The Green Bay Packers are still fighting to make this season’s NFL playoffs. They will need a Christmas miracle to make the playoffs, but as Lloyd Christmas said “so you are telling me there is a chance“. As the Packers do that, they are also looking to the future. Certain young players are auditioning for the future. One of them is rookie tackle Zach Tom, who is auditioning to be the Packers starting left tackle of the future.
Zach Tom Playing Like Packers Franchise Left Tackle
In November 2020, starting left tackle David Bakhtiari signed a four-year contract extension. The contract made him one of the highest-paid left tackles in the NFL. The new deal illustrated how the front office expected Bakhtiari to be the starting left tackle for the Green Bay Packers offense for seasons to come.
But unfortunately, those plans were altered just a month later. Bakhtiari suffered a season-ending knee injury at the end of the 2020 regular season. Since then, Bakhtiari has fought to get back on the field. This season, he has played in nine games but still has missed time due to the knee injury, as well as having his appendix removed.
When Bakhtiari is available, he has shown he is still capable of playing at a high level. But because of his lack of availability and his high contract number, some have wondered if his days as Packer are numbered. He will carry a $29 million dollar number for next season.
The Packers very well could bring Bakhtiari back for next season. He, along with Randall Cobb, are two of Aaron Rodgers closest friends on the team. Rodgers is now carrying a lot of clout when it comes to the Packers personnel. He could very well demand that Bakhtiari, as well as Cobb, returns for 2023.
Still, the Packers find themselves in “salary cap hell”. If they can find a way to cut money, there isn’t much doubt they will. That could put Bakhtiari on the chopping block. If they do part ways with him, they will need to find someone to step in. One of those options could be the former fourth-round pick, Zach Tom.
Tom Overcomes Odds to be A Long Term Candidate
When this season started out, many wouldn’t have guessed that Zach Tom might become the long-term starter at left tackle. There was a thought Tom could be another gem for the Packers. But a possible long-term starter heading into this second season? Many didn’t envision that happening.
In fact, when it came to replacing Bakhtiari, two other Green Bay Packers offensive linemen first came to mind. The first is Elgton Jenkins. Jenkins replaced Bakhtiari in 2021 when Bakhtiari was still recovering from his knee injury. In Bakhtiari’s absence, Jenkins played very well at left tackle. But just like Bakhtiari, he suffered a season-ending injury.
Jenkins returned this season and started out as the Packers starting right tackle. However, still recovering from his 2021 knee injury, Jenkins didn’t play to the level he played at before the injury. Head coach Matt LaFleur and offensive line coach Luke Butkus made the decision to move Jenkins back to his more natural left guard spot. Since returning to guard, Jenkins has performed better. At this point, the Packers might be best off leaving Jenkins there and scrapping the tackle experiment.
Yosh Nijman was considered another option. When Jenkins went down in 2021, Nijman stepped in and started at left tackle. Nijman played well, but by no means was he exceptional. Still, he showed enough to have some believe he could be an option at left tackle if Bakhtiari’s career was over.
But this season, Nijman made the shift from the left side to the right side. Similar to his time on the left side, he has had his struggles. But still, he hasn’t hurt the Packers on the right side. He has been a major upgrade over Royce Newman who started out as the starting right tackle this season. Nijman is expected to be the Packers right tackle for now and into the future.
With Jenkins back to guard and Nijman at right tackle, it opened up an opportunity for Zach Tom. It’s an opportunity that Tom hasn’t taken for granted.
A Bright Future Lies Ahead
Tom saw time at both guard and tackle during training camp. But it appears that Tom has found a spot at left tackle. Similar to most rookies, he has had a couple of rough patches. But in the four games, he has started, he has had more high spots than low.
Protecting the blindside of one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game isn’t an easy task. Especially for a fourth-round rookie. But he has shown enough, that it isn’t farfetched to believe that he could be the replacement for David Bakhtiari if Bakhtiari becomes a salary cap casualty.
The Packers have some young players that have shown some good potential. Zach Tom is one of those players. There are things that Tom needs to improve on, like adding playing weight and improving his run blocking. But he is an exceptional athlete, something you look for at offensive tackle. If general manager Brian Gutekunst does decide to part ways with Bakhtiari, it looks like he has a viable option in Zach Tom.