GREEN BAY, Wis. — Matthew Mulligan understands his role. Now with his fifth NFL team after signing with the Green Bay Packers this offseason, the 28-year-old tight end doesn’t expect to make highlight-reel catches or have many Lambeau Leap-type moments.
Mulligan isn’t bothered by a lack of recognition from casual football fans. He embraces it. As long as he’s on the field, Mulligan just wants to contribute in his own way.
“My strength has always been run-blocking,” Mulligan said. “That’s what I’ve done. My forte is not necessarily catching passes and running routes. In order to stay in this league, you need to have some sort of intangible things and I hope that’s one of them.”
It was that skill set that got the interest of Packers general manager Ted Thompson. After Green Bay’s former run-blocking tight end specialist Tom Crabtree signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Packers added Mulligan on a one-year, $800,000 contract.
“That’s how you make a team; you never shy away from a job,” Mulligan said. “You never shy away from the dirty work. It may not be catching passes like a lot of guys, but my career speaks for itself. I don’t have a lot of pass catches, but I don’t care, to be quite honest. I’ll be the guy that does the dirty work if nobody else wants to. And that’s the way I’ve been able to stay in (the NFL) for six years, and that’s a huge blessing.”
Mulligan has a career total of 14 catches for 144 yards with one touchdown. That’s it. Despite playing more than 1,000 snaps since 2008, Mulligan has just 14 receptions. If the 2013 season concludes with Mulligan still stuck at 14 catches, it doesn’t mean he wasn’t an important part of Green Bay’s offense.
The bigger indicator of Mulligan’s impact with the Packers this season will be if he helps turn around a running game that hasn’t finished better than 20th in the NFL since 2009.
“I hope we run the ball,” Mulligan said. “I’ve seen some good things from the rookie running backs, and then the guys that were here, too. I think that people don’t know, but I think we’re really deep at running back, more so than I maybe even anticipated coming here. When I started seeing these guys run and cut and how physical they are, the way they look, the way they approach the weight room — which is a big deal; I think there’s going to be some changes.
“I think that as good of an organization as the Packers are, you don’t stay in that bottom third (in league rankings). You just don’t do that. You know that maybe potentially it was a weakness this past season, but it won’t be this year. I don’t think.”
While Mulligan was especially impressed with Eddie Lacy, he didn’t want to put too high of expectations on the rookie running back. At least not when it comes to comparing Lacy to veteran Steven Jackson, who Mulligan blocked for last season while both were with the St. Louis Rams.
“I’ve seen a lot of good running backs come in and stumble, or players in general, stumble their first year,” Mulligan said. “I’m not saying (Lacy) will, because he’s got a lot of good things about him. Steven Jackson now is a Hall of Famer, so to compare somebody to him in their first year, I think is not necessarily fair to the rookie.”
Mulligan performed well for the Rams last season, but St. Louis opted to release him in March with one year left on his contract. That decision from the Rams admittedly surprised Mulligan, but he wasn’t discouraged by it. Especially when the Packers and several other Super Bowl-caliber teams immediately showed strong interest in signing him.
“Teams that have been in the upper-echelon for so long, they’re not going to look for just any old schmoe off the street,” Mulligan said. “They’re going to look for a guy who can help contribute to the team to make them better, because they’re already good. When Green Bay was calling, and San Francisco, and other good teams as well, I was like, ‘OK, the door is not closed just yet.’ I was thankful for that.”
Count quarterback Aaron Rodgers among the players in Green Bay’s locker room who were happy to see the Packers sign Mulligan. Rodgers said Mulligan is “going to be a force outside blocking.” It didn’t take long for those comments to make their way over to Mulligan, either.
“It’s an honor,” Mulligan said. “Aaron Rodgers; everybody knows who that is. That’s a household name. For a guy that’s been around the league as long as he’s been and to contribute in the way he’s done, obviously being a top-three quarterback in my opinion, from all the guys I’ve seen play. And if I was being bias, he’d be the number one to me.
“It’s nice to have people say things, but I still have to go out there and handle my business and do what I’ve always done and that’s contribute in whatever way I can.”