It has become an annual question for the Philadelphia Eagles: Will center Jason Kelce return for another season? On Friday, Kelce ended any speculation, announcing on social media that he would return for 2021. His reasoning? Well, he's got a few and all of them are reminders of just how much Kelce means to the team and how much the team means to him.
"I'm really fired up to be able to come back and play for the Eagles again," Kelce said in a telephone interview on Friday morning. "I've always said I'm playing until I'm not and I still have a very strong desire to play the game of football. I still want to do it. I still want to be around the guys. I want to be around the building, around the coaches. I still enjoy that aspect of it and I'm not ready to stop doing it yet. I'm excited with a lot of the energy going around right now and, also, I didn't want to end my career on a season like we had last year. It wouldn't feel right.
"I want to leave the Eagles knowing that I left it in good hands."
Kelce enters his 11th NFL season after the Eagles made him a sixth-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. He is coming off a Pro Bowl performance in 2020 – his fourth; he's been named an All-Pro three times – and he has started every game for the last six seasons. Despite the team's 4-11-1 record that included a torrent of injuries, particularly to the offensive line, Kelce thinks the Eagles have something strong going up front in the trenches. The fact that Jeff Stoutland returns as the offensive line coach with the new coaching staff in place helped Kelce make his decision, too.
"That's big. Obviously, Stout and I have an unbelievable relationship," Kelce said. "This will be our ninth season together. I've been with him longer than pretty much anybody at this point in the football world. He means so much more to me than just as a coach – as a mentor, as a friend, as a person to guide me – I can't say enough about our relationship and how much he's meant to me not just as a coach but as a person.
"And I think our offensive line, considering the circumstances, did pretty darn well last year. We had a lot of young guys get playing time and there was a lot of learning on the job experience, which is hard to replicate. A lot of young guys showed what they can do – Jordan Mailata had a tremendous year, Nate Herbig I thought played really, really well. Matt Pryor has been very consistent for us and was able to go in and get the job done. Jack Driscoll as a rookie … All of this happened as we lost three guys who we expected to be starters and then went down (with injuries) – we lost Brandon Brooks before the season and he's been the best guard in the NFL the last few years, we lost Andre Dillard, we lost Lane Johnson, who was in and out of the lineup before going out for good halfway through the season with the ankle injury. I think the O line, quite honestly, is in a really, really good situation especially if everybody can come back healthy. We have a lot of depth, a lot of experience now with everybody having played for a full year. I consider it one of the strengths of this team, no doubt."
Kelce begins work with his fourth coaching staff – Andy Reid drafted him and was replaced by Chip Kelly, then Doug Pederson and now Nick Sirianni – and he knows how it works: New people in charge mean new ideas. That's exciting for Kelce.
"It's great energy. You see it with these guys. They're working hard, getting to know each other and us and their doors are open and that is what I like," Kelce said. "I'm looking forward to getting to know the coaches more. I was extremely close with Doug and his staff, and it was tough to see him go. We're starting new and I'm glad to be part of it."
How long will Kelce play? That's a question to which he doesn't yet know the answer. The old saying is that a player will know when it's time to hang up the cleats. That time isn't now for Kelce, a mainstay for the Eagles along the offensive line, in the locker room and in the community. He's got some more great football ahead of him.
"I'm having fun and as long as I'm having fun and I feel I'm playing at a level I want to play at, I'm going to keep doing it," he said. "I'm looking forward to what's ahead for us."