Travis Kelce has a chance to enter the conversation of all-time great tight ends now that Rob Gronkowski has retired. Will he make it count?
Rob Gronkowski is five months older than Travis Kelce.
That’s an odd fact that seems to run counter to the idea that Kelce has a truly golden opportunity ahead of him for the next few years, but alas it is true. Despite turning 30-years-old this coming season, the Kansas City Chiefs tight end has a real opportunity to achieve immortality—at least in a football sense.
Two days ago, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski decided to hang up his cleats. It’s a fitting time to walk away, in this same calendar year in which the greatest tight end of all time, Tony Gonzalez, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Five years from now, when Gronk is eligible for the same honor, he will likely be given the same treatment. In every way, Gronk was (and could still be) the ultimate force at his position and a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
For a while, Gronk’s exit will be a talking point as the Patriots take the field in the preseason and into September. Announcers and analysts will take note of how the Patriots look similar or different and Gronk will be properly remembered in those moments. However, football life will move on as the season wears, which means the spotlight reserved for Rob Gronkowski will find a new place to shine.
At that point, Travis Kelce will begin to realize his opportunity. There are others, to be sure, ready to also enter the conversation that has already included Kelce for the last few years. George Kittle is the rising star. Zach Ertz deserves more credit than he gets. Jared Cook has impressed as he’s aged. David Njoku or O.J. Howard are ready to make the leap. And few rookies have been as heralded as Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. The tight end position has plenty of talent to talk about.
For years, Kelce has been the 1A (or lower) to Gronkowski. Given that both the Chiefs and Pats occupy the same conference, Kelce hasn’t had to contend for best tight end in the AFC despite being the best or second-best at his position in the league. Gronk was an incredible performer, and it helped tremendously that he earned a few rings before deciding to hang it up.
This is now Travis Kelce’s chance to shine. Others will move up a notch, occupy another tier, and enjoy a bigger part of the spotlight, but there is now unquestionably a new No. 1 tight end in the NFL. It’s a bright light, one that demands greatness and competes for championships. It’s also one that leads to Canton.
If it seems a bit early to project Kelce for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, you should know that he’s already well on his way with or without Gronk around. Consider that only two tight ends in NFL history have more yards than Kelce through his first six seasons in the league (5,236 yards): Gronk and Jimmy Graham. That stat is even more ridiculous when you remember that Kelce missed his entire first season due to injury.
Given that Patrick Mahomes is now his quarterback, Kelce should expect to mirror his most recent performance in seasons ahead, assuming he can stay healthy and interested. Last year, he set career high marks in targets (150), receptions (103), receiving yards (1,336), and touchdowns (10). With more experience and greater chemistry, it’s reasonable to expect Kelce to continue to put up eye-popping numbers and cement his place on the national stage.
It will take at least two more seasons and likely three or four more from Kelce if he wants to ensure his place among the greats in Canton. Kelce will need to be known as the best tight end in the NFL for more than a single year to develop the legacy needed for enshrinement. That means staying healthy into his thirties and thriving at the same rate he is now. However, the most recent season proved that Kelce is as great a mismatch as ever. There’s simply no reason to stop believing now.
If Kelce is able to duplicate this last season’s totals across the next four seasons, it will put him over the 10,000-yard mark for his career. Even two more seasons like this one will catapult him into the top five all time and the top four are either already in the Hall (Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe) or will be soon (Jason Witten, Antonio Gates). In addition to the numbers, the very idea that he was known as “the best at his position” for a nice stretch of time will ring true in the ears of voters.
Travis Kelce is already immortalized in the hearts of Chiefs fans, and there’s little doubt that he will one day be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. But NFL greatness is now his for the taking, the rarest of opportunities for any player in any sport. It will be exciting to see if Kelce grabs the brass ring and shines in a spotlight reserved for the best.
Business decisions have to be made, but here’s why it’s hard for fans to see longtime veterans of the Kansas City Chiefs leave.
I have been a diehard Kansas City Chiefs‘ fan for almost 20 years now. Like every longtime fan, I have been through a lot of ups and downs and, in that time, the Chiefs’ organization has seen many, many players come and go. Given how poor the team was for such a long time, turnover from year to year was usually high.
A few gifted players remained in place, however, throughout a great majority of the team’s down years—names like Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Jamaal Charles, and Dwayne Bowe, just to name a few. This is a reflection on those players, who didn’t always win but came out to play every game for the fans.
It was those players that gave the fans something to watch. The team as a whole was terrible, with multiple 2-14 and 4-12 seasons in a six-year span. The organization was still struggling to get back on its feet after the death of an aging owner. This is actually relatively common in sports, for teams to struggle when an owner passes. We’re lucky that Clark Hunt has finally figured it out. For a long time, though, he didn’t.
The diehard fans stuck around. We did so to watch jaw-dropping, 90-yard sprints through a gauntlet of flying defenders by Jamaal Charles. Even during 2012’s abysmal campaign, Charles gave Chiefs’ fans something to marvel at. It seemed like every time he touched the ball we might see something extraordinary. Often times, he delivered.
We witnessed epic tackles, interceptions, and pass breakups by Eric Berry. While he became the face of our defense during the Andy Reid era, his leadership was apparent long before Big Red came to town. Iron is sharpened in the fire, and you could argue Berry’s leadership came to define him through those tough seasons, where he lost far more than he won.
We were front and center for bone-shattering sacks by Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Hali had many great games for the Chiefs, but one of my favorite memories is his three-sack performance against the Green Bay Packers in 2011, which helped lead our team to victory against a then undefeated team. While this wasn’t even close to a playoff team, Hali’s passion was always evident right up to the final whistle.
Houston was a player who began to come into his own during the last years prior to the Andy Reid era. While he didn’t experience quite the hardships on the field of the other three players mentioned, he came to embody the hard work and determination of the new look franchise under Reid. While he was never able to lead the team to the ultimate prize, his heart will never be forgotten.
It’s actually not all about wins and losses. Even though a lot of the veterans that have been jettisoned in the last couple years weren’t always winners, they were all we had. They gave us little flashes of joy when there was not much to be had elsewhere. It’s for this that they’ll always have a special place in Chiefs’ fans’ hearts. It’s for this that they’ll be remembered.