GREEN BAY, Wis. — David Bakhtiari needs at least one more surgery on his left knee — the fifth since he tore his ACL on Dec. 31, 2020 — and he won’t be able to return to the Green Bay Packers this season.
The question is whether, for health or financial reasons, the five-time All-Pro left tackle ever will play for the club — or any other team — again.
Bakhtiari, who was placed on injured reserve last week, spent nearly 40 minutes on Friday detailing all the issues that he has dealt with since the initial injury. He has played in just 13 out of 38 regular-season games since the injury. This season, he played in only the season opener.
The latest surgery is a major one, Bakhtiari said, and he hopes to return for the start of training camp next summer. Bakhtiari had minor surgery done last week to “clean out and address what we’re going to do moving forward,” he said.
The upcoming surgery, Bakhtiari said, is to address the 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.
“I could’ve been asymptomatic the entire time with that issue, and by addressing it we [might have] just added in a problem that didn’t need to be,” Bakhtiari said. “That’s why it’s like, let’s go ahead and try and see if this is a problem. If it’s not, then great, then we continue on, we dodged a bullet and life is good.
“But now knowing that it is [a problem] would’ve been nice. Hindsight’s 20/20.”
Throughout his recovery and into his return to play, Bakhtiari experienced multiple occasions in which fluid built up in his knee. It wasn’t clear until recently that the cartilage damage to his femur, which he described as feeling like sandpaper, was the cause.
“[You] never want to overreact on a decision unless you have to,” Bakhtiari said. “So for us, and for me unfortunately, is that it took a lot of time. I’m sure a lot of people are pissed about it, but I mean I’m the one living it, and for me we had to, and the doctors, we had to make sure that was the problem. Because no doctor wants to operate on you when you [only] think it can help.”
Bakhtiari stressed the word “think” when he spoke.
The upcoming surgery will be performed by Dr. Brian Cole of Chicago. Packers team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie, who did Bakhtiari’s previous surgeries, was consulted along with Dr. Neal ElAttrache (who most recently repaired Aaron Rodgers’ torn Achilles and did Packers linebacker Rashan Gary’s ACL surgery last year).
The 32-year-old Bakhtiari is under contract with the Packers for one more season at the cost of $21.5 million. None of that is guaranteed, and the Packers could wipe that entire sum from their 2024 salary cap if they released him. He would still count more than $19 million on their cap in dead money. If he’s on the roster at his current pay, he would count $40.5 million.
So it’s possible Bakhtiari could go through this entire process of surgery and rehab only to get released.
It’s also possible Bakhtiari could agree to a pay cut that might include playing-time incentives that would allow him to recoup some of the money lost in the cut. There’s no urgency to make a decision on Bakhtiari because the contract does not contain any offseason roster bonus. The only offseason money is a $700,000 workout bonus.
“I think everything’s on the table,” Bakhtiari said. “For me, I can only control what I can control. I think making sure I attack the rehab, win the day, take the bites out of that elephant, finish the elephant, and then decide and see. They have decisions they need to make, what’s best for their franchise. I understood that the minute I got in here.”