The Jason Kelce Extension: Using the 2021 Draft to Address Life After Kelce

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By Connor Donald, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

The Philadelphia Eagles offseason has been nothing short of eventful, though I won’t say exciting as it has been a difficult offseason to watch. Doug Pederson fired, quarterback controversy getting so bad that our franchise quarterback of 2020 was dealt to the Indianapolis Colts and Howie doing major damage control to clear out $50 million in cap space. Please give us something to celebrate as Eagles fans.

Howie answered that call for a glimmer of positivity in his offseason work, as although the obvious moves have been made to shed cap like releasing Alshon Jeffrey, Desean Jackson and Malik Jackson, he managed to restructure and extend center Jason Kelce for one more season. Kelce’s new contract is worth $9 million guaranteed, with the opportunity to be worth $12 million due to additional incentives. Kelce has considered retirement over the last two offseasons and, despite the rebuild in progress in Philadelphia, will return, which is vital for an Eagles offensive line whose only starter to start and play in all 16 games from last season was Kelce, despite 14 different starting offensive line combinations.

Kelce will enter his 11th NFL season, all with the Eagles, next year at the age of 33. He came to the Eagles via the 191st pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and has flourished into a top-10 center in the league. Per Pro Football Focus, he is the highest graded center since 2015 with a grade of 90.1, has been a four-time Pro Bowler and, for three straight years (2017-’19), was First Team All-Pro. He has been the epitome of consistency for the Eagles with six straight seasons of starting all 16 games and playing over 1100 snaps.

With every new contract comes dead money moving further down the line; Kelce’s 2022 dead cap against the team will be over $15 million. Sadly, all good things must come to an end and we need to consider what to do with life after Kelce. With Kelce returning, this is the perfect draft to grab a center to spend a year behind an Eagles legend and a top-five center in the NFL, while keeping investment at the position cheaper with Kelce’s dead cap.

Creed Humphrey

When you hear analysts talk highly about intangibles and being in the league a long time, then color me intrigued. After all, we are looking at replacing a center who has been with us for 11 straight years. Creed Humphrey is my favorite center in this class and, although he may not wow you with his athleticism, he has great technique, football IQ and strength to overwhelm his dance partner on the other side of the football. He comes with stellar college experience, playing 2,488 snaps at center, including starting in 37 total games – 36 straight.

Per PFF, he was responsible for only three quarterback hits and zero sacks across those 37 games. He may not be the Kelce prototype, but is someone who could sure up the middle of the Eagles offensive line for years to come and whose technique could be accommodated. He could be had with our second-round pick based on current draft outlook.

Landon Dickerson

Landon Dickerson could be arguably the best center in this draft, but there is a major red flag and that is his plethora of injuries spanning his college career including: torn right ACL, ankle surgery, another ankle injury and, most recently, ligament damage in his left knee.

Based on Howie’s history of drafting, he doesn’t seem to concern himself with medical red flags. His versatility is most intriguing as he projects best as a guard or center, but has played at all five positions across the line. He’s another interior offensive linemen who won’t wow you with athleticism but is highly intelligent in using his size. He possesses nice early bounce out of his stance and does great in controlling his target, sometimes even multiple targets when covering gaps. Per Walter Football, he was grading out in round two or three prior to his most recent season ending knee injury. There could be intrigue if he falls into round three or even four, but this man is highly intelligent and flexible across the line, attributes which should save him from falling far.

Quinn Meinerz

The Senior Bowl has been huge for Meinerz, whose football division opted not to play in 2021 due to Covid. Although he is coming from division three, he is very intriguing and likely will need to be taken in the third round now as NFL scouts liked the prospect before and seem more enamored in him now.

He recently spoke with The Draft Network and said that, when the pandemic started, he worked out in his basement and taught himself how to play center by snapping a football at garbage cans. Although he projects into the NFL as a guard, a year behind Jason Kelce, his drive to learn center and size plus his Senior Bowl performance makes him a great option if the Eagles pass or miss on the early big names. His strength is a massive asset to his game and he has good football IQ. The other areas that make him a little more raw (balance and footwork), can be taught and worked with. Perhaps nobody on this list could benefit more from time with Kelce.

Drake Jackson

Jackson is a center with tons of experience, locking down the starting center role in Kentucky since his freshman season. He was superior in run blocking over pass blocking, which will be intriguing to see how he cleans up in the pass game in a pass-happy NFL.

He doesn’t offer versatility like some of the other options, as he is strictly a center, but in replacing a long-term center-only like Kelce, Jackson fits the mold nicely. He is more of a handsy center over a power and strength center, but he is well-rounded in his ability to climb to the second level, as much as he can handle himself in the short-area game. Jackson is getting more love recently, but provides the experience of Dickerson and Humphrey with the incredible value of landing somewhere late day two, early day three.

The interior offensive line, specifically center, pool is deep in this year’s draft and despite Kelce’s return in 2021, father time is not on his side and the Eagles can’t afford to continue to re-sign him with restructures. The need on the offensive line is often overstated due to recent injuries, but there is a major impending need at the center position that Howie has ignored long enough. The opportunity to take advantage of such a strong class and have them spend a season behind Kelce should be front of the mind for Howie so that fans and Jeff Stoutland don’t have to chew their nails right off their fingers due to stress at the end of each season waiting to see if Kelce will come back.