Jason Kelce is widely acknowledged as one of the best centers in the National Football League. Now, you can add one of the toughest, too.
Kelce met with reporters on Monday, the first day the Eagles began their offseason conditioning program, and said that he played last season with a grade two MCL sprain in one knee, a broken foot, a torn elbow, and “other nagging things that had been building on me.”
“That’s every season, maybe not all three (injuries) at the same time, but you have dings and bruises every single year, but as you get older, more nagging ones especially,” Kelce told reporters. “Pain isn’t necessarily a fun thing to endure. Luckily we can still get some anti-inflammatories on game day and push through a lot of that stuff. Everybody’s different, everybody has what they’re willing to do and go through. That’s just part of this game. Everybody out there has been hurt at one point or another and played hurt. As long as playing is not detrimental to the team or detrimental to your health, you play with them.”
There was already a body of evidence that pointed out the toughness of the Eagles’ veteran center.
Following one road game a few years ago, he removed a wrap that had bound an ailing knee. His entire leg was black. So blackened and blood-choked was the leg I wondered exactly how it wouldn’t have to be amputated at any minute. It literally looked like the limb had died.
So is it any wonder Kelce gave some serious consideration to retiring following the 2018 season?
“At the end of a season you kind of wait for your body to get healthy, one, then you have to step back,” said Kelce. “It’s a long season, especially for older guys. It really starts to wear on your body a little more. It was very, very clear that I wanted to keep playing to the point where I decided to do that.
“I don’t know what it will be like when I ultimately make the decision not to keep playing. I got good advice from a very good friend: when in doubt, don’t.”
Pondering retirement wasn’t anything new to Kelce, who will turn 32 in November. He said he has considered stepping away the past two or three years.
“Obviously all the reasons to keep playing are still there,” said Kelce. “You love playing, you love being around the guys, you love competing, battling together with people you care about, all that stuff is still very strong. As you get older, little things peak up. I just think, at this point, there are still too many positives, not enough negatives, to really seriously step away from the game.”
Kelce said he did not need any offseason surgeries and is “as healed as I’m going to get.”
Still, life after Kelce is coming sooner rather than later for the Eagles.
Who plays center for them when that day comes? It is certainly something to think about as the NFL Draft approaches next week.
There are no easier answers. Not for a player has good and durable as Kelce, who has made 73 straight starts and 110 overall in a career that began as a fifth-round draft pick in 2011.
“Some guys want to play til the wheels fall off,” said Kelce. “Some guys want to play and some want to think about life after football. The bottom line is you do what you’re comfortable with and what you’re happy with. For me it’s a simple cost-benefit analysis.
“How much joy do I get from this game, what’s going to happen by continuing to play, where’s my mind at, where’s my body at? There are so many different factors that go into it. The biggest thing is, I know I love doing this, I know it makes me happy, I know that I enjoy being part of this group and these guys and this team and that made this decision very, very easy.”
More from Kelce:
On the return of 36-year-old left tackle Jason Peters: “I was ready for him to come back. He loves this game so much. It is so much a part of who he is as an individual and the legacy he has built. He’s such a competitor when it comes to football. We talked, especially down the stretch, and it was very evident that I thought he was coming back for one more.”
On being a dropped pass away from the NFC title game: “I’d argue we were maybe a hurt right guard away from getting back to the NFC Championship game (if not losing Brandon Brooks with a torn Achilles early in the loss to the Saints). We were right there with a lot of injuries. I think it’s pretty clear we have a great group of guys, good chemistry and I think as long we can stay a little bit healthy this year, we have a good locker room, a good culture, it’s definitely paid dividends the last two years.”
On the team’s run-game trouble last year: “Tough to pinpoint. I don’t want to get too much into maybe the personnel of it. I think we have the guys to get it done. I think we had the guys to get it done last year … I do think the coaches have been hard at work trying to figure out that same question and I’m sure we’ll be a lot better this upcoming season.”