Packers Veteran Free Agent Makes Decision on NFL Future

Veldheer Plans to Play 2020

Getty Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers signals against the San Francisco 49ers during the NFC Championship game at Levi's Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Santa Clara, California.

Jared Veldheer isn’t ready to return to the retired life just yet.

The 32-year-old veteran offensive lineman came out of retirement last November to sign with the Green Bay Packers, making for a valuable late-season addition and even starting in the team’s first playoff game, but Veldheer’s status has been largely unknown amid his pending free agency.

Until now.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, multiple teams asked about Veldheer at the NFL Scouting Combine last week and were told he plans to play during the 2020 season. Veldheer, who will turn 32 in June, is set to become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins on March 18, but it remains to be seen whether he will re-sign with the Packers — or if they are even interested.

The Packers got plenty out of Veldheer after claiming him off the waivers from the New England Patriots on Nov. 29. He provided stable and experienced offensive line depth during a time when injuries were taking a toll on their starters, particularly right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Veldheer played 35 snaps as an injury replacement for Bulaga in Week 17 and then started in his place while he was sick during the Packers’ divisional playoff game against Seattle.

The Packers will have to make decisions on both of them this offseason with Bulaga, who turns 31 later this month, also set to become an unrestricted free agent. Bulaga is coming off a 2019 season in which he started all 16 games for just the second time in his 10-year career, but injuries are still a concern with the veteran lineman. He will also come at a high price with his next deal estimated to be worth more than $10 million per season.

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Veldheer Not Suitable Replacement for Bulaga

Veldheer played some quality reps for the Packers in relief of Bulaga, but it would be a stretch for the Packers to try swapping him in as a permanent replacement if they let Bulaga walk in free agency.

First off, the Packers’ previous approach to veteran offensive lineman in free agency doesn’t support a scenario in which they would replace an old lineman with an older one for the long term, even if he comes at a substantially lower cost. The Packers found success in last year’s draft when they picked a first-year starter in guard Elgton Jenkins, so perhaps having 10 draft picks in 2020 will embolden them to take another offensive lineman in the first round.

But say Veldheer was interested in signing a one-year deal to remain in Green Bay, there is still a reasonably good chance it would backfire on the Packers. Veldheer’s initial retirement — which came less than two weeks after he signed a one-year contract with the Patriots — came about because he was concerned about the long-term durability of his body. He discovered he could put the concerns aside and made his return, but what’s to say an offseason or preseason issue doesn’t arise to change his mind? Other than his word, maybe, there isn’t much to make his case.

The Packers could potentially milk one more year out of Veldheer, but they would find themselves having the same conversations about the future of the position at this time next year while also having to weigh decisions on left tackle David Bakhtiari and center Corey Linsley — who will be become free agents in 2021.

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