Here’s one for the record books. Twelve days ago, Jared Veldheer was coaching football at East Grand Rapids High School. Since then, he has started two NFL games at left tackle. Just last Sunday, he played for the Indianapolis Colts in a Wild Card loss to the Buffalo Bills, which seemed to end his season. However, Veldheer then signed with the Green Bay Packers the next day, giving him a chance to play for a second playoff team in the same season. An NFL first.
It sounds implausible, but such is the NFL with its unique set of pandemic loopholes. The best part is this actually seems to be a great move by the No. 1 NFC seed Packers. Veldheer is a bona fide NFL offensive lineman with a 10-year career. He first retired in May of 2019, but he came out of retirement later that year to play parts of Week 16 and 17 with the Packers. He retired a second time in September 2020 and was headed for the Division III high school playoff as an offensive line coach when the Colts called. He joined the Indianapolis practice squad on Dec. 31, but quickly started at left tackle in Week 17 and the Wild Card playoff game, replacing an injured Anthony Castonzo.
Not only will Veldheer be the only player ever to see playoff action for two different teams, he started for Indianapolis and will likely start for Green Bay. Veldheer stepped in admirably for the Colts’ top left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who had season-ending surgery on his ankle, and will now take over for star Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, who tore his ACL in practice before the playoffs.
Normally such roster moves could never happen, but the COVID rules allow it. Practice squads are normally reserved for young players with limited NFL experience, but this year, even veterans like Veldheer are allowed. No one signed to an active 53-man roster may play for another team, but since Veldheer was called up from the Colts’ practice squad twice, the Packers can legally claim him to their active roster per the rules, as the Colts are out of the playoffs now.
If Veldheer were a free agent, he would not be able to suit up or practice immediately. He would need a five-day testing process to enter the team facility. Since he has been getting daily NFL testing as a member of the practice squad though, he can assimilate immediately and practice right away for the divisional round playoffs.
Before signing Veldheer, the Packers initially considered sliding guard/tackle Billy Turner over to left tackle to replace Bakhtiari, but they soon thought better of it. They knew the line would already have their hands full with the Rams’ top defensive line lead by Aaron Donald, who should play this Saturday despite rib cartilage injury. Inserting Veldheer at left tackle provides the least disruption and most stability to the team.
I will admit, I had my doubts about Veldheer in the playoff game versus the Bills, even after he graded out well in Week 17 versus the Jaguars. It is one thing to have some initial success, but he had been out the game for several months and looked much thinner than he had when he was active. It is hard to play back-to-back games in suboptimal shape. Based on this, I downgraded the Colts offense in my Wild Card projections and felt the Bills would win and cover, especially with Philip Rivers immobilized by turf toe. However, Veldheer played 67 snaps at left tackle and did not give up a sack or tackle for loss. Although the Colts lost, it was a close game, thanks in part to Veldheer’s performance.
I won’t make the same mistake twice. The Packers Injury Index at www.profootballdoc.com carries a higher grade than it may otherwise deserve because of my increased expectations for Veldheer. He also has some familiarity with the Packers’ offense from his two-game stint with them at the end of last season.
Congrats to Veldheer for his performance so far and for being the only NFL player ever to play for two different playoff teams in the same season. I hope this bold and unique move pays off for the Packers.