Andy Reid has a bit of a quandary to face in Week 18: whether or not to allow key starters to play in order to chase specific milestones. In particular, the greatest of these is Travis Kelce and his quest for another 1,000-yard season.
To be clear, Kelce is hardly the only one interested in perhaps adding a little bit more production in order to achieve a certain result. Chris Jones needs a half-sack for a major contractual bonus. Rashee Rice is this close to the Kansas City Chefs rookie receiving record. Isiah Pacheco is also close to 1,000 yards rushing, a nice round figure when looking back at a career.
While Reid has decisions to make there, too, the truth is that none of them are as compelling as the question of playing Kelce.
The Decision Against Playing Kelce
For some fans, there's simply no decision to make. The team comes first and that means every player who is that important to the franchise's success and any potential title defense should be resting as much as possible between now and the Wild Card round. The Chiefs played poorly down the stretch and lost any first-round bye, so this is the price they must pay.
That argument has loads of merit. Kelce is the offensive catalyst for these Chiefs, even if it means that he takes on double teams consistently from opposing defensive coordinators. Rice is as open and productive as he is because Kelce's presence allows him a certain freedom—a la George Karlaftis cleaning up on sacks when Jones is being doubled as well on defense.
The Chiefs need Kelce to be as fresh and healthy as possible, and this season he's been as banged-up as ever. The hyperextended knee that forced him to miss Week 1 gave way to an ankle sprain at midseason which gave way to an elbow stinger in December, and while Kelce has largely played through the pain, he's not 25 years old anymore.
The Decision To Play Kelce
Here's the thing: any decision that forces Kelce to rest for all 60 minutes of the team's game against the Chargers in Week 18 is rooted in fear.
Kelce has played through all of this so far, and he's certainly capable of playing a few reps more to get the 16 yards he needs to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for an eighth consecutive season. Kelce would have already reached that mark, and beyond, if the Chiefs had planned any better at the WR position or if he'd not been forced to miss Week 1 due to a last-second injury.
It's important to remember what the 1,000-yard mark means for a player. Whether we like it or not, a player's career is measured by simple metrics. "Did he make a Pro Bowl?" "How many 1,000 yard seasons did he have?" As fans or analysts, we often distill a player's entire career or list of achievements down to a simple few points of note.
Look at Kelce's career. He had two seasons with 860 yards or more before he ever hit 1,000 yards in a single season. If he sits this game, he'll have one more season that fell only 16 yards short. That's less than 400 yards total standing between him and 10 consecutive seasons with 1,000 yards. While he's bound for the Hall of Fame either way, that mark sounds even better.
Being so close to another season that counts as shorthand for an impressive season is worth leaving Kelce in. Players work so hard to achieve so much, and those extra 16 yards would go a long way toward remembering this season alongside the others. Analysts will point to him all offseason and say, "See, he missed the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in nearly a decade." It's just the way these things work.
Kelce deserves the chance to make his own decision here. If he wants to rest and stand on his current statistical totals, that's fine. But Coach Reid should at least allow his star tight end to make his own decisions here.