Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce missed most of the 2012 season with a major knee injury. It was a particularly unfortunate turn of events after Kelce had made the All-Rookie Team in 2011. The former sixth-round pick was not deterred, however. He poured himself into his rehabilitation program, and miraculously returned in 2013 to become the no. 1 NFL center per Pro Football Focus. His recovery was a testament to modern medicine and personal dedication.
In 2014, Kelce will be entering the final year of a four-year $2 million-plus contract. As a sixth-round selection, he received a small signing bonus (under $100,000) and league-minimum base salaries: $375,000 in 2011, $465,000 in 2012 and $555,000 in 2013. He is scheduled to take home $645,000 in 2014.
That is going to be a problem. The league’s best centers make $6 million-plus per season. Ryan Kalil of the Carolina Panthers is the highest-paid center with an average annual salary at $8 million-plus, including $28 million guaranteed. And though he ranked in the bottom half of the NFL at his position in 2013, New York Jets‘ Nick Mangold averages $7 million-plus in yearly salary, including $14 million-plus guaranteed.
Kelce is currently signed through 2014, so technically he is under contract next season. It is not that simple. If a team decides against immediately rewarding a young player who has ascended to the elite ranks of his position, it risks permanently alienating the player. For this reason, the Eagles cannot afford to let Jason Kelce play out the last year of his rookie contract.
Philadelphia should close negotiations on a long-term contract extension with Kelce before the season begins to ensure that the offensive line remains intact as a unit. Keeping all of last season’s starting offensive linemen together will provide a foundation for continued improvement. After finishing no. 24 in the NFL in sacks allowed in 2013, the Eagles cannot afford to lose an integral member of the offense line.
For Nick Foles, who absorbed 28 sacks over 10 starts, trusting his offensive line is critical for his continued evolution. As the first play of Super Bowl XLVIII (snap over the head of Peyton Manning) demonstrated, the rapport between quarterback and center is particularly important. Indeed, it would be a significant step back if the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense lost its most effective all-around offensive lineman.
Extending Kelce is not only important for offensive continuity, it is also a financially prudent maneuver. As the sole member of the Eagles’ 2011 draft class that has outperformed his rookie contract, Kelce is the only current Eagle that could reasonably request a pay raise during the 2014 offseason. Extending him now would be smart salary cap management.