Jason Kelce still wants to play. Maybe forever, by the sound of it.

The annual Kelce Retirement Watch appears to be in peril. Since the middle of the 2019 season, Kelce, then 31, has teased his retirement, citing the brutal wear and tear that 17 weeks of the low-speed, high-impact collisions inherent to the job of playing center in the National Football League. On Thursday, he didn’t sound likely to quit any time soon: He told WIP-FM (94.1) that he would miss the “camaraderie” of the locker room and the intensity of the NFL too much to walk away too early.

“The bottom line is, I still want to play,” Kelce told morning show host Angelo Cataldi.

Now 33, Kelce sounds less like a player content to walk away with minimal physical impairments and neurologic worries than a player who will have to be dragged away from the game:

“I still love coming to work into an environment where everybody is trying to be the best they can be, and in an environment with the best people at what they do in the world. I don’t know how I’m going to get that, and that’s the biggest thing.”

Fatherhood will do that to you.

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Actually, Kelce did not cite 3 a.m. feedings and toddler-proofing his home as reasons why he wants to keep parking his Tesla at the NovaCare facility. He is a happy and doting father to 19-month-old Wyatt Elizabeth. But he’s just as much a father figure for the Eagles.

Kelce’s first retirement consideration came on the heels of other early retirement announcements, at the height of the concussion alarm, and in the middle of a season that, after the heady success of 2017 and the promise of 2018, was a dreary slog through mediocrity.

Now? Now, he’s resigned himself to the inevitable addiction to unique teammates and unselfish teamwork, especially compared with the mundaneness of harried weekday carpools and banal weekend football analysis. It’s a lot more fun to hang out with millionaire athletes and show-biz celebrities than with soccer moms and sportswriters.

“I’d miss the atmosphere of the locker room.,” Kelce said “Those personalities are hard to come by when you’re done playing. At some point I’m going to have to say that it’s over, but I’m not ready to do that yet. I’m getting goosebumps just talking right now.”

Invaluable asset

With all due respect to star defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, Kelce might be the most important Eagle. The team has a first-time head coach, Nick Sirianni; a second-year quarterback, Jalen Hurts; and has lost quarterback Carson Wentz, and might soon lose tight end Zach Ertz, spokesmen and leaders for the past five years.

Sirianni, 39, compiled one of the youngest, most inexperienced coaching staffs in NFL history. Sirianni needs Kelce in his corner. Kelce seems to be there:

“I’m excited with the new coaches,” Kelce said.

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Kelce buying in is the best possible news for the Birds because there is a vacuum of leadership on this team. Considering his recent play, Kelce can fill it for at least two or three seasons beyond 2021. After all, he’s either been a Pro Bowl selection, an All-Pro selection, or both for the past six seasons. A couple more seasons of that type of production, and he’ll be getting his own gold jacket in Canton, Ohio.

He is perfect for this moment. He’s played for head coaches Andy Reid, whose playbook is only slightly smaller than a book by Marcel Proust, and Doug Pederson. Pederson’s offense was coordinated for two years by Frank Reich, whose offensive coordinator in Indianapolis was Sirianni, again, now the Eagles’ head coach. There isn’t much Kelce hasn’t seen and doesn’t know.

Everybody’s big brother

Kelce can guide and protect Hurts, the presumed starting quarterback. Hurts started four games as a rookie. There isn’t much he has seen or does know.

Kelce can guide and educate Landon Dickerson, his presumed successor in many roles: center, spokesman, and locker-room sheriff. Kelce can teach Dickerson how to recognize defensive fronts. Kelce will teach Dickerson how to chip in pass protection, how long to hesitate before sprinting out for a screen pass, and how to lead block 10 yards downfield. And, if necessary, Kelce can teach Dickerson how to run interference for an overrated, overvalued, egomaniacal quarterback whose exclusionary nature causes resentment throughout the franchise.

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But I digress.

Take your time

All of those lessons will take years to complete.

Practically, and more immediately, Kelce’s commitment to stay a little bit longer could pay huge dividends to the franchise, assuming he stays in Philadelphia. That’s because Dickerson won’t have to play center. He can be a gilt-edged insurance policy, or he can be a plug-and-play starter. He has played all five offensive line positions.

Dickerson, if healthy, would be a huge upgrade over veteran Isaac Seumalo at left guard. He’d also be a better option at left tackle than former rugby player Jordan Mailata, who has played in 15 football games in his 24 years on the planet, and he’d probably be a better option than Andre Dillard, the over-drafted first-round pick in 2019.

What’s more, right guard Brandon Brooks tore two Achilles’ tendons in the past three years, and he’ll be 32. Right tackle Lane Johnson, 31, ended his 2020 season with an ankle surgery, and he’s a third failed PED test from a two-year ban.

Kelce will make $9 million this season, and he can be a free agent in 2022. If the early part of 2021 goes well, expect the Eagles to lock him up for two more seasons this fall.

Of course, the early season going well is far from assured. All of Kelce’s excitement might wane after 18 weeks of misplays on the field, mistakes on the sideline, accumulated losses to inferior teams, and the unrelenting scrutiny of a town disgusted with the team’s owner, Jeffrey Lurie, and its general manager, Howie Roseman.

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You get goosebumps just thinking about it.