Eagles players discuss Jason Kelce’s impact after last game: ‘He’s a legend in the city, really in the league’ (2024)

UPDATE: Eagles center Jason Kelce told teammates he plans to retire after Monday night’s playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to an ESPN report. Read more here.

TAMPA, Fla. — With his duffle bag in tow and his signature flip flops on his feet, Eagles center Jason Kelce politely declined to speak to the gaggle of reporters that crowded his stall in the middle of the visitor’s locker room at Raymond James Stadium.

“No, guys,” Kelce said as he headed toward the exit. “Not today.”

No, Kelce wasn’t ready to speak on his NFL future just moments removed from the Eagles’ staggering 32-9 wild-card loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night. But the emotion that clouded his eyes on the sideline when he embraced offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland turned to tears as he walked down the hall to the locker room, speaking volumes without Kelce uttering a word.

» READ MORE: From cattle farming to blocking bags: Inside Jason Kelce’s mentorship ahead of a potentially fateful playoff run

The backdrop of an ugly wild-card contest to cap off an ugly stretch in which the Eagles went 1-6 to conclude the season raises the question that remains unanswered for now: Was that Kelce’s final game of his career?

“He’s hinted at it,” right tackle Lane Johnson said after the game. “I think it’s going to have to be him to make that call. But I was playing it like it was his last. You never know.”

As it pertains to Kelce, the Eagles have been here before. For the last two offseasons, Kelce has mulled over retirement. He decided to return to the team on one-year deals on both occasions. Despite the Eagles’ wild-card exit to the Buccaneers in 2021, Kelce was encouraged by the Eagles’ future with quarterback Jalen Hurts at the helm. Kelce wasn’t quite ready to hang up the cleats in 2022 after the Super Bowl loss to his brother, Travis, and the Kansas City Chiefs whet his appetite for another shot at a Lombardi Trophy.

Hurts hasn’t known an Eagles world where there haven’t been questions surrounding Kelce’s future. But regardless of Kelce’s next move, he’ll always have a special place in his quarterback’s heart.

“He’s a legend in the city, really in the league,” Hurts said. “I don’t want to do a disservice to him and the things he’s been able to do and overcome. His journey to where he is now didn’t come easy. It’s been a long, long time coming for him. Every year since I’ve been here has been, ‘Do you want to come back?’ But he knows. He knows how much I love and appreciate him.”

If that was the end, it was an unceremonious send-off for the Eagles’ seven-time Pro Bowl and six-time All-Pro center. Without top receiver A.J. Brown due to a knee injury and with Hurts fighting through an injury to his middle finger on his throwing hand, the Eagles offense never found their groove against the Todd Bowles-led Bucs defense.

» READ MORE: Sielski: The Eagles are at a crossroads. And Jeffrey Lurie faces the biggest choice of his tenure.

They struggled against the Bucs’ infamous blitz. Hurts was sacked three times and forced into an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone for a safety. They failed to run the ball efficiently, posting just 42 yards on 15 carries, marking their worst performance on the ground this season. The Eagles played from behind all night and were shut out in the second half. They accumulated just 276 net yards of offense to the Bucs’ 426 and failed to convert on a single third down (0-for-9).

But as their ship sunk in Tampa Bay, Kelce did his best to keep his teammates’ spirits buoyed.

“He’s a true leader ‘til the final whistle,” left tackle Jordan Mailata said. “Being real positive. Trying to get the guys’ spirits up and get us going. He’s a true leader to the final whistle, and that’s why I love him. The guy taught me how to lead.”

If there was any doubt, the Eagles didn’t sound like a team ready to move on from Kelce. After the game, coach Nick Sirianni said, “He’s always got a place here and I’ll always want him to play. We’ll see what happens as time progresses here.”

That decision will come in due time after spending some of it with family. With the release of his Prime Video documentary “Kelce” late last year, Kelce declared that football is a family story. He continued to live by that mantra in the twilight of his career. As he came off the field, an emotional Kelce sought out his wife, Kylie, and his father, Ed, before trotting up the tunnel and to the locker room.

Kelce has family in the locker room, too. That won’t change even if his playing status does.

» READ MORE: Brandon Graham said he’ll retire after next season, but will his ‘farewell tour’ be with the Eagles?

“I love him,” Johnson said. “He’s one of my brothers. I never had a brother growing up. I was an only child. So these guys are my family. I love him. He’s one of the best centers to ever play the game. There are few guys who can do the things he can do on the football field athletically.

“I don’t think we’ll see another like him for a long time.”

Eagles players discuss Jason Kelce’s impact after last game: ‘He’s a legend in the city, really in the league’ (2024)
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