GREEN BAY — On the eve of the Packers’ opener in Jacksonville, David Bakhtiari quietly agreed to a contract extension that’ll keep him in Green Bay for the foreseeable future.
It was a life-changing moment and goal the fourth-year left tackle worked tirelessly to achieve since the Packers drafted in him in 2013, but don’t expect it to change his mentality.
If anything, it cemented it.
“Status quo, especially with work,” Bakhtiari said. “It’s not like anything’s changed. I’m still doing the same thing. I’m still at the same position. Still protecting the same quarterback for the same organization.”
The following afternoon, Bakhtiari stepped onto EverBank Field and did what he’s always done – faithfully protected Aaron Rodgers’ blindside for 64 snaps in a 27-23 win over the Jaguars, then packed up his things and went home.
It wouldn’t be for another two days that word finally started to trickle out that the Packers had locked down their left tackle, and that was fine by Bakhtiari.
That’s not to downplay the excitement. Bakhtiari’s parents and siblings were overjoyed when they learned of his extension, but the left tackle remained as steady as he’s ever been.
After all, that even-keeled mentality is what put him in this position to begin with. If not, Bakhtiari likely would’ve crumbled when he was thrust into a starting job as a rookie in 2013 after Bryan Bulaga was lost for the year in training camp.
Instead, Bakhtiari stepped in at left tackle and gradually developed into one of the league’s most dependable tackles in starting 47 of a possible 49 games in three-plus seasons.
His toughness and attitude gained both the respect of his fellow offensive linemen and the two-time MVP quarterback he’s been entrusted to protect.
“You understand, but I put it to rest,” said Bakhtiari of blocking for Rodgers. “I was like, ‘I’m not going to build this thing up bigger than it is,’ because at the end of the day this is just a game.
“If I’m freaking out worrying that guy is how many millions of dollars and how amazing and perfect and blah, blah, blah – yeah I’ll psych myself out. Whoever that is back there, whether it be Aaron or some guy we pick up off the street, the importance is the importance and I have to do my job regardless.”
Rodgers knows firsthand what it’s like to have a franchise left tackle guarding his blindside. He began his own rise to prominence with two-time Pro Bowler Chad Clifton guarding his back for the first three seasons as a starter.
In his three-plus seasons with Bakhtiari, Rodgers sees the same makeup and lasting potential in the young left tackle that he saw in a 12-year veteran like Clifton.
“I’ve said it over the years I thought he was a 10-12 year left tackle, a mainstay guy you can build your offensive line around,” said Rodgers of Bakhtiari on Wednesday. “And he hasn’t disappointed those expectations.
“He’s done a great job for us over the year of continuing to improve. He has a beautiful pass set. He’s really improved his run-game fundamentals and techniques. He’s a guy you can count on.”
It’s not easy finding a franchise left tackle in the middle rounds like the Packers did in 2013 when they drafted Bakhtiari in the fourth round out of the University of Colorado.
In fact, twenty-two of the NFL’s 32 teams currently list a former first- or second-round pick as their starting left tackle on league depth charts. Bakhtiari is the only former fourth-rounder.
Those humble beginnings put a chip on the left tackle’s shoulder coming into the NFL and it’s something that continues to drive him, even after grabbing the starting left tackle job.
While he filled in admirably on short notice as a rookie, Bakhtiari has developed his body and technique each season he’s been in Green Bay to get where he is today.
“I remember when Dave came in – I think soaking wet, he maybe weighed 285 pounds,” Bulaga said. “But he’s just grown as a football player every year, gotten a ton better every year. You can just see the confidence, and then he put on a lot of strength and weight after his first year and that made him even better against power rushes.
“Then his second year, he got stronger and still kept his quickness. He’s just gotten better and smarter ever year.”
Bakhtiari said he felt relief to get a deal done and joked he owes Bulaga dinner after the seventh-year right tackle bought him one after re-signing with the Packers in March 2015.
All kidding aside, Bakhtiari feels a great deal of gratitude to Packers offensive line coach James Campen and a room that stood by the young tackle a little more than three years ago.
“Everybody’s happy for Dave,” said center JC Tretter, also a fourth-round pick in 2013. “I’ve been with Dave since the beginning and I’ve seen how much he’s grown and developed. I think his preseason and training camp, and Week 1 have been extremely impressive. He looks phenomenal on film.”
Bakhtiari doesn’t know what NFL teams missed about him coming out of Colorado in 2013. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts now is the Packers took notice.
Bakhtiari is grateful that relationship has only begun. He enjoys where his hard work has taken him, but realizes his journey is far from over.
“Does it feel good? Hell, yeah. If I take a step away from it, it’s unbelievable,” Bakhtiari said. “I’ve been very appreciative of everything I’ve gotten in life. On that end, I’m so honored and grateful. I love working hard. That’s been a trait I learned very young and seeing what happened with my brother (Eric) and his (NFL) career, and the guys I’ve been fortunate enough to be around.
“I don’t know what I had growing up – just my ability to learn vicariously through people and pick up what they did that made them successful and put in my life, but also put my spin on it because I think every person is different at the end of the day.”
Whatever it is, it’s working for Bakhtiari.