He was a Pro Bowler two years ago, and now Jason Kelce faces an uncertain future.
Kelce, the Eagles’ center since 2011, said Thursday he believes he needs to play better the rest of this year or his days in Philadelphia could be coming to an end.
Complete coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles and their NFL rivals from NBC Sports Philadelphia.
“I think that I quite frankly need to do a better job,” Kelce said at his locker. “That’s what it comes down to.
“I love playing in this city, I love playing in this organization, and if I’m going to keep doing that, I have to do a better job.”
Not that long ago, Kelce was a strength of this team, a smart, athletic center with tremendous technique and leverage.
He made his first Pro Bowl team playing under Chip Kelly in 2014, but struggled last year. He’s played somewhat better this year, but hasn’t found the consistency and dominance he had the three years he played from 2011 through 2014 (he missed most of 2012).
Fans see Kelce getting pushed around by hulking nose tackles and see him committing penalties and see bad center-quarterback exchanges, and Kelce has been an easy target this fall.
Kelce understands the criticisms and thinks they’re fair.
“I think that this is a town and a fan base that’s very passionate about its sports teams and they’re going to let you know when they don’t think you’re playing up to the caliber that you should be playing at, or that the Eagles need you to play at,” Kelce said at his locker.
“I think that’s always been the case here and it always be. That’s just the type of passion that you deal with in Philly sports.”
Kelce, a sixth-round draft pick out of Cincinnati in 2011, ranks fifth in Eagles history among centers with 70 career starts, but he’s on track to pass Hank Fraley (70) and Jamaal Jackson (71) this month. Then he would trail only Guy Morriss (151) and Dave Alexander (108).
Even missing 14 games in 2012, Kelce trails only five centers league-wide in starts since 2011 for the same team.
But the Eagles have been inconsistent on offense for much of the season. They rank 25th in total offense, 28th in pass offense, 17th in rush offense, 18th in first downs and 30th in third-down percentage.
After a 3-0 start, they take a 4-4 record into Sunday’s game against the Falcons at the Linc.
“I think, obviously, it’s disappointing that we’re 4-4 right now and I certainly think that I can and should have played better up to this point,” Kelce said. “I’m working to do better.”
Kelce graded out well against the Vikings and Cowboys but said he struggled Sunday in the win over the Giants.
“This last game, I don’t think I played up to the standard that I need to against the Giants, but other than that, I think I’ve gotten better through the season,” he said.
“But last week there were some things … tripped over Steve Wisniewski on that first interception, and they were doing a good job of getting my hands off of them and shedding blocks. We talk about blowing a block, that’s a huge portion of it.
“So I look forward to getting back out there this week and working throughout the work week right now and getting better, and that’s just what I’m trying to do.”
Kelce does lead the Eagles with seven penalties for 50 yards, with one of the seven declined and three having stalled a drive.
That figure ranks first among all NFL centers this year and sixth among offensive linemen and 14thoverall.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson has emphasized how important it is to have a cerebral center to work with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz.
And he said he’s happy with the way Kelce has played, especially lately.
“The last couple weeks, he's played well,” Pederson said. “As far as the size, he's probably not the biggest guy in the world, but he gets by with his smarts and athleticism.
“He's a very tough individual. These last couple weeks, he's really settled into playing that center spot.”
What does the future hold for Kelce? Is he right when he says that he won’t be here if he doesn’t improve?
Kelce has four more years left on the six-year, $37.5 million deal he signed after the 2013 season. He’s scheduled to earn $5 million, $6 million, $6.5 million and $7 million in those four years, with minimal cap hits if the Eagles release him — $3.6 million if he’s released after this season, $1.2 million if it’s after next year.
Rookie Isaac Seumalo has practiced mainly at guard this year but Kelce himself has said Seumalo will one day be a Pro Bowl center.
And there’s also Wisniewski, who started 77 games at center for the Raiders and Jaguars over the past five years. Wisniewski is currently starting at left guard in place of injured Allen Barbre.
Kelce isn’t thinking about the future. Just Friday’s practice and the Falcons on Sunday at the Linc.
“All I can do,” he said, “is watch the film, focus on what I need to get better at, go out there and work and do the best I can to improve my technique and improve my assignments, my preparation so I can go out there and be successful.”