GREEN BAY – For nearly a decade, the process was straightforward.
David Bakhtiari did his job, the Packers won games and the accolades (eventually) followed for one of the sport's premier left tackles, including five All-Pro selections, three Pro Bowls and a record-setting contract extension in 2020.
In those first eight NFL seasons, Bakhtiari made 118 starts at left tackle and missed just 10 regular-season games due to injury. Every fall, like clockwork, Bakhtiari kept pouring the foundation for a Hall of Fame career.
"I was telling myself football's too easy. They've got to give me a challenge," said Bakhtiari during last week's organized team activities. "And then I blew out my knee. I don't need this much of a challenge."
Bakhtiari's football world stopped on its axis on New Year's Eve 2020. A torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in practice prior to Green Bay's regular-season finale against Chicago began a 20-month odyssey for Bakhtiari, who missed all but one game in 2021.
Last season, the 31-year-old left tackle regained his footing. After some trial and error, including Bakhtiari rotating with Yosh Nijman early on, the Packers and their longtime left tackle finally seemed to find a sweet spot at the midway point.
A modified weekly practice schedule propelled Bakhtiari to five consecutive starts. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound tackle played 282 of a possible 314 snaps (89.8%), over a 28-day span, including a quick Thursday turnaround against the Tennessee Titans.
Of course, there was one final hiccup: an emergency appendectomy the day before Green Bay's Week 13 matchup with Chicago that sidelined Bakhtiari for three games. However, he was cleared to play in the Packers' final two contests of the regular season.
While Green Bay's late playoff push ended in a disappointing 20-16 loss to Detroit, Bakhtiari was healthy again. For the first time in three years, he could train this offseason – not rehab.
"I really like how I'm feeling," Bakhtiari said. "I have finally not had a surgery for the first time in the last two or three offseasons. I had four surgeries in 20 months. That sucked, so finally to have a breath of fresh air – I get to have an offseason to train, to get away, to finally relax and not freak out my body."
Fatherhood also has had a profound impact on Bakhtiari. In December, he and his wife, Frankie, welcomed the birth of their daughter. Felix Ann Bakhtiari entered the world just days after Bakhtiari's appendectomy. She was a personal blessing who also reset Bakhtiari's perspective on his profession.
Back in Green Bay for the offseason program, Bakhtiari is the most experienced player on the Packers' roster. It's a role the 11th-year veteran inherited after Green Bay traded four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers to the New York Jets in April.
Admittedly, the locker room does have a different feel to it without Rodgers, but it's a position Bakhtiari has been in before following the departures of Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, Bryan Bulaga, and Corey Linsley on the offensive line.
Peering back at his name placard, Bakhtiari adds someday there will be another occupant in his locker, too. That's life in the NFL.
"Those guys are some of my closest buddies. That's kind of prepped me for this moment," Bakhtiari said. "Just another guy that's gone. I even talked to Aaron. I remember him saying Charles Woodson was one of the biggest things, when they saw him go. It's a business. You should never forget that. Because it will happen."
Bakhtiari generated a few headlines this offseason when he categorized the Packers' transition from a future Hall of Fame QB like Rodgers to Jordan Love as a rebuild, a stance he reiterated last Wednesday. However, Bakhtiari doesn't see those comments as a bad thing. He uses Seattle's switch from having Russell Wilson under center to Geno Smith as evidence of a successful changeover.
With Rodgers in New York, Bakhtiari is eager to work alongside the Packers' new starting quarterback. He lauds Love for his leadership and willingness to "be his own man" as he assumes the reins of the Packers' offense.
Bakhtiari is playing his part, too. He sat out team periods during last week's OTA open to the media, joking "I'm a glorified coach that just sweats a lot" during practice, but Head Coach Matt LaFleur believes Bakhtiari's influence goes well beyond his self-deprecation.
"I think he's done an outstanding job," LaFleur said of Bakhtiari. "He's been a really positive influence, especially in that offensive line room. Whenever I go in there, he's always giving coaching points and tips to the guys. I think he's done a really good job. We're going to be smart with him throughout the course of OTAs."
At 31, Bakhtiari still has personal goals. He doesn't know how many more miles are left his tires – "It could be one day. It could be five years," he said – but he still wants to know what it's like to hoist a Lombardi Trophy before it's all said and done.
Right now, getting back to form and adjusting to his "new normal" are the primary focus. Finally healthy again, Bakhtiari's motivation is centered on authoring whatever chapters are left in his NFL story.
"I want to dictate that as much as possible," said Bakhtiari when asked about his motivations at this point of his career. "I know I'll lean on Davante (Adams) – you can let everyone else write your story, or you can grab the pen and you can write it yourself. I fully intend on writing how this is going to end on the latter part of my career for me."