Jason Kelce officially hangs 'em up: Eagles All-Pro center retires after 13 seasons in NFL

Jason Kelce is officially calling it a career.

The six-time All-Pro Philadelphia Eagles center held a news conference Monday afternoon to announce his retirement, a move that has been expected since Philadelphia's season ended in January.

Kelce, 36, wore a cutoff black Eagles T-shirt with a gold wedding band and gold watch visible on his left hand and wrist. He leaves the NFL after 13 seasons, all with the Eagles, marked by dependability, availability, consistency and cerebral, exceptional play. Kelce was selected to seven Pro Bowls in his career, including the most recent five, and his six first-team All-Pro nominations came over the final seven seasons of his career.

“I’ve been asked many times why did I choose football, what drew me to the game, and I’ve never had an answer that gets it right,” Kelce said Monday at his press conference, fighting back tears. “The best way I can explain it is what draws you to your favorite song, your favorite book — it’s what it makes you feel. The seriousness of it, the intensity of it, stepping on the field was the most alive and free I have ever felt.”

After Philadelphia's season ended with a 32-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the wild-card round of the playoffs, Kelce was visibly emotional on the sidelines, and he declined to talk to the media afterward.

According to multiple reports, Kelce had told teammates in the postgame locker room after the wild-card loss that it would be his last game as an NFL player.

On Monday morning, Kelce teased the announcement in a social media post, saying there would be "no keg videos this year," a reference to a social media post last year, when he announced he'd be returning to the Eagles after pouring himself a beer from a keg.

He thanked dozens of family members, coaches, and teammates, some dating back to his days in high school, sharing formative anecdotes that he said made him the player and person he became with the Eagles.

Often, Kelce had to pause his prepared comments so that he could get through his tears.

“The melting pot of geographic location, economic background, race, body type, personality and athletic traits of an NFL locker room is truly remarkable,” Kelce said. “How we all rely on each other and respect one another and each of our difference because we know we’re stronger together. I will always cherish this brotherhood, the relationships it fostered and how unique an experience it has been to enjoy the field with you all. Coming to work every day with a group of men who were driven to be the best in the world at what they do is an environment that will surely be hard to replicate.”

Known for his gregarious nature, Kelce became a social media sensation during the playoffs, when he attended several Chiefs games to watch his brother, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, play. During a divisional round game in Buffalo, Jason Kelce went shirtless and chugged beers from a suite, alongside Taylor Swift.

After that divisional round game, Jason Kelce called it "one of the most fun experiences I've ever had. From start to finish."

A sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Cincinnati in 2011, Kelce started for the Eagles from Day 1 – eventually playing in 193 games over his 13 seasons. Kelce leaves the game as one of the most popular players in Eagles history and a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer.

After the Eagles lost to the Buccaneers in the wild-card round, quarterback Jalen Hurts called Kelce a "legend in the city, and really in this league."

Dec. 21, 2021: Jason Kelce walks off the field after the Philadelphia Eagles' victory against the Washington Football Team at Lincoln Financial Field.
Dec. 21, 2021: Jason Kelce walks off the field after the Philadelphia Eagles' victory against the Washington Football Team at Lincoln Financial Field.

Kelce was instrumental in Philadelphia's Super Bowl run in 2017, when he helped lead the franchise to its only championship in a 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots. He did his part to try to push the Eagles back to another Lombardi Trophy, but the closest they came was in 2022, when Philadelphia lost to the Chiefs.

“I don’t know what’s next, but I look forward to the new challenges and opportunities that await,” Kelce concluded. “And I know that I carry with me the lessons that I learned here. And they’re forever. In that forever we shall all share the bond of being Philadelphians. That’s all I got.”

Contributing: Steve Gardner

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jason Kelce announces NFL retirement after 13 seasons with Eagles