The 2023 NFL Draft came and went without the Green Bay Packers selecting a single offensive lineman, a true rarity for the franchise. However, once the first couple of rounds went by, it made perfect sense for Green Bay to not target an offensive lineman. The team currently has 11 offensive linemen on the roster from last season. Roster spots for this unit are scarce and it’s going to be a battle just to see who can take those last few spots. If this is the case, then why was there so much discussion around Green Bay taking an offensive tackle early in the draft?
The reason is that David Bakhtiari’s contract situation will soon become unpalatable for the Packers. Due to the restructures done on his 2020 extension over the past few years, his cap hit in 2024 will be just over $40.5 million. The only way Green Bay can bring that down is via an extension, but Green Bay has generally been reticent to give extensions to players heading into their mid-thirties, and I imagine that reticence will only be increased for a player whose knee has been a major problem for the past two seasons.
That means that if Bakhtiari makes it through 2023, it is quite likely Green Bay would view him as a cap casualty. Cutting Bakhtiari after this season would leave a dead cap hit of just over $19 million, but that still saves the Packers $21.5 million. The Packers will very much want that space as well as they will have Rashan Gary’s extension to deal with, plus the free agencies of Jon Runyan Jr, Yosh Nijman, and a few others that they may look to extend.
However, the idea of trading Bakhtiari is less about creating cap space, since that mechanism is almost certain to happen one way or another. The primary motivation is to get something of value for him before you cut him loose for nothing.
Salary Cap Implications
If the Packers move Bakhtiari this year, it will have to happen after June 1st. If the Packers were to trade him prior to that point, they would take on over $38 million in dead money in 2023, nearly a $17 million increase on his current cap number. That is not doable for the franchise. They had to max-void Darnell Savage’s contract just to get Jordan Love a little signing bonus on his one-year extension.
However, if they trade Bakhtiari after June 1st but prior to the regular season starting, they would clear $2.253 million in cap space (this is Bakhtiari’s base salary plus his per-game roster bonus) for the 2023 season. Each subsequent week he is not traded, the Packers ‘saved’ money would decline by a little over $100k. Because most of Bakhtiari’s money this year is tied up from bonuses, there is very little difference from a financial perspective between trading him prior to camp and trading him at the deadline. Looking at the 2024 cap sheet, there is no difference between cutting Bakhtiari after the season and trading him during this season. In either case, Bakhtiari’s dead cap hit for 2024 would be $19.083 million.
The biggest reason to not trade Bakhtiari is that he is still a good left tackle, and the Packers likely want to create a good environment in which to evaluate Jordan Love. I think this is a perfectly reasonable position to take, at least for the first several weeks of the season. Still, the Packers are fortunate enough to have more options than almost any other team at left tackle. Elgton Jenkins, who did struggle at right tackle last year when he returned from his ACL injury, was a very good left tackle in prior years when he needed to fill in there. Yosh Nijman has reached the point where he is a competent starting tackle in the league, even if he does struggle against better and particularly powerful pass rushers. Zach Tom is also an option (though he may be battling with Josh Myers for the starting center spot), and he showed to be a quality pass blocker last year with the majority of his snaps coming at left tackle. The Packers do have options here that shouldn’t turn their offensive line into an offense-destroying mess.
If the Packers come to a similar conclusion and start making calls on Bakhtiari (or at least taking calls), what would the market be for his services? Well, get ready for more contract stuff. Taking on David Bakhtiari is actually quite easy for the other side. While the dead cap hit to Green Bay will be substantial due to all of the restructured bonuses, the other team will only be taking on his per-game roster bonuses, workout bonuses, and base salary.
If a new team takes on Bakhtiari prior to the 2023 season, they will be getting him on what is effectively a two-year deal for a grand total of $23.965 million, not a penny of which would be guaranteed. His 2023 compensation and cap hit for the new team would just be $2.253M, meaning he could fit into almost every cap sheet in the league. Folks may scoff and say that there is no way Bakhtiari would play on that contract, but holding out is effectively impossible in the NFL nowadays. Bakhtiari would be operating in what could be seen as a contract year in 2023 for that new team. Then he would have $21.5 million in compensation coming in 2024, but again, none of that is guaranteed. If the new team wanted to cut him after the 2023 season, they could do so without any dead cap hit. For a good left tackle that is an absolute steal if, and it’s a big if, you clear his knee. Bakhtiari played the back half of last season without incident, so it appears that he’s going to play a normal schedule going forward, but it’s a very large unknown.
Is there a market?
In looking for destinations for David Bakhtiari, the biggest box that has to be checked is that the team has to have legitimate playoff aspirations and likely legitimate championship aspirations. Bakhtiari is 32 years old and has had injury issues. Of course, the team also needs to have a need at left tackle. Bakhtiari has hardly played a single snap anywhere but left tackle, and it would frankly be a waste of his skills to move him anywhere else.
Prior to the draft, I had identified two spots that seemed like good fits for him: Kansas City and Jacksonville. However, in the week since, both teams have filled their tackle holes. Jacksonville drafted Anton Harrison in the first round and Kansas City just signed Donovan Smith.
Other possible options also exist, but might require moving pieces around on their lines. Pittsburgh just drafted Broderick Jones (and also probably shouldn’t have Super Bowl aspirations). Cincinnati seems like they could be a good fit if they were to move Orlando Brown to right tackle and kick Jonah Williams inside, but Brown seems very determined to play left tackle, which throws a wrench into that plan. Buffalo could use help at right tackle and could possibly move Dion Dawkins there, but he has spent his entire career on the left side.
The one team staring us right in the face is, of course, the New York Jets. Though the Jets may need to pay a premium to get Bakhtiari because acquiring him would likely worsen the quality of draft pick Green Bay receives next year. Already having their top two rounds in 2024 tied up also weakens their negotiating position compared to other teams.
The long-story-short here is that there isn’t an obvious match right now in a trade. Unless the Jets are willing to pay good 2025 draft capital, there just isn’t a match of need/timeline available. A lot can change between now and October, though. Bakhtiari could continue his good play and reliability from the back half of last year, thus assuaging some concerns. The Packers could get off to a great start, leading to them holding him through the season. Or we may see a surprise contender pop up and want to improve their blindside.
Of course, this is the NFL — injuries do happen and underperformance is always possible. Just using the Kansas City example, perhaps Donovan Smith doesn’t work out for them, and they start looking for better options to protect Patrick Mahomes.
We have a long way to go until then, but just don’t be surprised if the future Packers Hall of Famer doesn’t finish the 2023 campaign in green and gold.