We continue our “Packers 100” countdown looking at next year’s top free agents. Green Bay Packers football is just 80 days away. You can find the full countdown here.
2. David Bakhtiari
Contributions to date: Bakhtiari was drafted in the fourth round in 2013, and he started right away in his rookie year after Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL at Family Night. He’s since solidified his hold on the left tackle spot, missing just two games over his first three seasons in the league.
Bakhtiari has excellent feet that make him a solid pass protector, and he plays with attitude. It’s no doubt helped him to play next to one of the best guards in the NFL in Josh Sitton, but Bakhtiari has emerged into a solid player in his own right. All the same, he’s probably the weakest link on the Packers’ stellar offensive line.
Future potential: Bakhtiari is just 24 years old, and he’ll turn 25 at the end of September. He hasn’t suffered any major injuries in his first three years in the league. While there’s been unsubstantiated rumors of Bakhtiari moving to guard and scouts before the draft saw him as an interior player, Bakhtiari himself has rejected the notion, and it wouldn’t seem to fit his skillset anyway.
He’s a relatively light player who excels because of his quick feet. He may never be a Pro Bowl player, but Bakhtiari will be a long-term starting tackle in this league.
Importance to team: Medium. Bakhtiari isn’t stellar, but he solidified a left tackle position that had been previously manned by the overmatched Marshall Newhouse. It was a disaster when he missed three games last season with torn ligaments in his ankle, as Don Barclay, Josh Sitton and J.C. Tretter attempted with varying degrees of failure to take his place.
Ted Thompson traded up in the second round this season to draft Jason Spriggs in an attempt to mitigate Bakhtiari’s importance to the team. The addition and projected development of Spriggs is the only thing preventing Bakhtiari from being one of the most important players on this team.
Prediction: He leaves. The Packers have taken advantage of Bakhtiari’s rookie contract, as he’s currently one of the most underpaid players on the team. But when he hits free agency this year, someone is going to pay him big money. While he’s not an all-around stud, he’s a young left tackle proven in pass protection. That will be enough to earn him big money next offseason.
This prediction is very much dependent on the development of 2016 first-round pick Jason Spriggs. Spriggs is what will allow the team to not overpay for Bakhtiari. If coaches don’t feel comfortable with Spriggs as the 2017 starter at left tackle, then they may feel compelled to extend Bakhtiari. But the guess here is that Spriggs will show enough in training camp and the regular season to warrant letting Bakhtiari walk.
He’s been a valuable player for the team, but Thompson didn’t trade up in the second round for Spriggs to be a swing tackle. My projections would then leave the Packers 2017 starting offensive line as Jason Spriggs, JC Tretter, Corey Linsley, T.J. Lang and Bryan Bulaga. While a step down from the excellence of recent seasons, that’s an affordable and well-balanced line that will be able to protect Aaron Rodgers.