GREEN BAY — David Bakhtiari has no interest in trying to predict the future.
The Green Bay Packers veteran left tackle doesn’t know whether training camp and the 2020 NFL season will start on time in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic; whether he and his teammates might protest or show solidarity during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games; whether quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be a man on a mission after the team drafted his heir apparent in Jordan Love; or if he’ll get a lucrative extension as he enters into a contract year.
After all, having spent every offseason training at ProActive Sports Performance in Westlake Village in suburban Los Angeles, Bakhtiari never would have predicted a global coronavirus outbreak would force ProActive to open a quasi-satellite facility in the home gym of Clay Matthews, Bakhtiari’s workout partner and former Packers teammate.
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But that’s exactly what happened earlier this spring as the two friends made a pact to self-quarantine so they could work out together while their facility was closed during California’s stay-at-home order.
“Thankfully, he had built his new home, and in his new home he had a home gym. So it was almost like a little mini ProActive that I had,” Bakhtiari explained during a Zoom video conference call with Wisconsin reporters Tuesday afternoon. “We were able to have our trainers print out a form, and we kind of made an agreement, like, ‘Hey, you’re not going to go out and do anything, I’m going to do the same.’ That way we’re not exposing ourselves to anything outside, and we were able to push each other and train during a time when it was true social distancing and isolation.
“Now, as things out here have kind of opened up in certain counties, we’ve kind of been able to go back to a little bit of normalcy. Definitely, having to adjust wasn’t necessarily easy, but there is an expectation and standard of when football does come back — because it will — no one’s going to be hanging onto the excuse, ‘Oh, well there was a pandemic.’ They’re going to have an expectation. They’re going to expect you to produce, and produce at a high level. So you need to be prepared by any means necessary.”
Just what kind of training camp and season he and his Packers teammates have been preparing for, of course, remains uncertain, with the NFL having just released protocols to its 32 teams on what precautions must be taken in order for players to return to team facilities.
Add that uncertainty to a virtual offseason program that was hardly conducive to significant improvement for the offense with on-field organized team activity practices and minicamp sessions wiped out, and it’s hard to predict just what’s in store for the Packers after going 13-3 last year in Matt LaFleur’s first season as coach and reaching the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to the San Francisco 49ers with a berth in Super Bowl LIV on the line.
“For this different offseason, it’s been — in a sense — refreshing. I’ve had a lot of seasons under my belt, so I feel pretty comfortable not having to be at the facility as much,” said Bakhtiari, who is entering his eighth NFL season and who will turn 29 in September. “I’m not worried about my knowledge of the offense. I think we’ve done a great job remotely of teaching it. I have no problems. I think we have the best structure. I’ve been around a couple other guys on a couple other teams and how they’ve operated, and I like ours the best.
“My expectation of the season with the current pandemic that’s been going on, I don’t know what to expect. I’ve seen a lot of things come out with the NFL, (but) it is such a weird time. There are so many unanswered questions that we have that I don’t really know how it’s going to impact the season. We have a lot of if-scenarios and guesses. But I don’t think we’ll really know. We’ll let time answer that for us all.”
As for his own situation, Bakhtiari refused to say whether there have been any preliminary extension talks with the Packers, who have several other key starters heading into the final years of their contracts, including nose tackle Kenny Clark, running back Aaron Jones, center Corey Linsley and cornerback Kevin King. Bakhtiari is in the last year of the four-year, $48 million deal he signed on the eve of the 2016 season, when he was headed into the final year of his rookie contract.
“I look to how I (approached it) in ’16: I get paid to play, I’m the left tackle and I’m under contract for another season and that’s what I’m focused on,” Bakhtiari said. “Whatever the organization decides they want to do moving forward with me, we can have that conversation when it’s there.
“But as of right now, I’m just focusing on making sure I play good football whenever it comes up — because the times right now have been definitely been different. I’m not really thinking about what goes into the next step because I need to make sure I take this right step that’s happening right now.”
Bakhtiari was only willing to dip his toe into the debate as to whether the Packers had made a mistake in using their first-round pick on Love instead of a player who could help them in 2020, saying he was “indifferent” about the Love pick but that “I was more shocked that they traded up” from No. 30 to No. 26 to pick the Utah State quarterback.
“How I feel about the pick doesn’t really matter because I’m not in charge of building of the roster,” Bakhtiari said. “My job is to protect the quarterback and open up holes in the running game and do my job and make sure I’m out there on Sundays. That’s what my job title is.”
As for his expectations for Rodgers, Bakhtiari had predicted entering last season that Rodgers would be the quarterbacking equivalent of revenge-seeking movie assassin John Wick in 2019. He felt that way about Rodgers because the two-time NFL MVP had played most of the 2018 season with a broken leg, an injury suffered in the season opener.
So how will he respond to the team picking his replacement in the first round?
“Aaron, I know he probably will get mad at me if I do set an expectation for him because I’m talking for him,” Bakhtiari said of Rodgers, with whom he’d worked out earlier Tuesday. “(But) from the encounters that I’ve had with Aaron, he’s out there, he’s training. We’ve been working together for a while, and I can just reflect on even today, we were out there running around today on our conditioning day and the guy’s still got his wheels. I’m proud of him on that end. We still compete.
“I know that fire still burns in him deep. He still will in his own way make sure that he’ll still try to win in every facet. He’s the most competitive person I’ve met, and yes, I always expect the most out of him because I know that he can at least for my expectations, that he can deliver on that.’’
Having been among the players who took part in the team’s “Enough is Enough” video message against racial inequality and police brutality, Bakhtiari said he was proud of the way the Packers have handled the issue amid the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.
Bakhtiari specifically praised right guard Billy Turner, a Minneapolis native who has been in the Twin Cities since the Packers’ season ended and who grew up not far from where Floyd died.
“I think the best thing that we’ve done as an organization and as a team is had the uncomfortable conversations — and the ability to just listen and hear different viewpoints and help arrive at your own perspective,” Bakhtiari said. “I think that’s been beneficial, especially (because) one of our offensive lineman is an African American who did grow up in Minneapolis. (It’s been) awesome to see and hear his viewpoint. He’s my fellow lineman. He’s my fellow brother. So of course, I’m there to support him — as always.”
Asked if he will kneel during the national anthem when the games begin, Bakhtiari recalled the 2017 season, when the team locked arms in a show of solidarity during the anthem.
“I don’t have an expectation yet. I’m kind of going into the season not having any kind of notion,” Bakhtiari said. “Like we did a few years ago, I think we’ll talk together as a team and do something collectively together. Whatever that decision is, I’ll be on board with and fully support.
“Around the league, my assumption based on certain players voices that have voiced their opinion to kneel for the anthem, I would assume that would probably happen more than at least the past season or two.”