Making the case of ‘veteran rest days’ for Chris Jones, Travis Kelce

This offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs made clear that defensive tackle Chris Jones and tight end Travis Kelce will play major roles in continued success, likely in 2024 and beyond.

Jones — who was set to be the highest-profile defensive free agent available this spring — signed a five-year contract to remain in Kansas City. He can reportedly earn up to $158.8 million as the interior pass rusher attempts to build his case to eventually be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Kelce’s eventual selection to football immortality is essentially a formality at this point. The longest-tenured Chief and the club agreed to a contract adjustment in April that makes him the league’s highest-paid tight end through 2025.

Now undisputably the league’s top interior pass rusher following Aaron Donald’s retirement, Jones turned 30 this offseason earlier this month. Kelce now appears set to play at least through what will be his age-36 season.

With so much dependent on production from the two veteran players, it is fair to ask if the Chiefs will be in on an increasing trend: scheduled veteran rest days during the week’s practices.

The Chiefs’ top players have been remarkably healthy. Since entering the league in 2016, Jones has missed only six games due to injury (with another missed game in 2021 due to COVID protocols before missing last season’s opener in a contract dispute).

In that same span, Kelce has missed only one game due to injury. He also missed a game in 2021 due to the pandemic and has thrice rested the final week of the season with the Chiefs’ playoff seeding already determined.

Early in the 2023 season, Kelce and Jones — in vastly different ways — may have made a case for joining some of their aging leaguewide peers in receiving rest days on the weekly injury report.

The one game Kelce has missed to injury since 2014, was the same season opener Jones watched from a suite at Arrowhead Stadium. He injured his knee during the week’s practice, and the ailment clearly affected him at times as he narrowly missed an eighth consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season.

Detroit Lions v Kansas City Chiefs

After being away from the team during training camp and not rejoining the Chiefs until Week 2, Jones hardly looked unconditioned from the missed practices. Once on the field, he totaled 5.5 sacks over his first five games.

The Chiefs in 2023 did not use a veteran rest designation in any of the team’s weekly injury reports, though the team listed multiple key players as OUT – coaching decision for the team’s meaningless Week 18 contest against the Los Angeles Chargers. Other teams, however, routinely list players as out for non-injury-related rest.

In his final season with the Los Angeles Rams, Donald frequently sat out of the week’s final practice with the designation. Most weeks, he was joined by center Brian Allen.

Trent Williams — arguably the league’s best left tackle — was scratched for the first day of practice for the San Francisco 49ers for each game he played on a regular schedule (Williams participated in each practice for Thursday night games, and he missed a portion of the season with a high-ankle sprain). Defensive end Nick Bosa, tight end George Kittle, running back Christian McCaffrey and linebacker Dre Greenlaw were also listed for various weeks as not practicing for veteran rest.

Looking at the Chiefs’ opponent injury reports, other players listed as receiving veteran rest included Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith, Chicago Bears tight end Marcedes Lewis, Detroit Lions center Frank Ragnow and Buffalo Bills pass rusher Von Miller.

Having recently been quoted as saying he will play “until the wheels fall off,” Kelce has shown no sign of wanting scheduled regular time off. The 2023 season, however, suggests that maybe scaling him back during the week to maximize his health on Sundays could be a wise decision.

AFC Championship - Kansas City Chiefs v Baltimore Ravens

Jones, on the other hand, has been adamant about wanting some veteran rest days later this month at the team’s training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph. As time passes, it isn’t a stretch to assume he will covet the treatment Donald and Williams have received from their clubs.

Because of the team’s relative youth during the recent run of success, managing veteran bodies has not been a major concern for the Chiefs. Whether the team uses a rest designation or overreports minor injuries that could be true for any NFL player, it would be wise to start shortening the week’s work for Jones and Kelce in hopes of having them fully available for more franchise-defining moments.

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