If the Green Bay Packers are forced to consider their options at right tackle, Jared Veldheer seems to want them to know he’ll be waiting by the phone.
Veldheer, a 33-year-old free agent, dropped a strong hint Monday afternoon on Twitter about his interest in returning to the Packers in 2020 after joining them down the stretch of last season and contributing some valuable reps at swing tackle, including one playoff start.
The Packers have been holding a three-man competition for the two spots on the right side of their offensive line this summer, testing out Billy Turner, Ricky Wagner and Lane Taylor in different permutations thus far in training camp in order to find a new starting lineup now that veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga has moved on.
That search, however, became more complicated when Wagner — one of the team’s only free-agent signing this past offseason — left Thursday’s practice with a left arm injury. He has since missed four straight practices with no clear timetable for return.
“I definitely don’t think it makes the decision for us,” LaFleur said Monday of the O-line competition. “Certainly it makes it more difficult on us in terms of when exactly will he be back and when will he be full speed to go. It makes it more challenging, but we’re still competing.”
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Veldheer Provided Safety Net for Packers in 2019
Veldheer delivered as a short-term investment for the Packers late in the 2019 season, saving them down the stretch when Bulaga missed time with injuries. He played 35 snaps in Week 17 as Bulaga’s injury replacement at right tackle, then started in his place when Bulaga was ruled out with an illness during the Packers’ divisional-round playoff win over Seattle.
Some thought Veldheer’s quality contributions would earn him a second stint with the Packers, especially once Bulaga left to sign a three-year, $30 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers this past offseason. Bringing him back became more plausible when it was confirmed at the NFL Combine that Veldheer still intended to play in 2020.
Instead, the Packers spent their money on Wagner, a slightly younger tackle (30) from inside their own division who was looking to prove himself after 2019 injury struggles. Wagner had started in 40 games over his past three seasons with the Lions, but injuries caused him to miss at least three games in two of those years with a career-high four absences in his most recent campaign.
The Lions released Wagner in March with two years left on his contract in a move that created about $6 million in cap savings. He signed a two-year, $11 million “prove it” deal with the Packers four days later.
If Not Veldheer, What Alternatives Are There?
The Packers could be willing to re-up with Veldheer for the right price, but there are options that still exist within their current roster that could make more sense regardless of how long it takes Wagner to return to action.
The Packers have cycled between two different looks for their right side over the first several practices of training camp: one with Turner at right guard and Wagner at right tackle and another with Lane Taylor in guard spot and Turner sliding out to tackle. Wagner being a free-agent acquisition made his pairing seem more favorable, but the Taylor-Turner lineup could gain preference the longer Wagner spends on the sideline.
Even still, a reunion with Veldheer could gain some traction if the Wagner’s injury persists into the regular season. The Packers’ depth at the tackle position behind their starters has very little NFL experience with guard/tackle Alex Light the most seasoned ahead of second years Cody Conway, John Leglue and Yosh Nijman (PUP list).