Two days after the Super Bowl, with signs already pointing to Jason Kelce’s return, Cam Jurgens was asked how he would mentally handle another season without going to center.
“I’m fine no matter what,” Jurgens said last month during locker cleaning day at the NovaCare Complex. “If I have to learn under (Kelce) for another year, or play alongside him for another year, it’ll be fine either way.”
Kelce made it official on Monday: he announced that he would be back for a 13th season. But his blocking of Jurgens in the middle doesn’t have to be one scenario or the other. The second-year offensive lineman can both mentor Kelce and play alongside him as a backup to Isaac Seumalo at right guard.
Seumalo, who was set to become a free agent on Wednesday, had yet to agree terms with another team Monday night, but Kelce’s return and the goaltender’s expected market value all but guarantee his departure.
READ MORE: Jason Kelce delays retirement, says he’ll return to Eagles for 13th season
He’s drifted under the radar for a variety of reasons, but Seumalo may have had his best season in 2022 and just moving Jurgens in his place doesn’t mean he’ll be as productive. The vacancy, however, allows the Eagles to finally remove the practice wheels from their second-round draft pick.
The promotion won’t come to its projected position, but with salary cap constraints coming with quarterback Jalen Hurts’ slated contract extension and general manager Howie Roseman’s investment in the Nebraska product, Jurgens isn’t. more of a luxury the Eagles can keep in the bubble wrap.
Embracing Kelce’s comeback the way Roseman did — he downed a glass of mezcal with center when told at the NFL combine nearly two weeks ago — was a no-brainer. The future Hall of Famer not only remains at the top of his profession, but the leadership and coaching insight he brings to the Eagles is immeasurable.
But Monday’s deal will cost an estimated $14 million next season and set back Jurgens’ rise. If he can move on to playing guard without there being a major demotion, then the decision to select him without there being an immediate need won’t be as bad.
If Jurgens struggles to the point of having to be benched – and it’s not like there’s ever been a precedent for that (see: Seumalo, 2017) – then it could be three seasons away. before he reports a significant return.
He never played guard before the NFL and lined up there for just one snap last season against the Bears. The 6-foot-3, 303-pound Jurgens also doesn’t have a prototypical height for the position. He practiced at both locations during the regular season, but whenever left guard Landon Dickerson needed a spell, it was Andre Dillard who got the go-ahead.
READ MORE: Source: Eagles OT Andre Dillard agrees to $29 million contract with Titans
Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland lamented not having a training camp to work Jurgens at guard – he was limited to center as Kelce recovered from elbow surgery – but it was only a minor setback.
Initial feedback on Jurgens in the middle has been mostly positive, however. As Kelce recovered from elbow surgery, the rookie handled first-team duties throughout pre-season. He looked like a clone of the weird athletic veteran in some ways.
Jurgens also got a taste of the regular season and playoffs with 37 center snaps on clean duty. Kelce hasn’t missed a start in 149 consecutive games, including the playoffs, but Jurgens is apparently ready if the 35-year-old eventually collapses.
Kelce benefited from the Eagles’ shortened practices and rest days that the team’s coaching staff suggested to veterans. He came the closest to retirement after a grueling and injury-plagued 2018 season, but he’s apparently needed less time each year since to decide whether to return.
The Eagles are coming off a Super Bowl run, Hurts offers the most optimism the team has had at quarterback in years, and coach Nick Sirianni has delivered a winning offensive scheme and culture – all the reasons that Kelce previously cited for another go-around.
He approved of Jurgens’ draft selection – not that Roseman based his decision on any player’s assessment – but Kelce owes nothing to his eventual successor. He tutored the rookie and was often the good cop to Stoutland’s bad cop at roster meetings. The coach calls on all of his charges, but Jurgens had to keep his lead on a swivel.
“I have a lot,” he said. “But it was a good year. If I need to know in the future, why not now?”
READ MORE: In Howie We Trust: Eagles enter free agency led by NFL’s top GM Roseman
His future at the centre, however, will continue to be on hold. Jurgens has his first full offseason as a pro to build strength if he moves to guard. Kelce can help against bigger inside linemen, but moving from the center provides a break from two of the necessities of the job.
“You don’t slam the ball to guard and you don’t have to make all the calls,” Jurgens said. “But you still do a lot of the same things. You’re still blocking a 300 pound man coming your way.
“And it’s hard work.”
It seems anything but his.