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Chiefs GM Brett Veach not worried about 'unicorn' Travis Kelce, 34, slowing down with age

On Monday, the Kansas City Chiefs made 34-year-old Travis Kelce the highest-paid tight end in the NFL with a new two-year, $34.25 million contract.

There is no question that Kelce, a future Hall of Famer, earned the pay day as the top TE in the game and one of the best ever at the position, even as he gets up in age.

After announcing the extension on Monday, general manager Brett Veach repeatedly called Kelce an "outlier" and said he doesn't expect to see a production collapse as he ages.

"Every now and then, you have one of these guys that are outliers -- and certainly Travis is one of those players," Veach said during a news conference, via the team's official transcript. "It's funny, it's not even May yet and today we had a chance to get out there in phase two and guys were out there running around. Travis was the first guy in line, and he looked like he was 28 years old."

Of the greatest tight ends to play deep into their 30s, the production is a mixed bag, but overall numbers have consistently dwindled -- as we'd expect.

Tony Gonzalez, who played until age 37, had the best production of the late-career tight ends. The former Chief and Falcon had three seasons of 800-plus yards at age 35-plus, including a 930-yarder in 2012 at 36.

Antonio Gates never breached the 650-yard mark in four seasons at 35-plus, including two final years below the 350-yard mark. Jason Witten, who retired for a year, never came close to his career averages late in his career. Shannon Sharpe played one season at age 35, putting up 770 yards and eight touchdowns. Greg Olsen and Vernon Davis had forgettable final years at age 35.

Then there are the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Kellen Winslow, Ozzie Newsome and other greats who never made it deep into their 30s.

"Again, the odds of someone playing this far into their 30s is very low, but it does happen, and it happens with unicorns in the profession, and Travis is one of those," Veach said. "We'll certainly celebrate this with him and hopefully we can ride this thing even longer. We'll just have to wait and see, but he's shown no signs of slowing down. Everyone notices the kind of postseason he had; he just found an extra gear. These special players are always able to find that extra gear and again if anybody can do it, Travis can."

Missing two games in 2023 and dealing with multiple injuries, Kelce snapped a streak of seven seasons over the 1,000-yard mark with his 984-yard campaign. Even the veteran would admit he wasn't as spry during the regular season. But come the postseason run, Kelce was back to his dominant ways. He gobbled up 32 catches (a career postseason high) for 355 yards and three touchdowns. As he ran away from 49ers defenders after a crucial catch in the Super Bowl, Kelce looked like he could play for another handful of seasons.

For the Chiefs in 2024, the key will be balancing Kelce's workload over the course of 17 regular season games to ensure the then 35-year-old is at full force come the playoffs. The hope is that the wide receiver additions of Marquise Brown and rookie Xavier Worthy can shoulder some of the load during the long season.

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