INDIANAPOLIS — Jason Kelce was always leaning toward returning in 2019 for his ninth NFL season.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t think about retirement.
On a conference call with reporters on Saturday just after signing a one-year contract extension that will pay him $11 million annually, Kelce admitted he was always closer to a return than hanging ‘em up. And he said he didn’t think the new deal was necessarily the reason he decided to return.
But if making Kelce the highest-paid center in the NFL gave him any added incentive to stay, the Eagles absolutely made the right move.
Sure, Kelce is 31 now, but he just had another All-Pro season. After a slow start to 2018 as he dealt with a serious knee injury, Kelce rounded into form just as the Eagles made their playoff push. If he’s not the best center in the NFL, he’s damn close. And now he’s under contract for the next three seasons, with a chance to play his entire career in Philadelphia. There’s always a chance that a player in their 30s will break down physically, but Kelce is still performing at an elite level. Now, he’s getting paid like it.
Does he care about being the highest-paid player at his position?
I think it’s not necessarily about being the highest-paid center. The salary and contract is one part of being a happy and fulfilled player. But more importantly I get to be a part of this organization and [with] these players … that’s much more important than the number as far as the contract is concerned. The Eagles certainly didn’t have to do this.
For Kelce, it’s about being valued. He said the Eagles initially approached him about an extension before the end of the season. Kelce indicated the deal will lower his salary cap figure this season, thus helping both sides. And the Eagles also showed their loyalty to Kelce a couple years ago when he had what he has called the worst year of his career in 2016.
On Saturday, he said how much he appreciated the Eagles and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland for sticking with him and believing in him going into the 2017 season. The Eagles certainly made the right call on that one.
“With a lot of other teams, I could have reasonably been out on the street then,” Kelce said.
The reason Kelce contemplated retirement this offseason is because of the physical toll the game has taken on him, especially in the 2018 season. He had several injuries he fought through. Kelce admitted that at his age, they start to add up. And he feels like, as a center, he needs to practice. He can’t just be a guy who gets managed throughout the week and plays on Sundays.
Kelce explained that it’s the physical side that had him contemplating retirement. The mental side has him coming back.
“I love playing the game too much,” he said. “I love my teammates too much.”
The Eagles took care of him with this extension, but it’s money that he absolutely deserves and has earned. Howie Roseman has made it a priority for the Eagles to keep their own talent. Making sure Kelce came back should have been a no-brainer.
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