Colts Make Ryan Kelly the NFL’s Highest-Paid Center with $50 Million Extension
Phillip B. Wilson
INDIANAPOLIS — Ryan Kelly is old school, which means the anchor to the Indianapolis Colts offensive line shrugged about the distinction of becoming the NFL’s highest-paid center with a four-year, $50-million extension on Thursday afternoon.
The fifth-year pro said he would probably celebrate by picking up a six-pack of beer and a pizza on the way home from the Colts complex. Or maybe even buy a set of tires.
Contract terms, which include $34 million guaranteed, were first reported by ESPN Senior NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
“I guess the one thing I’ve learned in this business is even if you’re the highest-paid, you’re going to be the highest-paid for it could be a week, it could be a year,” Kelly said in a Zoom video call. “Someone is going to jump you eventually.
“I’m sure when the first $30 million quarterback happened, everybody was like, ‘Ooh, holy crap.’ But in my opinion, it’s about going out there every single day and doing my job. That’s honestly what I care about doing. You don’t play the game for free. You’re going out there and putting your body on the line every single Sunday. It’s awesome.”
Kelly, 27, is coming off his first Pro Bowl and anchors an offensive line that was the NFL’s only group without a missed start in 2019. The O-line opened holes for the seventh-ranked rushing offense (133.1 yards per game), the first time the Colts have been in the top 10 in rushing since 2001. The Colts were also ninth in fewest sacks allowed.
The 2016 first-round selection, chosen 18th overall, confided that he had hoped to end up with the Colts. He’s from West Chester, Ohio, so that meant family and friends would have a two-hour drive to see him play.
“I didn’t want to go anywhere else, to be honest,” he said. “I never told anybody that besides my agent. I didn't want to go play in Seattle, it’s too far away. Indianapolis is two hours from my house. This would be awesome to have my parents come and see all my games, my grandpa, all my grandparents, aunts, and uncles.”
Kelly recalled with a smile how impressive it was to be picked up by Colts owner Jim Irsay’s private jet for a 17-minute flight to the Colts complex to introduce him to the media in 2017.
He first called his fiancee, Emma, with the news of his extension, couldn’t reach his mother at work, then did a FaceTime with his father.
Kelly’s voice cracked and he got emotional about how he wouldn’t be where he is without the support of his family and friends.
“I wouldn’t be here without ‘em,” he said, clearing his throat.
The Colts have several players entering contract years, most notably wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, defensive end Justin Houston, and running back Marlon Mack. Quarterback Philip Rivers signed a one-year, $25 million deal for 2020.
But Kelly, who has started all 51 games in his career, was evidently the first priority for Colts general manager Chris Ballard, who shared some kind words with the center after the deal was done.
“This is the leadership role that I’ve always wanted for you,” Kelly said, paraphrasing Ballard’s message. “This is just an extension of what you can do for us and how valuable you are to our team.”
Kelly admitted there were some stressful moments in the negotiation, but said he understood it’s a business and the first offer isn’t always the best one. He’s grateful his contract won’t become a distraction during the regular season.
“I am glad it got done,” he said.
(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is email@example.com.)