro receiver, but Adams’ future in the NFL was far from certain after his second NFL season. Drops, injuries, criticism – the negativity snowballed on him.

Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari provides pass protection against Detroit Lions linebacker Romeo Okwara.

Bakhtiari encouraged Adams to write his own story. Then he watched Adams blossom into the NFL’s best receiver.

When those doubts happened, Bakhtiari decided it was time for him to do the same.

He shared the memory at his cleaned-out locker Monday morning, reflecting on how he saw this season through to the end. Bakhtiari started 11 games after playing just one last year. He played 597 snaps (a little more than half) after making it through just 27 a season ago. And that was with an emergency appendectomy unexpectedly interrupting his progress for four games, Bakhtiari’s fourth surgery in two years.

"I really think I've kind of went through the gamut," Bakhtiari said. "So I would like to have some nice sunshine, no clouds for a while."

Finally, Bakhtiari believes the storm could subside.

Bakhtiari's life after football a strong consideration in decision

Bakhtiari said he has no surgeries scheduled this offseason. He “highly, highly” doubts his left knee will need a fourth surgery. He feels healthy for the first time in two years. Even more, Bakhtiari has been assured the longevity of his knee is good, that he can live comfortably as he ages beyond football.

“I’ve legitimately asked, ‘Am I going to need to have to get a knee replacement?’” Bakhtiari said. “I’ve talked to multiple doctors, and they’re like, ‘No, you’re still good.’ Obviously, if they say I need to get a knee replacement based on what the health of it is, that definitely changes the trajectory with what I want to do with my life. But as long as I’m healthy and the green light is still there, I’m taking advantage of the window.”

Bakhtiari, 31, hopes to return for an 11th season with the Packers. He has two years left on a contract that made him the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history late in the 2020 season. Bakhtiari has a $9.5 million roster bonus next season, according to Over the Cap. General manager Brian Gutekunst will need to decide whether he’ll execute that bonus by March.

If the Packers release Bakhtiari, they could save almost $6 million on next season’s cap. They could also save $4.25 million over the next two seasons if they guaranteed Bakhtiari’s roster bonus, prorating it over the next two years. The team would save more if it added a void year or two past the contract’s expiration date in 2024.

Another option could be asking Bakhtiari to return with a pay cut, perhaps with an option to earn back money in per-game incentives. Bakhtiari would not answer whether he’d be willing to accepting a decreased salary, but made clear he hopes to return next season.

“I still have a lot to play for,” Bakhtiari said. “I have things I want to do both collectively for the club and personally for myself, but I understand it is No. 1 at the end of the day a business. I mean, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Gutey. He’s been nothing but great to me since the moment I walked into these doors in 2013.

“Hopefully, if we do cross the negativity bridge, we do have a conversation that happens. But that’s life. I have no ill will. I don’t expect that, but at the same end I totally respect if that happens.”

Bakhtiari looks forward to an offseason of putting 'on my armor'

Once the team unriddled how to keep Bakhtiari on the field, he anchored the left side of the Packers offensive line. LaFleur said Bakhtiari and newly extended guard Elgton Jenkins gave his offense one of the best sides of a line in the NFL. The early weeks were exasperating as the team tried to figure out how to keep Bakhtiari upright, even briefly rotating him with Yosh Nijman at right tackle.

By the end, LaFleur said he undoubtedly wants Bakhtiari to return next season.

"I thought that once we got him back out there on a consistent basis," LaFleur said, "once we figured out how to best practice him, once he learned how to do that for himself, I thought he played at a pretty high level."

When he spoke with offensive line coach Luke Butkus in his exit interview Monday, Bakhtiari expressed how much he’s looking forward to training this offseason. He attributed the lack of offseason training to his inconsistent ability early this year, including a surprise absence Week 7 at Washington.

Bakhtiari uses the offseason to add muscle, knowing his body – like all NFL players’ bodies – will deteriorate over the long season. Without that added muscle, Bakhtiari had to get creative this season. He practiced sparingly throughout game weeks, relying on his decade of experience in the league. Bakhtiari said he had to broaden the array of techniques he uses as a blocker early this season, finding ways to creatively compensate for the knee.

It allowed him to play effectively when healthy. With a full offseason to train, he expects to be even better in 2023.

“I had three surgeries on my knee in 18 months,” Bakhtiari said. “So a lot of that is just getting time to let things heal, and then also just growing muscle so I can protect my knee and also compete with the surfaces, with the pressures, with the strength. Going into the season, I look at the offseason as putting on your armor, and then going through the season you get deteriorated throughout the year. So I don’t have a chance to put on my armor, I’m kind of going into war unprotected.

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“So thankfully did a really good job talking with the training room, strength staff, and then even bringing people in from outside, making sure I can get myself to grow because football is not in any rehab that you do coming off of surgery.”

Even if the season ended short of a playoff run, there was a relief Bakhtiari made it through. He believes the hellish past two years are ready to be left in the past. Entering his age-32 season, Bakhtiari is focused on his future.

He wasn’t sure if there would be a future in this league not long ago. The NFL has seen plenty of players retire early because of injuries. Each time the doubts crept in, Bakhtiari resisted. Looking back, he’s glad to have persevered.

He has no plans of retiring now.

“I’m not ready yet,” Bakhtiari said. “I’ll know when I’m done. I’m not done yet. I still love it. I’ve still got a young mindset. Maybe to other people, they’d be content and happy. But I’ve said since 2013 and again, always to (former Packers center) Larry McCarren, ‘The day I’m complacent is the day I’m looking for a job.’ I really haven’t found that complacency yet.”

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