In January 2018, Ryan Kalil announced he would retire after the upcoming season. The five-time Pro Bowl center had missed 18 games between the 2016 and ’17 seasons. But after a 16-game 2018 slate, the 34-year-old pivot is back in the league as a member of the Jets.
The 13th-year blocker addressed his decisions to retire, and then return, in a lengthy interview with The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue (subscription required).
“I think a lot of that stemmed from the fact that I had two tough injuries back to back that were keeping me off the field,” Kalil said, via Rodrigue, referencing the respective shoulder and neck maladies in 2016 and ’17. “I think I sort of saw it as a sign that maybe it was time to move on, and maybe make peace with that. (In 2018), I had one year left on my deal. And so I kind of wanted to force myself to really enjoy my time there.
“And then … what happened was I felt good. I felt great. I finished the season, and I didn’t miss a game. And obviously that was not how I envisioned the end there, and it just kind of stuck with me.'”
The Jets exited last season with the NFL’s worst adjusted line yards figure, per Football Outsiders, but did not make many moves to upgrade their front. They traded for Kelechi Osemele, but going into camp, Gang Green was potentially set to return four starters from a maligned front. Jonotthan Harrison, whom since-fired GM Mike Maccagnan re-signed on a low-cost deal, was the favorite to reprise his role as the Jets’ first-string center. Until Joe Douglas began talking to Kalil’s agent.
“I expressed interest in maybe wanting to do another year, be one of those mercenary players that comes in and fills a role, and so I just mentioned it to my agent and told him to keep his ears on the ground to see if anything came up,” Kalil said. “I said it had to be the right situation. … And the Jets came up. (My agent) called me about a month later, and we started talking about it. Then, we started talking with the general manager for the Jets, and it started manifesting into something that might possibly be real, as I continued to train and get stronger and back into playing shape.”
Kalil has gained back almost 40 pounds, after dropping to 260 during his retirement phase, and spoke to several former Panthers teammates about joining another team. The reported value of Kalil’s deal is $8.4MM, but incentives comprise an unknown portion of the contract. The Jets, though, carried considerable cap space (more than $20MM) into camp.
This will also mark the fourth straight year the Jets will deploy a new starting center, with Kalil following Nick Mangold (2016), Wesley Johnson (’17) and Spencer Long (’18). Harrison filled in toward the end of last season. That may or may not extend to five centers in five years in 2020, with Kalil tabling retirement talk this time around.
“Well, that’s the one lesson I’ve learned — I’m going to stay in the moment. I think it’s a fair question, but I’m going to see how I feel at the end of the year,” Kalil said.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.