GREEN BAY, Wis. – Having decided to come out of retirement, Jared Veldheer was claimed off waivers by the Green Bay Packers one day before Thanksgiving.
While cleaning out his locker on Monday, a day after a 37-20 loss to San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game, Veldheer was feeling thankful for the opportunity but uncertain about what lies ahead.
“It was an unbelievable opportunity,” he said. “It was really cool how it all played out. I was driving down [from his home in Michigan to Indiana] to visit family on Thanksgiving, got claimed and came up here. We had won every game until yesterday. It was one of the more fun seasons that I’ve been a part of. To actually be a part of it and play in some big situations was really great. To get to know everybody and be a part of the history here, it was really cool. It’s unbelievable. In sitting back and going back to Week 1, the opening kickoff, when I was in the stands at Soldier Field, to think that later in the season I was going to be a part of that team and be able to lend a hand to the journey – the thought didn’t even cross my mind. It’s funny how life works and what you can make of it if you want to. It was cool.”
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Veldheer, a 12-game starter last year for Denver, signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Patriots on May 13. He went through the first practice of the team’s OTAs on May 20. That was it. A lingering hip issue was too much to withstand. A day later, he told coach Bill Belichick of his decision.
While Veldheer was retired, he kept up his training. In fact, he put together a gym in his home in Grand Rapids, Mich. The better he felt, the more he ratcheted up the intensity of those workouts. That allowed him to hit the ground running when he arrived in Green Bay. A month after joining the team, he replaced Bryan Bulaga (concussion) at Detroit. Two weeks later, with Bulaga sick, he was the emergency starter in the playoff win over Seattle. In a total of 53 pass-protecting snaps, he did not allow a single pressure, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I was the lightest I’ve ever been in my career coming back here,” Veldheer said. “Not a lot of people, other than offensive linemen, know that the skill-set to play O-line is a very tough skill-set. It takes a ton of repetition. You learn all that stuff. Getting another young guy in, it’s hard. It takes time to develop offensive linemen. Once you have that, you have it. If you’re a good golfer and you golf a lot and, say, you go to the course for the time in six months, you’re probably still going to have a good round. You can shake some dust off the golf swing but you know how to do it. That was the biggest thing. I know how to do it. I’ve done it before. It was taking that approach and getting here and focusing on eating the way I need to to put weight on, getting in the playbook and trusting the process that’s always helped me have success and go from there.”
In a league in which most teams don’t have two good offensive tackles, Veldheer gave the Packers a third talented, experienced player. Without him, perhaps the Packers wouldn’t have reached the championship game.
“It does so much for us,” coach Matt LaFleur said after the Seattle game. “It allows us to run our offense. At no time throughout the game was I ever fearful of a call. I thought he did an outstanding job.”
Veldheer will turn 33 in June. He said he enjoyed his “adventure” but wasn’t sure about his future. He is one of 15 unrestricted free agents, a list that includes Bulaga. For now, Veldheer’s focus is on returning home and getting back into a routine with his family. While he sounded energized on Monday, he wasn’t ready to decide if he wanted to play in 2020.
Would he listen if the Packers asked him back?
“We’ll see how everything shakes out,” he said.