How long can Travis Kelce remain NFL’s greatest tight end?

Andy Reid. Kansas City Chiefs, Travis Kelce. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Andy Reid. Kansas City Chiefs, Travis Kelce. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

Entering his tenth season with the Kansas City Chiefs, Travis Kelce has proven to be one of the greatest tight ends of all time. Can he keep it up?

Once upon a time, the Kansas City Chiefs had one tight end named Travis Kelce and another tight end named… well they didn’t really ever have another tight end. Kelce has been so good for years that the lack of a solid TE2 has often been overlooked.

In recent years, the Chiefs have tried to bolster that part of the team, and they’re now heading into training camp with a whopping 7 tight ends on the 90 man roster. Outside of Kelce, that group is headlined by Jody Fortson, Blake Bell, and Noah Gray.

It almost seems like a no-brainer to pencil Kelce in for his regularly scheduled 1000-yard season in 2022. But is that realistic? Travis is 32 years old and not getting any younger. It’s hard to believe, but he’s been on the team for almost 10 years now—drafted way back in Andy Reid’s first season with the team in 2013.

Most players tend to decline after they turn 30, but Kelce has at times seemed to get better as he’s gotten older. On top of six straight 1,000-yard seasons, he’s also set the single-season yards record for a tight end twice over the last couple years.

Kelce has also stayed remarkably healthy throughout his career, which is impressive considering he lost his entire rookie season to injury. If you don’t think this is a big deal, just compare him to his contemporary Rob Gronkowski, who is often lauded as one of the greatest TEs of all time. Gronk may be great, but he’s spent much of his career on IR.

Kelce and Gronk are actually the same age, but Kelce entered the league almost 3 years after Gronk did, and then missed his rookie season. Gronk’s early career glory made it seem as if he was destined to always be greater than Kelce, but like the story of the tortoise and the hare, it’s been the steady and healthy career that has ultimately put Kelce above Gronk in many categories.

I think that continues on this year. Tony Gonzalez, another great Chief tight end, laid the foundation for what it means to have an extraordinarily long career for a tight end. He played 17 years, and arguably could have pushed a couple more. (Remember when he posted this video at 44 years old, and we all took him a little seriously?)

To play 17 seasons probably is unrealistic for Kelce, since he’d be pushing 40 at that point. But playing to 37 like Gonzalez, assuming he stays healthy, seems like a shot. I think he’ll get another 1,000 yards this season, especially with the wide receiver room in flux, but I also think it will be a critical point in Kelce’s career. Either he’ll be successful and be able to handle another couple years, or if he starts to decline, we’ll know the end is near.

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