ORONO — NFL player Matt Mulligan of Enfield is taking an optimistic approach to the lockout imposed by the team owners on the players after the two sides failed to resolve a labor dispute.
“There’s nothing but optimism coming from the players’ side,” said the former Husson University and University of Maine tight end who is currently a tight end for the New York Jets.
“I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be (optimistic). We just want to play. Although there are some large issues, they’ll get resolved.”
The issues include dividing the yearly revenue of $9 billion, health benefits and limits on rookie pay.
Mulligan was in Orono Thursday to support his former Black Bear teammates during Pro Day, when pro scouts put seniors through a variety of drills to assess their pro potential.
“I came here because I still know some of these guys. I knew what it was like on my Pro Day and they were here for me, so I figured if I’m around, I want to be there for them and give them anything I can,” said Mulligan.
Mulligan, who will be in his fourth year as a pro, appeared in 14 regular-season games and one playoff game for the Jets last fall. He backed up Dustin Keller and Ben Hartsock. He didn’t have any catches and was primarily used as a blocker. He was also used on the punt and kickoff return teams.
“Every time I didn’t dress for a game, they told me it was only because it was a numbers game. It wasn’t because of my play. That’s good,” said the 26-year-old Mulligan, who didn’t play football at Penobscot Valley High School in Howland because the school didn’t have a team.
Mulligan, who signed a three-year contract a year ago which pays him $395,000 per year, doesn’t know if the lockout will help or hurt his chances to stay on an NFL roster.
“It’s tough to say. I’ve never been through a lockout before. It could potentially go both ways,” said Mulligan. “We aren’t practicing, so there’s potential for rust. But if the lockout goes all the way to the start of the season, a lot of teams might keep the same rosters as last year.”
Either way, he knows he will have to battle for a roster spot.
“Every year is a new year and I have to take it one step at a time,” said Mulligan. “I’m really grateful to (head coach) Rex Ryan and (general manager) Mike Tannenbaum for giving me the opportunity. I have to treat every year like it’s my first year.”
“I can never be complacent or I’ll lose my job,” he added.
He works out regularly at Lincoln’s Mattanawcook Academy.
“You have to stay in shape because, quite frankly, (the lockout) could end any day, and if I come back out of shape, I’ll lose my job,” said Mulligan, who had a catch for two yards against Tampa Bay for the Jets in 2009.
Mulligan was one of six former Black Bears who played in the NFL last fall and another, New England Patriots safety Brandon McGowan, missed the season due to a chest injury.
Former Maine teammate Mike DeVito is a defensive lineman for the Jets.
He said Maine “does a great job” preparing players to play at the next level.
“You come here as a boy and leave as a man,” said the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Mulligan.
He said he loves being a Jet and has nothing but praise for outspoken coach Ryan.
“I’ve played for a lot of coaches and, no disrespect to any other coach, but he is, by far, the best coach I’ve ever played for,” said Mulligan. “He’s one of those guys who knows the game so well that he’s not worried about having to yell and scream at you. You either get the job done for him or you’ll be gone. At the same time, he makes you feel welcome, like you’ve known him for years. He cares about his players.”