Few players exemplify exactly what the Eagles are looking for in terms of performance on and off the field than center Jason Kelce. So it was little surprise that Kelce and the Eagles chose to cement their relationship with a long-term contract Thursday. However, the sheer length of the deal, seven years to be exact, may open some eyebrows.
"Obviously, there's a level of commitment – on both sides," Kelce said. "I was very interested in staying here for the long haul, and (Chairman and CEO) Jeffrey Lurie, (general manager) Howie (Roseman), the organization, the coaches, everybody felt that I fit the chemistry of the team, where they wanted to go in the future, so we were able to work out a deal."
After left tackle stalwart Jason Peters was signed to a new contract Wednesday, the other Jason along the offensive line took his turn putting pen to paper. The Eagles long ago identified the center, who is about to enter his fourth season in the NFL, as an integral on- and off-field part of the team and wanted to make sure he would remain in Philadelphia long term.
"When we started talking to Jason," Roseman said, "there were certain things that were important to us, there were certain things that were important to him, and to his credit one of the things that was important to him was an opportunity to play his whole career in Philadelphia. Obviously, that's a long way away and we hope that happens. That was a priority to him to structure a deal that he could potentially play out and end his career here. When a player says that to you, you can find a way (to get a deal done)."
"I think the longer for me, the better because I really, truly don't want to play for any other organization," Kelce said. "I'm happy with this city, the team, the coaches. I'm really excited to be here and I have been since day one. I think I've got, at this point, more than enough money to be comfortable. I wear sweatpants and T-shirts every day. I don't wear jewelry or anything, so I don't know that I need that much (money). This is certainly more than enough to live comfortably. I'm just happy to be here for the long haul, and I think the biggest thing that we've seen over the last two days is a lot of guys re-signing, and I think it really shows how genuinely enthused – and I think I speak for the whole team when I say this – everybody is with where the organization is going, where this team is going. It feels like there's been a revitalization of the whole culture here, and it's really exciting to be a part of it."
Kelce is known, among other things, for his humility, unselfishness and blue-collar attitude, all of which were reflected in his response when asked what his first order of business will be with his newfound wealth.
"I'm going to be trying to pay off the debt and the rest of the house that we have back home in Cleveland," Kelce said, adding that he's already discussed the idea with his parents. "I don't really have a selfish purchase as of yet."
That, right there, is Kelce in a nutshell, and is a major reason why the Eagles value his presence as imperative to their culture and future. His on-field performance is tops on the list, but his off-field contributions and personal values were significant factors in the decision.
"I want to be consistent," Roseman said. "The first thing is the on-field performance. It's the on-field play, that's why he deserves this contract, because of what kind of player he is. When you combine it, and you have a total package that he has, especially at that position, of the off-field, the leadership, the work ethic, being here every day working hard, trying to get better, it makes you feel pretty good about it. Again, it's one of these things where you know the guy, you know what he's made of, you know what motivates him and you're not worried that money is going to change him."
For years, left tackle was viewed as the premium position along the offensive line, but center has started to emerge in a similar light, and the Eagles are certainly one of the teams to feel that way. Now, the team has the keystone of that unit locked up for a long time.
"When you talk about the center, it's really the leader of your offensive line," Roseman said. "It's the quarterback of your offensive line and there's so much responsibility on that position's shoulders. The way we look at it, it doesn't get much more important than the guy who's handling the football every play. When you talk about all the traits that he has, his fit in this offense, his fit in this building, I come down to breakfast every day and he's here, he's working – It's February – and it's because he loves to be here. He loves the game of football. He has incredible passion for this city, for this football team, and then he's explosive. He's got traits in his body, what kind of player he is, and you put all those things together and that's what we want. That's what we're trying to build a team on."
It has been quite the journey for Kelce to make it to this point. Though undersized at about 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds, he had one of the most remarkable NFL Scouting Combine performances for an offensive lineman in history. Kelce's testing, along with the tape to back it up, greatly appealed to then-offensive line coach Howard Mudd, who, in his first season with the Eagles, was looking for the next Jeff Saturday. Kelce fit the bill from an athletic and intelligence standpoint and impressed teams in interviews, as well.
The Eagles selected Kelce in the sixth round (191st overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Cincinnati, and he wasted no time making his mark. He won the starting center job over veteran incumbent Jamaal Jackson in Training Camp and helped pave the way for running back LeSean McCoy to break the franchise record for single-season rushing touchdowns with 17. On a line that featured a host of veterans, Kelce emerged as a leader and showed he could be one of the best at his position in the league.
Heading in the 2012 season, Kelce appeared poised to build on his encouraging rookie season. In the home opener – the second game of the season – against the Baltimore Ravens, however, Kelce's season was ended prematurely when he suffered a torn ACL. The offensive line, which was already without All-Pro tackle Jason Peters because of a torn Achilles' tendon, struggled mightily without its leader in the middle and was a major reason for the team's poor performance as a whole.
Kelce attacked his rehab vigorously and was 100 percent healthy and ready to participate in Training Camp last summer, the first under new head coach Chip Kelly. The center, now listed at 295 pounds, picked up right where he left off and reestablished himself as one of the NFL's preeminent centers. As the season went on, he started to trust his knee more and more and that trademark athletic ability – combined with his naturally nasty on-field demeanor – displayed itself whenever he was asked to block in space and move to the second level.
Now, as Kelce enters his second full year in Kelly's program, he is exceedingly optimistic about the direction of the franchise – and he knows his fellow teammates are, too.
"I haven't been this excited for a football season since I can remember," Kelce said. "With the way we ended it, with the way everything looks like it's headed, the genuine enthusiasm that everybody has. This is an exciting time to be a Philadelphia Eagle."
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