Brent Celek thought a long, long time about this decision.
He entertained invitations to play a 12th NFL season, but in the end he listened to his heart: A career that began in Philadelphia had to end in Philadelphia, and so Celek is officially saying goodbye to the game that he mastered for more than a decade.
"I've been reflecting on my entire career and how I got to this point today," said Celek, who caught 398 passes for 4,998 yards and 31 touchdowns in a glorious Eagles career that began as a fifth-round draft pick in 2007 from the University of Cincinnati and ended as a Super Bowl Champion. "I thought about all the guys through the years, the organization, all of the ups and the downs. It was an amazing experience and I'm very grateful.
"I'm very much at peace with this decision."
Celek fit perfectly as an Eagle in Philadelphia. He began his career as a pass-catching tight end and became one of the most prolific in the league, with 76 receptions and eight touchdowns in his third season, 2009. He followed that breakout year with 42 catches in 2010, 52 in 2011, and 57 in 2012. But with time comes change, and the Eagles were changing from the top of the organization down in 2013. New head coach Chip Kelly didn't see Celek as much of a receiver but rather a physical, in-line blocker, and with rookie Zach Ertz on board, Celek had to adjust.
He did so without any complaints and in the latter years of his career Celek became one of the league's best blocking tight ends who also chipped in and was productive when called upon as a receiver. As a result, the Eagles relied on the two-tight end sets and developed a great deal of versatility in their tight end room, adding Trey Burton to make for a tough-to-handle three-man tight end group.
Of course, Celek's final game was Super Bowl LII, and after the game he spent time on the field, in the end zone, surrounded by confetti, soaking in every bit of the moment.
"I've had time to think about all the great memories and the great times, and of course when you end with a Super Bowl victory, it doesn't get any better than that," Celek said. "Seeing how the fans reacted and knowing how much it meant to them, that was special. Eagles fans deserved it. They've been there for every moment, and that's different than a lot of other fans. In some cities, when the teams aren't doing well, the fans stop going to the games. Eagles fans were always at the games. It's a blue-collar town and they love the Eagles and all the sports teams. They might have been booing because we weren't playing well, but they were there and I appreciated that.
"So to have the Super Bowl as my last game and to share it with my teammates and the organization and the fans, to have that as the last time I put my pads on, I'm OK with that."
It doesn't often happen in the NFL these days that a player begins and ends his career with one team, but that's what Celek has had in mind all along since signing a new contract in January 2016. Known for his toughness, durability, versatility, and leadership, Celek did whatever the team needed him to do through the coaching changes from Andy Reid to Kelly to Doug Pederson. After being released by the Eagles in March, Celek took some time to decide on his next steps.
In the end, remaining an Eagle for life and a Philadelphian for life won out.
"I'm a Philadelphian for the rest of my life," Celek said. "This is just the beginning for me. I'm still going to be around and part of the team in an extended way. I feel great about this decision and what I'm doing."
Celek is already involved in the real estate business and has plans to "join the team and then build my own team" in that world. In the meantime, as the current Eagles' roster sweated out Training Camp as it prepared for the 2018 season, Celek felt no tug to suit up again.
The playing career is over. Finished. Done.
As a champion.
"I didn't miss Training Camp one bit. Not one ounce," Celek said. "I know, though, that when the Super Bowl banner goes up next week (when the Eagles open the season against the Atlanta Falcons), I might have some chills. But that's a good thing. Those will be happy chills. I'm proud to have been part of the work we all put in to make that Super Bowl Championship happen. I'm proud of everything I've accomplished here, with a lot of help from my coaches, teammates, and the team. It's been a great, great journey."
Take a look back at the best photos from the illustrious career of tight end Brent Celek.