Jason Kelce retirement means Eagles lose their heart and soul

There was no hiding the emotions for Jason Kelce when he walked off the field at Raymond James Stadium on January 15. The Philadelphia Eagles were just beaten 32-9 by Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the wild card playoff round, ending their 2023 season in a disappointing fashion — with a one-and-done trip to the playoffs.

For Kelce and in fact the entire Eagles organization, however, his walk off the field was more than just the end of the season. It also marked the end of a Hall of Fame career.

On Monday, the 36-year-old officially announced his retirement after 13 seasons in the NFL. He had already informed his teammates of his decision to step away following the Eagles’ loss in Tampa exactly seven weeks earlier.

“He’s special, and I love him,” said Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said at the time. “One of the most special guys I’ve been around.”

Kelce arrived in Philadelphia in 2011. A fifth-round draft pick out of Cincinnati, he went on to develop into one of the greatest centers in NFL history and an Eagles franchise legend.

The fact that he played his entire career with the same organization, and in the same city, was a source of pride for Kelce.

“It has always been a goal of mine to play my whole career in one city,” Kelce said during his retirement press conference. “I couldn’t have dreamt a better one if I tried.”

Despite playing one of the most physically demanding positions in sports, Kelce started 205 regular season and playoff games over the course of his career. While his stat sheet is pretty much empty outside of those games and his seven fumble recoveries, he was a cornerstone of the organization from Day 1.

Kelce was named a first-team All-Pro six times — one of five NFL centers to reach that number, with the others all being in the Hall of Fame — and helped the Eagles win their first Super Bowl in February 2018. He also was named a team captain on six separate occasions.

And while his name on a national stage might be more closely associated with his brother, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, than his performances on the gridiron, Kelce has managed to do what few if any offensive lineman have done: he has become a household name in his own right, in large part due to his relationship with his brother, yes, but also due to his status as a Philadelphia, and NFL, icon.

Look no further than his speech at the Eagles’ Super Bowl parade to see all of that distilled into one distinct moment.

For as imposing a figure he was on the field, his impact off it cannot go unmentioned either. Kelce has also been heavily involved in the community supporting numerous organizations and even putting out a Christmas album each of the last two years to raise money for charity.

That part of Kelce will remain; he will not stop doing charitable work in retirement, something he told The NFL Report in October.

“This is going to be over pretty soon here,” he said about his playing career. “If it’s this here, which it very well could be, we want to make sure that we’re ready to go when football’s done. Working all these different opportunities to figure out what you want to do in retirement. And then, on top of that, just enjoy the last time you have left with the guys. …

“When these opportunities come up, you realize the closer you are to the end of your career, the opportunities to do these fun and engaging things with fans and friends are going to be less and less. I think you realize that and you want to make sure you do them that much more, because when it’s done it’s not going to be there as much.”

Kelce leaving the game will not stop him from making a positive impact. The Eagles, meanwhile, are now tasked with replacing not just their long time starting center; they have to replace a franchise legend

They have to replace the heart and soul of their team.

“It took a lot of hard work and determination getting here,” Kelce said on Monday. “I have been the underdog my entire career and I mean this when I say it: I wish I still was. Few things gave me more joy than proving someone wrong.”

He very much did.

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