GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Andy Mulumba was back in the United States Monday morning, no longer a man without a team or, to some degree, a man without a country.
Mulumba’s first foray into NFL free agency -- which had begun with the Green Bay Packers opting not to make him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent, and ended with him signing a one-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs over the weekend -- had included an unusual twist: As a Canadian citizen who had spent his first three seasons in the NFL on a work visa, he had to leave the U.S. on Feb. 28, the day before his rookie contract expired.
So not only was Mulumba happy to have a new team, he also was happy to be back across the border.
“I just had to be patient, knowing that in order to get a new visa I had to sign a contract with a new team,” Mulumba said from New York City, which he was visiting for the first time. “I’m thankful that the opportunity came with the Chiefs.”
Speaking in an interview on ESPN Milwaukee, Mulumba said he’s still in the process of applying for a new work visa. He went to Kansas City for his visit -- and on his mini-vacation to the Big Apple -- on his Canadian passport. Before leaving the States, he’d been working out in California following the Packers’ season-ending loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Divisional playoffs. During his time in Canada, he stayed with relatives.
“On the visa, when it expires, you have to go back to Canada and come back as a visitor … to not create any type of misunderstanding with Homeland Security and all that,” Mulumba explained. “It was not a big deal for me.”
That attitude comes from Mulumba’s upbringing. He was born in Zaire, which was renamed Congo after Laurent Kabila’s takeover in 1997, and moved to Montreal when he was 12 to escape his war-torn native country. Mulumba, who played soccer growing up and didn’t take up American football until the 10th grade, went on to earn a scholarship to Eastern Michigan.
By his own admission, Mulumba arrived on the school’s Ypsilanti, Michigan, campus not knowing much English, but he evolved as a student and a football player and made the Packers’ opening-day roster in 2013 as an undrafted rookie free agent.
During his time with the Packers, Mulumba and quarterback Aaron Rodgers became involved with the Enough Project and the RAISE Hope for Congo initiative, which advocates for the human rights of Congolese citizens and promotes awareness about the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo.
Mulumba said he appreciated his friendship with Rodgers and the relationships he built with his other teammates, which he said created “mixed emotions” over his new opportunity. With Clay Matthews moving back outside, veteran Julius Peppers coming back for another season and the team re-signing 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry, Mulumba knew his days in Green Bay might be numbered.
But the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense is similar to Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ scheme, which should ease the transition.
“I came to Green Bay not knowing too much and just hoping to be a part of the team. As you go, you get to know all those guys and they’re all great guys. I had a lot of fun with them, they all welcomed me with open arms,” said Mulumba, who played in 22 games in three seasons in Green Bay, missing most of the 2014 season with a torn ACL. “I’m looking forward to this new beginning, but I’m going to miss those guys for sure.
“I’m glad I have the chance to go out there and try to have a new beginning and opportunity to compete, trying to get on the field on special teams, doing things the right way, and hopefully I can get some playing time on defense. It’s time to go and compete against those guys and make the most of this opportunity.”