INDIANAPOLIS – The question about whether Jason Kelce would retire this offseason was silenced on Saturday when he signed a one-year contract extension through 2021 that makes him the NFL’s highest-paid center, keeping one of the Eagles’ best and most popular players on the team amid uncertainty about his future.
Kelce, 31, was already under contract through 2020. The average annual salary is $11 million, according to a league source. That’s the highest in the NFL for his position.
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“It’s not necessarily [about] being the highest-paid center. The salary and contract is one part of being a happy and fulfilled player,” Kelce said on a conference call Saturday afternoon. “But I think, more importantly, I get to continue to be a part of the organization. My teammates, the coaches, the entire organization is top-notch. That’s much more important than the number, as far as the contract as concerned.”
Kelce said the Eagles “didn’t need” to give him his new deal, although the new contract is expected to give the Eagles more payroll flexibility this offseason. The Eagles first approached Kelce during the season about restructuring his contract, so Kelce said this was not done to keep him from retiring. But it’s a factor that cannot be dismissed, and the contract illustrates the way the Eagles view Kelce.
“I think the team expressing that they wanted to re-up my deal even before the season was over … I think that reaffirmed in my head that they still value me extremely high, not just as a player, but as a member of this team,” Kelce said. “That’s certainly a part of it. More than anything, I think it was probably something beneficial for both sides to get done.”
It’s not yet known how the contract was structured, but the Eagles could spread money out over the three years of the contract to create flexibility for the upcoming free-agency period.
At the end of the season, Kelce did not rule out retirement, though he described the toll football takes on him and indicated that, at this point in his career, he goes “season-by-season.” He reasoned that any player 30 and older thinks the same way. Kelce concluded that his “love” for the Eagles and football outweighed the “physical struggles.”
“I think that the whole time, I was very much on the side of continuing to play,” Kelce said. “This wasn’t like a 50-50 chance of writing pros and cons for each side. I think after the season, you wait for all the injuries and everything, you wait for your body to recover, that takes two to three weeks, and then after that, you can look at things with a clean slate, a level-headed mind.”
It was important for the Eagles to retain Kelce, who has developed into one of the NFL’s elite centers. He’s made first-team All-Pro the past two seasons and has twice reached the Pro Bowl during his eight-year career. Kelce was voted a team captain last season and will forever maintain a place in Philadelphia lore after his epic Super Bowl parade speech that has since become a rallying cry among the fan base.
However, Kelce’s Eagles career almost ended two years ago – and not by choice. As well as he played in 2017 and 2018, Kelce underperformed in 2016. He called it “arguably my worst season in the NFL – especially at the start” of the season. Kelce’s contract was swelling and the Eagles needed to determine whether they would keep him on the roster. It was not a surefire decision.
“I really appreciate the Eagles sticking with me. I think a lot of other teams, or in a different scenario … I could have easily been on the street then,” Kelce said. “I had some people in this building … that decided to stay with me.”
He credited offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland for restoring his confidence and noted the benefit of playing on the Eagles offensive line, which features Pro Bowlers Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, and Jason Peters. But Kelce deserves the credit for the way he rebounded, adjusting to a different offensive philosophy after the change from Chip Kelly to Doug Pederson.
“If anything, it’s just reemphasized the amount of work it requires to produce and to be an elite-level player,” Kelce said. “If you’re not continuing to work to get better, if you’re not continuing to hone your craft … that’s kind of the things that allow me to play at a high level. It’s not necessarily being the biggest or the strongest. I don’t have that luxury.”
Kelce is the second longtime Eagles veteran to receive a contract extension in as many days. Defensive end Brandon Graham reached agreement on a three-year, $40 million extension Friday.
Although the Eagles took care of both players before the new league year begins on March 13, there might have been another deadline for Kelce. He packed Saturday for Tanzania, where he will join teammate Chris Long and others in climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for Long’s Waterboys charity, which promotes clean-water wells in East Africa.
“Excited and nervous,” Kelce said. “Don’t know what to expect. I’ve never done anything like this.”