David Bakhtiari is approaching the 18-month mark following the ACL injury that prematurely ended not only his 2020 season but also severely dampened the Green Bay Packers’ hopes for a title that season — and the following as well. With OTAs underway at Lambeau Field, Bakhtiari was present but not an active participant in this voluntary portion of the offseason schedule. In and of itself, that isn’t necessarily a concern right now. But it could quickly develop into a full-fledged panic once the Packers get closer to the season.
Different players have different approaches to offseason workouts (see Rodgers, Aaron), but if there’s another player who’s earned the right to approach OTAs in his own way, it’s Bakhtiari. He’s entering his age-31 season, and he’s been named first- or second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press in each of the last five seasons that he’s been healthy. In other words, Bakhtiari is a veteran, he’s one of the best on the planet at what he does, and he has an idea of what it takes to get to that level. Plus, this was always part of the plan, according to the team.
At least from a fan’s perspective, part of the concern is the hypothetical what-could-have-been of the previous two seasons had Bakhtiari been healthy. Does Green Bay hold up better against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ front-seven in the NFC Championship with Bakhtiari in the fold? Shaq Barrett had three sacks in that game, and Jason Pierre-Paul added two. Does he help the Packers hold off Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, each of whom had two sacks, and allow Aaron Jones to get to more than 41 rushing yards against the San Francisco 49ers last season? The answer to those questions is most undoubtedly a yes. The tantalizing nature of the last few seasons makes this fanbase that much closer to a collective freakout if things fall apart this season before it even gets started.
Read into Matt LaFleur’s tone all you want, but what the Packers coach said to the media on Tuesday makes total sense. LaFleur says Bakhtiari is close, citing the Detroit Lions game he appeared in at the end of last season. He also mentioned that he’s “played a lot of ball,” and it made sense to keep the All-Pro out of this voluntary portion of the offseason.
A few days after the playoff loss to the 49ers, Bakhtiari gave a very candid interview with Aaron Nagler of Cheesehead TV. He described his injury in-depth, the procedures he had to fix it, and the obstacles he went through in preparing himself to return for the 2021 season. In hindsight, it’s easy to see why Bakhtiari wasn’t able to play during the season and couldn’t dress for the postseason. However, he’s very optimistic about his future and says that the main thing that he and his knee need is time.
The hurdle you want to get over is having a full recovery from an ACL. I know my ACL is good. My meniscus is good, they cut out like 10-15% of it. It’s just my knee needing rest. Structurally, it’s good. Just need to take this time off.
Rest. Time. These are things that can be hard to understand as a fan. But the team is looking at this from a big-picture perspective. Bakhtiari has had enough success in his career to more than earn the benefit of the doubt. Green Bay has added a great deal of depth through the draft, which isn’t a signal that they’re worried about Bakhtiari. Instead, that’s just what good teams do. If we get further into training camp and more ominous-sounding reports start to leak out, we can raise an eyebrow. If he misses actual game time, I’ll be worrying too. For now, Bakhtiari is taking a well-earned cautious approach, and rightfully so, considering the calendar has just flipped over to June.