Imagining the Eagles' future with and without Jason Kelce (2024)

Jason Kelce hasn’t officially announced a decision on his retirement.

He’s made it clear that won’t happen until he sorts through emotions that haven’t yet settled. Soaked in melancholy after the NFC wild-card loss, Kelce politely declined to speak to reporters. Two days later, a more composed Kelce stated he wouldn’t address any retirement questions. He later opened up to Shaquille O’Neal on the NBA legend’s Feb. 12 podcast, saying he’s “still figuring it out.”

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“I think if I still want to play, I’m going to play,” Kelce said. “I think right now we’re not far enough away from the last game. It’s emotional. It’s a long season. We ended the season, quite frankly, awful. … So I’m just going to take some time. Rest, recoup and then figure it out. I think I’ll have an answer in the next couple weeks.”

Kelce reportedly informed his teammates after the Philadelphia Eagles lost in the playoffs that he intends to retire. Absent a formalized decision, the signs aren’t difficult to read. Left tackle Jordan Mailata said on a Feb. 9 podcast with NBC Sports Philadelphia that “there’s no shot” Kelce returns. Not when he’s “out there living his life,” jumping out of a luxury box shirtless after his brother scored a touchdown in the AFC divisional round or dancing while wearing an abandoned luchador wrestling mask at a Super Bowl LVIII after-party in Las Vegas.

Still, that’s hardly sufficient evidence on its own. It’s not hard to imagine Kelce doing anyof those things last year had he not been playing in Super Bowl LVII. But it’s apparent he now holds the kind of grip on the gravity of retirement that’s required to choose it.

There was a cathartic quality to the Amazon Prime documentary “Kelce,” in which the six-time All-Pro center partly considered his health and quality of life before choosing to return in 2023. But just as Kelce explained that decision using the Guy Clark folk song “The Cape,” in which a man keeps leaping from a rooftop fully believing he can fly, he could decide to suit up again in 2024.

With both scenarios officially in play for the Eagles, we explore the future associated with each outcome.

Kelce returns

This scenario is fairly simple, although it would require some contractual gymnastics.

Kelce signed a one-year, $14.25 million extension with the Eagles during the 2023 offseason that gave the franchise some flexibility. According to Over the Cap, the Eagles can keep Kelce on the roster until this upcoming June and place him on the retired list if he so decides. If not, they’d need to sign him to yet another extension.

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General manager Howie Roseman has already spread Kelce’s cap hit across four voidable years through the 2028 season. So, any further extension would likely involve a similar strategy. The Eagles, who wield a 16th-ranked $19.9 million in available cap space, can reasonably afford Kelce, whose $10.2 million cap hit in 2024 is already associated with a contract that makes him the NFL’s highest-paid center.

Simply put, if Kelce wants to return, the Eagles can (and will) make it happen.

He’d once again be the fulcrum of one of the NFL’s best offensive lines in 2024, which would more than likely feature the same starting lineup:

LT Jordan Mailata
LG Landon Dickerson
C Jason Kelce
RG Cam Jurgens
RT Lane Johnson

It would also give Philadelphia yet another year to acquire successors. We’ll explore this more in the alternative scenario, but the team’s interior offensive line would need at least one more offseason addition if Kelce chooses to retire. If he stays, adding an interior lineman would instead be a prudent and proactive decision, and that acquisition could get acclimated while providing depth across the line.

Most of the Eagles’ talented core remains under contract at least through 2025. One could argue it better suits the Eagles financially for Kelce to retire this offseason. That would accelerate all of his contract’s dead money into a one-time, $25 million hit in 2024. He’d be cleared off the books for the 2025 offseason.

If Kelce instead returns and then retires in 2025, that dead money hit would arrive at a less advantageous time. The Eagles will more than likely be entering negotiations with Dickerson, a two-time Pro Bowler, who’s entering the final year of his contract and certainly has a case for a significant raise.

Roseman is already scheduled to be more cash-strapped in 2025, with star quarterback Jalen Hurts’ cap share swelling to 8.4 percent. But it would be quite surprising if the executive who celebrated Kelce’s 2023 return by hugging his center before toasting the moment with shots of Fósforo Mezcal allows accounting to get in the way of retaining the franchise’s most decorated player since Chuck Bednarik.

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Kelce retires

Cue the news conference. Retire No. 62. Call up bronze sculptor Raymond Gibby and commission a Kelce statue to neighbor Gibby’s “Philly Philly.”

Kelce says his thanks and farewells, makes his rounds to his local Philly haunts, checks on his cattle ranch in Missouri (and maybe serves up a fatted calf for the occasion), then holds court with ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS, NBC and Amazon until ultimately choosing to be an analyst for whichever network sends him to São Paulo, Brazil, for the Eagles’ regular-season opener.

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Meanwhile, Roseman and coach Nick Sirianni, both fighting nostalgia, open the team’s vault and reach for their succession plan: Jurgens, whom Philadelphia drafted in the second round in 2022 as Kelce’s heir apparent, who slides over from right guard to center.

This scenario places the Eagles in the market for another guard since one of their potential replacements already under contract, Tyler Steen, still hasn’t proven reliable. The 2023 third-round pick totaled 62 snaps at right guard in his only start last season — a Week 9 win over the Dallas Cowboys in which he filled in while Jurgens was on injured reserve with a foot injury — but surrendered six total pressures and a quarterback hit, according to Pro Football Focus.

It would still be sensible for Steen to be in the mix. A former Vanderbilt defensive lineman who switched to offense, transferred to Alabama, then replaced Evan Neal at left tackle, Steen could make strides in developing during a full offseason under position coach Jeff Stoutland. Steen, who’s listed at 6 feet 6, 321 pounds, could give the Eagles a considerable advantage along the interior with his arm length. But those are also qualities that might better suit him as a future option at offensive tackle. Johnson remains under contract through the 2026 season.

The Eagles still ought to acquire another interior lineman in free agency or the NFL Draft. There are a few free agents Roseman would likely have to pay handsomely — such as Kevin Dotson (Los Angeles Rams) and Robert Hunt (Miami Dolphins) — but it’s worth considering whether newly hired offensive coordinator Kellen Moore might persuade the Eagles to pursue Connor Williams (Dolphins), who, although he’s recovering from a torn ACL, played left guard for the Cowboys for three seasons while Moore was their offensive coordinator.

The upcoming draft is also flush with linemen. Eight of The Athletic’s top 20 prospects are offensive linemen. Four of them — Olu Fashanu (Penn State), JC Latham (Alabama), Troy Fautanu (Washington) and Jackson Powers-Johnson (Oregon) — have experience at guard. Several Day 2 options also emerged during the Senior Bowl practices, including Connecticut’s Christian Haynes.

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Roseman holds nine total draft picks: a first-rounder, two second-rounders, a third-rounder, four fifth-rounders and a sixth-rounder. Beyond spending one on a lineman, he could use his arsenal of picks in a potential trade for a familiar veteran such as former Eagle Isaac Seumalo, although the current Pittsburgh Steelers player has a $10.2 million cap hit in 2024.

Kelce’s retirement, whenever it arrives, will mark the end of a career that merits Hall of Fame status on a first-ballot basis. No team can ever predict to carry players who embody such consistent greatness, and teams should cherish them when they do. But the Eagles soon must enter the paradox of replacing the irreplaceable. They’re in a favorable position to do so.

(Top photo: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

Imagining the Eagles' future with and without Jason Kelce (4)Imagining the Eagles' future with and without Jason Kelce (5)

Brooks Kubena is a Staff Writer for The Athletic covering the Eagles. Brooks has covered the NFL since 2021, most recently as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle covering the Texans, and he previously reported on LSU football for The Advocate | Times-Picayune from 2018-2020. Brooks, a graduate of the University of Texas, has received APSE National Top 10 honors eight times for his reporting, which includes his beat writing coverage during the 2022 season. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BKubena

Imagining the Eagles' future with and without Jason Kelce (2024)

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