Travis Kelce had been here before.
Well, not so much exactly here — on the first day of training camp, staring into a web cam rather than at the press in person. But rather, signing a long-term contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.
There have been many press conferences between the 2016 contract extension and Thursday’s, so even though he was not talking to the press face to face, he was well aware his message would get to the people of Kansas City.
“This community, Kansas City, I love you,” he said as he looked into the camera around the 1:08-second mark. “And I’m thankful I’m going to be here for the next six years.”
Kelce’s contract is the latest in an offseason that has seen the Chiefs sign him, Chris Jones and Patrick Mahomes to extensions — and make a restructured deal for Sammy Watkins.
“My hat goes off to Clark Hunt,” said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid when asked about his team retaining all the key pieces after the Super Bowl LIV win. “That’s where it starts, and his support of (general manager) Brett Veach and Brett’s crew in working these deals and getting it done. Then, we appreciate the players and their attitude. They’re good guys, but they’re good football players that like to play the game. So, you enjoy being around those guys and you’re proud of the effort they put in to wanting to stay. Then, obviously from my standpoint, just Brett and his crew again for getting it done.”
Reid said he told Kelce he was not going to be easy on him, and since then, the head coach has watched him grow from fiery up-and-comer to locker-room leader.
“The fact that he’s been voted a playoff captain the last couple of years — three years I think— probably says everything,” said Reid. “He has grown. Everyone here has watched him grow before their eyes, fans included. He still, though, comes to work every day wanting to get better, so you love that part of him. He brings energy every day. I’ve been lucky enough coaching his brother and they’re both that way.
“They’re wired where they want to be the best but yet enjoy playing the game like no other—like you’re playing in the backyard type-thing.”
The backyard-type thing meshes well with Kelce’s quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes has targeted Kelce more than any Chiefs skill-position player during his first two seasons as starter, and their fourth-quarter touchdown connection in Miami kept the Chiefs’ title dream alive.
In another situation, Kelce might have wondered what free agency might be like. But what he and the Chiefs have built in Kansas City has given him no reason to consider leaving.
“We have great guys in the locker room, great people in the facility, and overall, it’s just a fun atmosphere every single time you come to work,” he said. “Guys don’t want to leave that. Guys want to keep building off of that. It’s a beautiful thing when you have ownership trust in you and want to make change with you in terms of the season and the community.
“On top of that, going out there and playing football with guys that come to work every single day and fight their tail off for you. It’s a beautiful thing.”
With Kelce’s contract making him a Kansas City Chief through 2025, he now holds a realistic opportunity to surpass Tony Gonzalez in all-time Chiefs receiving yards.
“Everyone has always tried to compare me to Tony since I got here just because of the position,” said Kelce. “He’s a Hall of Famer, man. The reason he’s a Hall of Famer is because he did it the right way every single time. He was out here in this community trying to make it better and trying to show everybody his face by getting out from under the face mask and make a difference. That’s what I’m trying to do every single year.
“I’m teaming up with Operation Breakthrough on some more things, so we have some news coming with that. Outside of just being a great competitor, I try to model my professionalism off of what Tony has already started here. I knew it was something that was a model of success. I want to thank everyone for comparing me to Tony to make me want to up the ante every single time.”
Gonzalez spearheaded an ideology shift as to what it means to be a tight end in the NFL — one players like Kelce, George Kittle, Rob Gronkowski and others have continued to this day. Tight ends are more than blockers now; they’re weapons.
But in terms of consistency, no other tight end in history has done what Kelce has. He is the only player at his position to ever put together four consecutive seasons of 1,000-yard football. And rather than taking any credit for that feat, Kelce turned the attention to those that have helped him.
“I’m very fortunate to have great teammates around me, great coaches to put me in the position to succeed,” noted Kelce, “on top of that, great athletic trainers in the training room. You can’t underestimate or leave them out of the puzzle. Rehab and keeping guys on the field is arguably half of the job in the NFL because we know how physically demanding it is. I’ve been very fortunate to have this circle of success around me and it just keeps getting better and better knowing that the front office and coach Reid are bringing in guys that are going to help us win.”
And it also speaks volumes — to both those in the building and out — that they are willing to take care of their own.
“I think we all know that we trust the front office, Brett Veach, Andy Reid, and Clark Hunt, to keep the core,” said Kelce. “We trusted that they were going to be able to make it make sense for all of the players, which they did. They held their end of the bargain. We’re very thankful that we still have the core going into this year and for a few years ahead.”