Travis Kelce still in love with football heading into 12th season

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Movie deals, TV show appearances, one of the world’s most influential relationships, and a popular podcast with his brother: all part of the Travis Kelce empire.

All of that melts away when the nine-time Pro Bowl tight end hits the Kansas City Chiefs practice field on Tuesday for the first day of mandatory minicamp.

Running around the field in black and white Air Jordan 11 Retro cleats, he often wears them for practice, Kelce still showcases the athleticism, sure hands, and fiery passion that the team saw in him 11 years ago.

“Dude just loves to practice and that’s just uncommon,” linebacker Drue Tranquill said about Kelce on Tuesday. “Vocals, body language, in and out of the huddle, running on the field.”

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After back-to-back Super Bowl wins and a 2023 season that saw Kelce miss a game with a hyperextended knee and be more banged up than usual, the seven-time All-Pro selection still showed up to participate in the last two weeks of voluntary organized team activities.

While the 34-year-old is enjoying doing things that don’t involve his primary career, he spent the first day of minicamp letting the world know that football is his first love.

“I’m a football player. I love playing in the NFL and this will always be my main focus,” he said. “But outside of that, football ends for everybody so kind of dipping your toes in the water and seeing what you like in different areas and different career fields, I think offseason is the best chance you can get to try and you know explore that and set yourself up for after football.

Kelce brushed off retirement questions before the playoffs last season and did the same on Tuesday.

“I really can’t put a timeframe on (retirement),” Kelce said. “I love coming to work every single day. Obviously, I know there’s opportunities outside of football for me. You have to keep in perspective that I’m still a little kid when I come into this building, man. I know I’m 34 years old, about to be 35 (on October 5) but I have a love to do this right here, in the middle of the heat in June. I love coming to work every single day.

“I’m gonna do it till the wheels fall off and hopefully that doesn’t happen anytime soon. I can definitely understand that it’s towards the end of the road than it is the beginning of it. And I just gotta make sure I’m set up for after football as well.”

In April, Kelce signed a new two-year contract extension worth two years, $34.25 million, including $17 million fully guaranteed this year and most of next year guaranteed.

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As a major key to the Chiefs’ three Super Bowls during the era of head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Kelce is always worth the money. And even more money than the Chiefs pay him.

Last season, the 2013 third-round pick out of Cincinnati led the team with 93 receptions for 984 yards during the regular season. During the Chiefs’ four-game postseason run, Kelce performed when he was most needed generating 32 receptions for 355 yards and three touchdowns.

On Tuesday, Kelce showed no signs of slowing down as he made routine catches over the middle with stop routes during the team’s blitzing period, caught passes from Mahomes over the middle in tight windows, and even surprised new wide receiver Hollywood Brown with a backward lateral, an action that many of his offensive teammates prepare for because they know it can happen at any time.

Tranquil pointed out how he covered Kelce on an over route on one play and Kelce commended him for it.

“He’s saying, ‘Man, great job on that coverage. What did you see?’ Just little aspects of the game strike his curiosity, and he’s always looking to become better and you don’t see that when guys are as great as he is and have accomplished as much as he’s accomplished. I think there tends to be some complacency that can creep in but you don’t see that with guys like Travis and Pat and [defensive tackle] Chris [Jones], in all of our best players. You know, they’re constantly looking to ascend and be great.”

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The Chiefs have brought in veteran Irv Smith Jr. and fourth-round rookie Jared Wiley to bolster the tight end room that only had Kelce and fourth-year veteran Noah Gray inside of it heading into the offseason.

The Chiefs also added Brown and first-round pick Xavier Worthy to the receiving core that could be without Rashee Rice to start the season due to suspension stemming from ongoing legal battles.

Kelce is already high on 6’5 Wiley stating that he has “a lot of upside”. Wiley has been used as a red zone target in practices and has shown his high-point jump ball ability as well as supreme athleticism as a former quarterback.

“Very comfortable, a smart guy. I would say he’s a lot further along than I was as a rookie, in terms of just understanding the offense and really seeing the field,” he said. “[Wiley’s] trusting what he’s seeing right now and I’ll tell you what, the quarterbacks are on time with it. And it’s fun to watch him kind of take off and get more comfortable out there.”

Kelce’s age and last season’s avoidance of major injuries begs the question of a decreased workload for him. The Cleveland Heights, Ohio native is wired to carry the Chiefs as a leader and as a producer on the field begging head coach Andy Reid to “wear and tear me, baby!”

“I love being accountable for the men and women in this building and Chiefs Kingdom,” Kelce said. “I love that aspect of everybody counting on me to try and make that play for the team and just do the right things out there on the field and better judgment for the team.

“I don’t think that anything from last year put more miles on me, made me less of a player. I think it was all in all, it was just focus, being my own worst critic, capitalizing in situations that I should have.

Kelce has already broken many NFL and Chiefs franchise records en route to 907 career receptions and 11,328 career receiving yards ranking fourth all-time among tight ends.

In a 7-on-7 red zone period, Kelce had a play designed for him to get open as a receiver ran a rub route for Kelce to be wide open as Mahomes rolled to his left and threw to the tight end who ran through the end zone.

After every Kelce rep on Tuesday, whether it was going through drills or against the defense, he jogged off the field to the sideline instead of walking off like he did during OTAs. Coaches at lower levels like youth, high school, and college consistently remind their players throughout practice to jog all over the field and finish reps to simulate game situations and to get players into game shape.

Chiefs former offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy was known for doing that throughout his time in Kansas City. After his departure, current OC Matt Nagy took up that mantle last year. Those screams haven’t come from the coaches yet as these practices consist of implementing plays into the playbook as some players fight for playing time and some fight for roster spots.

For Kelce, those screams don’t need to be heard because he’s already preparing to continue carrying the offense, physically and psychologically for a 12th consecutive year.

“It’s my job to make sure that Coach Reid has full confidence in me to whenever he needs me out on that field or whenever I’m out on that field, I get my job done. And that’s my job as a player,” he said.

Kelce has been seen on numerous occasions arguing with Reid about not putting him in the game at times including in Super Bowl LVIII.

“Coach Reid, he’ll tell you he’s got 51%. So as much as I want to be out there every single play, I understand that it’s for the betterment of the team when I’m not. I’ve had to kind of understand that over the past couple of years and I’m more comfortable with that right now because of the guys that we have in the room.

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“We have a lot of success and we have a lot of trust in the guys in the building for sure.”

When asked about the team’s quest for a third straight Super Bowl and NFL Network analysts deeming a threepeat nearly impossible, in his showmanship-like swaggerific way, Kelce had one simple phrase.

“You can always bet on the Chiefs baby.”

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