GREEN BAY, Wis. — David Bakhtiari seems to be the only one willing to say that the Green Bay Packers are rebuilding. But to the five-time All-Pro left tackle, that doesn’t sound as bad as it might to others.
Even after someone as high up in the organization as general manager Brian Gutekunst refused to use that word for the Packers’ situation after the Aaron Rodgers trade to the Jets, Bakhtiari wasn’t afraid to say it again on Wednesday.
“How I look at is, it’s disrespectful to say you’re not rebuilding off a Hall of Fame quarterback,” Bakhtiari said after an OTA practice. “It was disrespectful to say you weren’t rebuilding off of Brett Favre when you moved to Aaron. No one knew Aaron and what he was going to be, so I’m not going to sit here and like pull back those words because that is, when you look at how it’s been building, how we were chasing after it and the cap – there was a bunch of situations that can definitely allude to it – we have a young team.”
This after Bakhtiari drew some criticism earlier in the offseason — and some questioned whether he would have preferred to join Rodgers, his closest friend on the team, in New York — after an appearance on the “Bussin’ With The Boys” podcast. He not only said, “The Packers are rebuilding, whether you think so or not,” but already referred to the team as “they” instead of “we.”
Bakhtiari would not say on Wednesday if he got a talking to from team officials after those comments. Shortly after Bakhtiari’s original comments in April, Gutekunst said he does not look at the first season with Jordan Love as quarterback as a rebuilding year.
“There’s one goal here every single year, no matter what,” Gutekunst said last month. “And just like it was back the last time we moved on from one quarterback to the other, right? The goals are the same. It’s going to be on those guys to put in the work. It’s going to be exciting to see. Nothing’s really changing.”
One of Bakhtiari’s offensive line mates, left guard Elgton Jenkins, said he does not consider it a rebuilding year “because with the talent that we have, it’s just going to be experience. We’ve got guys who played last year. We’ve got guys who’ve been in situations. Just bringing along the young guys and making sure that they’re on top of their things, I feel we’re going to be good.”
Bakhtiari added on Wednesday that rebuilding doesn’t necessarily mean losing.
“I think the Seahawks rebuild off of Russell [Wilson], look at how that turned out,” Bakhtiari said referring to Seattle’s playoff appearance last season. “I can always give you the other side of the coin – I don’t know it off the top of my head – but that’s how I look at and it’s a simple way to put it. We can slice it, cut it, make it look like who wants to be the hero or the villain on that word, but that’s really what I mean.”
Bakhtiari, 31, is one of the only remaining members of Rodgers’ inner circle on the team. Receivers Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard both left Green Bay as free agents to sign with the Jets this offseason, while veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis and long-time kicker Mason Crosby have not been re-signed.
Not only were Bakhtiari and Rodgers close off the field, they were nearly inseparable at the team facility. They rode to practice every day in a customized golf cart that Bakhtiari gave Rodgers as a gift.
“I’m sure it is difficult [for Bakhtiari],” coach Matt LaFleur said. “Anytime you have somebody that you’re invested in and are close with and they move on, it is hard. But I think he’s done an outstanding job. He’s been a really positive influence especially in the offensive line room. When we got in there, he’s always giving coaching points and tips to the guys, so I think he’s done a really good job.”
The Packers have held out Bakhtiari from team (11-on-11) drills in OTAs to prevent extra wear on his surgically repaired left knee that led to four surgeries in less than two years. Bakhtiari played in 11 games last season but never played in more than five games in a row.
“I really like how I’m feeling,” he said. “Now, I’m not gonna put any expectations on it. … Comparatively, I have finally not had a surgery for the first time in the last two or three offseasons.”