Jared Veldheer is heading back into retirement, but not before the NFL makes it more complicated for him to ever return.
The NFL handed down a six-game suspension to Veldheer on Thursday for violating the league’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs. The former Green Bay Packers offensive tackle later explained himself in a statement shared via Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, saying the medication was “prescribed” and that his plan now was to retire.
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Following Veldheer’s History of NFL Retirement
Veldheer, who turns 34 in June, has now retired three times in the past two years with a small amount of controversy surrounding each instance. His initial retirement came back in May 2019 just eight days after he signed a one-year contract with the New England Patriots. He remained on the team’s reserve/retired list until he expressed a desire to play again in late November, getting waived and signing with the Packers shortly after.
After a few impressive spot starts for the Packers, Veldheer went back into free agency in 2020 and tried out with a handful of teams. He eventually received a contract offer said to be worth $2.5 million from the Cowboys in mid-September, but he opted instead to retire again — and ultimately spared his body the punishment of a 6-10 season.
Veldheer came out of retirement once more toward the end of the 2020 season, making two starts at right tackle for the Indianapolis Colts in their final regular-season game and their lone playoff appearance as a promotion from their practice squad. And once the Colts were eliminated, thanks to a loophole in the NFL’s rules, the Packers were able to poach him off their practice squad; though, it didn’t quite pan out.
The Packers did manage to get Veldheer back on Jan. 12 after losing All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari to an ACL injury, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was placed on the reserve list a day, keeping them from a genuine reunion.
Now, Veldheer’s history of changing his mind would normally raise suspicion about whether he actually means it this time, but his six-game suspension for PEDs makes any potential road back difficult to walk. Veldheer would have to sign with a team and sit out for more than a third of the season before becoming eligible to return. Don’t forget, he’s played a total of six games since the start of 2019.
OT Remains Question Mark for Packers
The Packers can cross off the possibility of another reunion with Veldheer, but they still have some questions to answer about their offensive tackle spots heading into 2021.
For starters, nobody knows whether Bakhtiari will be ready in time for the beginning of the season. Players can take anywhere from six months to a year to fully recover from ACL tears, and Bakhtiari is just five months into that timeline. He also hasn’t been present at the Packers’ voluntary OTAs; though, that’s hardly surprising. On the plus side, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst seemed encouraged by the progress he’d seen from Bakhtiari when talking about him ahead of the 2021 NFL draft.
“I haven’t seen Dave in three weeks to a month, but all the reports are fantastic, and when he left here he was way ahead of schedule,” Gutekunst said on April 26 in his pre-draft press conference. “We have a lot of confidence in David and the way he takes care of his body, the way he works, how important it is to him, what a professional he is, that he’s going to be on target with all that stuff.”
In the meantime, the Packers have moved do-it-all guard Elgton Jenkins out to Bakhtiari’s spot at left tackle with veteran Billy Turner slotting in on the right side for the first several days of OTAs at Lambeau Field. That combination can work if the Packers find the proper guards to fill out the middle, but it still leaves depth at the tackle spot uncertain.
The Packers may turn to Yosh Nijman as their swing tackle in 2021 regardless of whether Bakhtiari is ready to go. He played predominately on special teams last season despite appearing in every game, but his familiarity in the system could set him up for a big leap. As of now, Nijman’s biggest competitors are Royce Newman and Cole Van Lanen, each one a drafted rookie who might fit better as guards.