The opening days of organized team activities (OTAs) mark the beginning of a new offensive era for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has never taken an NFL field without wide receiver Tyreek Hill on his team, and tight end Travis Kelce has to think back to his third year in the league to remember what it's like to play in an offense without Hill's imminent threat.
While we may not know exactly what the offense will look like, the brain trust of the Chiefs' coaching staff sure does. There will be a lot of receivers working to get integrated into the offense — but at the center of it all, Kelce will still be there. During his career, he's already had to adjust to a new offense a time or two.
"I feel like I've had to evolve week-in, week-out [and] year-in, year-out. That's just the mentality I have to always find a new way for Coach Reid to utilize me," Kelce told reporters during Thursday's post-practice presser. "That's kind of been where I'm most prideful — being able to move all over the field and the backfield, out wide [and] obviously in the traditional tight end situations. That's really this entire offense, everybody being everywhere and attacking you with all the different routes. It's why I love being here, because you get that opportunity to always get the defense to second-guess exactly what you're doing."
No matter how he has been used, Kelce has been dominant in his nine NFL seasons — and that's not just relative to his position.
BuT KeLcE iSN’t ThE bEst TE iN tHe NFL https://t.co/iRRFoOF0Ee— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) May 26, 2022
It's exactly why San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle believes Kelce is underpaid, which he expressed last week when speaking with Pro Football Talk:
“I mean Travis Kelce, six seasons in a row, 1000 yards,” Kittle said. “I’m pretty sure he has the most receiving yards over any wide receiver, skill position in the last six years. He gets paid half of what a wide receiver makes, which just boggles my mind.”
Even though Kelce is signed to the second-biggest contract among NFL tight ends based on total value, he has only the sixth-highest guaranteed-money figure. So while he has good reason to request an extension and re-work his deal to make up for it, that's not the priority for Kansas City's longest-tenured offensive veteran.
"I appreciate Kittle saying that, 'cause that's my guy, and he always wants to see every tight end get paid as much as their production is," Kelce acknowledged. "But at the same time, I signed my contract understanding what I had... I put a lot into this. Money in my mind is almost secondary at this point in my career. I'm here for the legacy — and I'm here to make the Kansas City Chiefs the best team possible."
This mindset differs from the other All-Pro pass catcher that left the team this offseason. No player should be expected to sacrifice personal earnings to benefit the team as a whole. However, it's still refreshing to hear one of the Chiefs' most important players say that he's focused on getting the new offense down pat over anything else.
The fact that Kelce is even attending this voluntary section of offseason practices points to his priorities. It'd be easy for a 30-year-old player to skip out on these sessions, waiting for the mandatory minicamp — but that's just not how this future Hall of Famer is wired.
"I love it man, I love it," Kelce said of the OTA sessions. "I've always had a love for competition, getting better, the work ethic. I've gotten it from my family, my brother... when you do things, you start to lead your life in the right way. It's a steady incline of getting better at whatever craft you choose. I chose football — and I feel that year-in, year-out. I just love it."
Before a follow-up question could be asked, Kelce emphasized the other reason he feels the need to be there as much as possible.
"On top of that, we got new guys in this building," he said. "I'm trying to win some ball games here; you're going to see me in this building just trying to help out any way I can."
So what will the new Chiefs' offense look like in 2022?
We don't know — and probably won't until we get to this year's preseason (and maybe not even then, knowing Reid). But there was obvious energy in Kelce's tone as he talked about the new schemes and strategies.
For the first time in years, the tight end understands that opposing defenses will have no idea what to expect, including how Kansas City will utilize his rare talents.
"If you ask me, I want to be out there every chance I can get to help this team win," he plainly said.
It may be difficult to assimilate the new pass-catching group quickly, but Kelce's willingness to lead and the desire to improve his team will help this offense be as ready as it can be for Week 1.