After a long 2021 — complete with a rapid heel turn — that ended with a home-playoff loss as the top seed in NFL, along with Aaron Rodgers’s second consecutive MVP, the drama appears to be over. Rodgers signed a three-year extension during the offseason that guarantees him over 100 million, and averages out to $50 million per year. If he does decide to conclude his career upon the end of the deal, that’s a lot of money for him to use to explore the answers to whatever questions he believes that life hasn’t yet revealed to him.
The downside for Rodgers however, is on the playing field. The Packers’ offense is going to look much different. His emergency escape hatch, Davante Adams, is gone. He left the frozen tundra for the desert with the Las Vegas Raiders. Marquez Valdez-Scantling was the Packers’ No. 2 wide receiver last year and now he is with the Kansas City Chiefs. They’re also down three of their main contributors from the offensive line. Utility man interior lineman Lucas Patrick is now with the rival Chicago Bears, and their two tackles, Billy Turner and Dennis Kelly, are also on different teams.
That’s not to say the Packers were whole all of last season either. Tight end Robert Tonyan tore an ACL in late October and was activated from the PUP list a couple of weeks ago. A one-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman, Elgton Jenkins, was also activated but he has been working on learning a new position at training camp — right tackle. Josh Myers was a rookie in 2021 that began the season as the starting center, but injuries compromised his performance, and after his sixth start he was out until the tail end of the season with a broken tibia and torn MCL. The unit still managed to be ranked 14th by Pro Football Focus, and finished sixth in adjusted sack rate.
It’s going to be a different world for Rodgers behind center with all of these recovering players, and also depending on two rookies, Romeo Doubbs and Christian Watson, to pick up the slack at wide receiver alongside veterans Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, and Allen Lazard. That’s why the Packers need a player who returned from the PUP list on Sunday to fit in exactly where he left off in 2020.
David Bakhtiari is the second-highest paid offensive tackle in the history of the NFL. He made five consecutive All-Pro teams from 2016-2020. Part of the reason for his dominance: he was always on the field. In his first seven seasons, he missed more than two games in a season once. Then in 2020, he tore an ACL on New Year’s Eve. He tried to return before the playoffs in 2021, but it didn’t work for him and he wasn’t able to play in the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
The Packers have been shifting around lineman for a couple of years to protect one of the best players in franchise history, but what helps a quarterback when down one of the best pass blockers in the sport for a season is a pass catcher who can be targeted nearly three times more than any other player on the team. Adams was targeted 169 times and caught 123 passes for 1,553 yards and 11 touchdowns. The next most targeted pass catcher was running back Aaron Jones with 65.
As great as Rodgers is, his world is going to be vastly different without Adams, whom he’s targeted more than 100 times in each of the last six seasons. The Packers no longer have a green and gold bullseye running down the field every play. At NFL game speed, it’s going to take Rodgers some time to adjust to having no emergency downfield option, and once again, moving parts on the offensive line.
The best way to help Rodgers adjust to his surroundings is more time in the pocket. It’s why they signed Bakhtiari to that $100-plus million extension in 2020. He was expected to be a cornerstone of this franchise as the left tackle who is eight years younger than the starting quarterback. That’s the kind of elite blindside protection that helps slow down a quarterback’s aging process. It allows him to put just a bit more effort into playmaking than self-preservation, which can lessen the blow of losing one of the best wide receivers in the sport.
Bakhtiari has been that type of a player when healthy. The Packers need him to be that player more than ever in 2022.