Packers will decide on Bakhtiari's future before new league year

INDIANAPOLIS -- It doesn't sound like the Green Bay Packers will wait to see how All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari progresses through his recovery from his latest knee surgery before they decide on his future.

They probably can't afford to from a salary cap standpoint.

"We're not there yet, but we're getting there," Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine. "This is that time of year where we're looking at everything, and those decisions will come pretty soon."

That means if Bakhtiari's time with the Packers is coming to an end -- and indications are it is -- it will happen before the new league year begins March 13. If they kept Bakhtiari, 32, on their roster after that, they would have to count his full salary cap charge for 2024 of $40,018,311 on their books until they released him or traded him.

Teams have to be under the salary cap on March 13, and releasing Bakhtiari before then would immediately clear $21.5 million in space. The Packers will still have to count around $20 million in dead money on their cap after they release or trade Bakhtiari.

In theory, the Packers could wait until Bakhtiari completes his recovery, and it wouldn't cost them any cash because Bakhtiari has no offseason roster bonus and his salary is not guaranteed. Bakhtiari, who this fall underwent the fourth and fifth surgeries in his left knee since he tore his ACL on Dec. 31, 2020, is not expected to be cleared until training camp at the earliest. He has played in just 13 games since his initial injury. He played in only the season opener last season.

Gutekunst said they haven't made an official move with Bakhtiari now because they don't have to -- yet.

"Different things can happen in the world, so don't make decisions before you have to," Gutekunst said during a 45-minute session with reporters in Indianapolis. "So, we'll kind of get through, I think we have a few weeks here before free agency starts, another league year starts, and we'll get through that and go from there."

When Bakhtiari last spoke to reporters in October, between his fourth and fifth surgeries, he said he realized the business side of things could mean the Packers might make a decision before he's medically cleared.

He also indicated at the time he would be open to discussing a change in his contract to make it more team friendly for him to return.

"We'll talk about it when we get there," Bakhtiari said at the time. "I don't rule anything off the table, on both ends.

Retirement also could be a possibility, although he has repeatedly said he wants to keep playing.

"When I want to look back, do I want to look at the guy who got injured and was like ah, that's good enough?" Bakhtiari said in October. "If that's not me, then the future, older me is gonna be pissed at the younger me like, 'You f---ing quitter.'"

Bakhtiari's injury turned out to be more than just a standard ACL repair. He revealed last fall that his latest issue is a lateral femoral condyle cartilage tear he sustained during the initial injury. The reason it wasn't repaired during his first ACL surgery, he said, was because there was a chance it wouldn't be problematic going forward.

Without Bakhtiari, the Packers might have to place a high priority on drafting a tackle this year. They have five picks in the first three rounds and therefore would have plenty of opportunity to fill that and other needs. However, it's also possible that Rasheed Walker, who filled in for Bakhtiari last season, could be the heir apparent.

"I certainly think he's already shown that he's done a great job," Gutekunst said of the 2022 seventh-round pick. "I want competition at all five spots, but Rasheed again, another guy that the improvement in the work that he put in, it's exactly what we want, and expect him to continue to get better. But he had pretty good year last year, he's got a ton of upside. Great person. And I'm excited to see where he'll go."