It’s crazy to think someone could rise to the pinnacle of NFL general manager — the position solely responsible for making roster and personnel decisions — all while not knowing football.
In The Athletic’s weekly “Pick Six” column, NFL senior writer Mike Sando laid out some of the reasons the Chiefs have underachieved and where they are headed in the postseason. Inside the breakdown, Sando dropped an interesting nugget of reporting: One anonymous general manager basically trashed Kansas City’s 34-year-old tight end.
“That’s funny you say that,” the GM said. “I watched him run down that Hail Mary (against Green Bay) and I thought he could almost be done. I say that understanding that he has been productive at times this year. But do you know what the first sign of decline is for a player like Travis Kelce? That he is not the same player late in the season. It means his body is not recovering.”
Sando went on to cite Kelce’s career-low 11.2 yards per reception as a sign of decline. He also offered one counter to the GM’s claims of an anonymous offensive coordinator.
“Kelce is good,” the coach said. “He’s never been good lining up and hitting an old press man on him, but they do such a good job of moving him, signaling him, changing routes, and a lot of catches come on Mahomes’ scramble when people lose track of him.”
To be honest, the general manager’s comments are pretty laughable. Does Kelce look like he’s still at the peak of his powers? No, and I can’t name a tight end who still served as an elite offensive weapon at 34.
However, to call Kelce “almost done” is just to deny reality. Want volume stats? Kelce leads all tight ends in receiving yards (896) and is tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns (5, sitting behind a three-way tie at 6). Do you want efficiency statistics? Kelce’s “career-low” 11.2 yards per target is still fifth in the league among tight ends, while her 8.7 yards per target is third. According to 33rd on the team’s The Edge, Kelce’s 2.50 yards per route run is tied with George Kittle for the best in the league among tight ends with at least 50 routes. Want advanced stats? Kelce is second among tight ends (min. 30 targets) in receiving DYAR and fourth in DVOA. He is also PFF’s second-highest-rated tight end on the season.
Even by Kelce’s historically high standards, he’s having a good year. Kelce is 104 yards away from his eighth straight 1,000-yard season. His 77.7 percent catch rate is the highest of his career. He is on pace to set a new career mark in receiving totals. On one of the largest workloads by volume of his career, Kelce is posting the third-highest success rate of his career.
Again there are signs of decline. According to ProFootballReference’s advanced stats, Kelce’s average depth of 7.6 would be the third lowest since 2018 (as far back as PFR’s advanced stats track). His 4.7 yards per catch per reception is the second lowest over the last six years.
Part of that – especially the ability to separate after catching – can be linked to age. But a big part of that is also the Chiefs’ overall situation. Mahomes’ 6.9 intended yards per attempt are the lowest mark of his career. Kansas City lead the league in dropped passes, most of those coming from an inexperienced (also not very good) receiving corps. The four-time All-Pro tight end is the only receiving weapon Kansas City has. That means he gets tougher coverage assignments, which in turn means handing off to Kelce is going to get a little tougher.
One thing the anonymous GM got right, though, is that Kelce probably won’t age as gracefully as other tight ends. The natural life cycle of a modern tight end usually requires them to transition into blocking-centric roles in their twilight years. Kelce is notoriously not a good blocker. Kansas City rarely uses him to block past an outside slide. If he has to become a down-to-down blocking tight end in heavy personnel packages late in his career, he probably won’t last that long.
That said, Kelce is still playing at an elite level. He has regressed, yes. That regression, at least on a personal level, only comes down from “the greatest offensive tight end in NFL history” to “a top-three tight end in the league.” Kelce is an extremely healthy player, having missed two regular season games since becoming a full-time starter in 2015. He continues to put up numbers that 90 percent of the league wishes could come from their tight ends.
It’s fair to say the Chiefs are having a bad year offensively. It is not right to lie.