Jason Kelce Says He Wanted to Retire Every Year for the Last 4 Seasons but ‘Still Had It in Me’ (Exclusive)

The former Philadelphia Eagles star is adjusting to the first year in over a decade in which he won’t report to training camp — but Kelce has multiple irons in the fire, including his new partnership with Kingsford

Jason Kelce’s decision to retire from the NFL was not one the 13-year veteran center made quickly — or took lightly.

“I’ll be very honest, the last four years I’ve wanted to retire at the end of seasons,” Kelce tells PEOPLE exclusively while discussing his partnership with Kingsford, teaming up with MVP Vince Wilfork for the “King of the Grill” campaign.

He adds, “The reality is it’s really hard to get there. And even after we lost the Super Bowl, I wanted to come back and play for another Super Bowl. But imagining another 17 games on top of playoffs and coming back was very difficult to envision being able to do.”

Jason Kelce for Kingsford Charcoal

Yet the former Philadelphia Eagles star, 36, realized that the past season was different from earlier campaigns.

“Those previous three years, I felt like I still had it in me and still wanted to and still could play at the level I felt I wanted to be able to play at and go out there and compete,” he says. “And after stepping away this year, it just was more and more evident after the season that my body is telling me to stop. I don’t think I could play another season at the way I want to and the way that’s going to make me happy.”

Jason Kelce for Kingsford Charcoal

He continues, “If I’m being quite honest, even the last year at times, it wasn’t what I wanted, and part of that is because of where my body was at. So all those things culminated into the decision.”

The will-he-or-won’t-he narrative plagued Kelce throughout his last season, and it was a running theme of his Prime Video documentary, Kelce, which premiered in September 2023.

But for the husband and father of three young daughters, deciding to finally retire came as a “relief,” he says.

“Yeah, I mean, no matter what decision you’re making, when it’s weighing on you, there’s going to be relief,” Kelce tells PEOPLE. “So the year before with the documentary with my wife and I, it was an incredible relief to announce that I was playing again because I’m no longer going back and forth on this thing that’s like hanging over your head. And the same thing happened this year when I decided it was time to retire. It was an incredible relief to not have to be racking my brain over what the right decision is or what I want to do.”

He adds, “But then what was different about this year was when it came to officially announce that publicly, it was incredibly nerve-wracking and anxious to the maximum. And so I had some relief and I finally privately made the decision.”

Despite the Eagles’ frustrating season, which ended in a wild card playoff loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kelce says he waited until after the final game to ultimately announce his intention.
“I don’t think you can realistically make that decision accurately, and I don’t want to speak for everybody,” he says. “I guess some people probably do know when it’s in the middle of the season that they can’t do it anymore. But for me, I feel like in order to really be in the right headspace to make a decision like that, you need to be away from football for a little bit. You need to recharge and kind of figure out where you’re at at the end of the year.”

The Ohio native’s emotional retirement speech on March 4 spanned 45 minutes, where the athlete — dressed in a sleeveless black Eagles tank and flip-flops — tearfully announced he was stepping away from pro football.

Jason Kelce for Kingsford Charcoal

As his family, including his wife Kylie, brother Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, mother Donna Kelce and father Ed Kelce looked on, Jason spoke from his heart — which were sentiments that began when he started jotting them down in the Notes app on his phone.

“I write down little things almost like a journal from time to time, and a lot of those things have been key moments and semblances of my career throughout my time in the NFL and things that I’ve written down and taken notes on before,” he says. “So a lot of it was reading it to Kylie, one for myself to feel how it sounded actually saying it. Two, to try and figure out how to organize all of these thoughts.”

He adds, “At first, it’s just a jumble of a bunch of different things that don’t really have the flow of what would be necessary to orate a speech. So you’re trying to figure out how to figure out which ones go where, which ones do we leave in? So Kylie was definitely instrumental in trying to decide all these things. I think at the end of the day you have all these different thoughts and ideas that sound good to you or might make sense to you, but ultimately the person listening to it is the most important. That’s the whole reason that you’re talking. I think we probably went over it twice together and then I read it to other people as well. And it probably took a couple weeks to really get it to where I felt comfortable going up there and saying it publicly.”

Kelce has new projects that will continue to keep him in the public eye, such as his partnership with Kingsford and his new gig on Monday Night Football.

But don’t expect the elder Kelce brother — who has been routinely spotted at the Eagles training facility for what he calls the “great free weight room” and “free food” — to give up on his love of the game.

“I’ve played in the NFL for a very long time,” he says. “I have not been able to experience it as a fan for the most part. So obviously I’ll be working Monday nights, but that means Sundays are open, Thursdays are open. So I got some time to potentially take in the actual game-day atmosphere from a different lens now that the playing days are behind.”

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