INDIANAPOLIS – It was the elephant in the room that Ryan Kelly wasn’t afraid to acknowledge.
Given how Kelly goes about his business, that’s not surprising.
Before the 2019 season arrived, Kelly knew his reliability was a must, especially if he wanted a lucrative second contract, from the team that drafted him No. 18 overall in 2016.
Kelly achieved that.
After missing 13 combined games in 2017 and 2018, Kelly was the Colts’ starting center in all 16 games this past season.
The ever-important Chris Ballard took note.
“Really proud of Ryan Kelly,” Ballard said at the end of the 2019 season. “16 weeks, fought through, tremendous leader, is really starting to understand the (entire offensive line), bringing the group together, being the leader of the O-line.
“Fun to watch his growth.”
Those compliments from Ballard have turned into the Colts beginning to have some early talks with Kelly’s agent (Jimmy Sexton) about a contract extension.
With his 27th birthday coming at the end of next week, Kelly is on the older side of most guys approaching the end of their rookie contracts.
But that shouldn’t have the Colts hesitant in eventually making Kelly one of the league’s highest paid centers for the next handful of years.
The Ohio native has made it clear he wants to remain a Colt for a long time.
“I think we have something special on our offensive line and I’d like to play my entire career in Indianapolis,” Kelly said on Wednesday, via a Zoom call with the media.
“I really believe I’ll be here for a while, I hope.”
Kelly enters the 2020 season on the final year of his rookie contract, playing on the $10.3 million team option, which ranks 7th in the league among centers.
Although, an extension coming for Kelly this offseason is quite possible. Such an extension for him would mean the Colts have their entire starting offensive line signed through at least the 2021 season.
In playing all 16 games last season, Kelly still maintains that focus of being available as his top priority.
“For me, having a few injuries earlier in my career and still dealing with a few things, it’s about how can I stay on the field as much as possible?” he says.
“The thing for me is, how do I stay on the field? Whether that’s changing my nutrition and making sure all my joints and I’m moving the way I want to, so late in November and December, I still feel as good as I did Week One.”
Expecting Kelly to remain a key building piece for the Colts is no surprise.
Earlier this spring, Frank Reich recalled his first introduction to Kelly and what followed quickly after.
“When I first got the job here a couple of years ago, he was one of the first players that I met,” Reich says. “I remember saying to Chris, if we are going to go where we want to go as an offense, then Ryan Kelly is going to have to step up and be an alpha dog.
“I didn’t realize how much of an alpha dog he is. He has been top notch. This guy has taken complete control the offensive line room as far as calls, what we do in the protection world, in the run game. He’s a really, really smart football player. He prepares very hard. He’s tough. He’s got that personality, deep voice and talks with a lot of authority. He’s not one for much small talk. He’s just barking out the signals. I think Ryan breeds confidence. When you hear him make the calls, you hear it with authority, you hear it with conviction. I think the offensive line feeds off it. Everyone talks about Quenton (Nelson) and he is our inspirational (guy) in many respects, but don’t underestimate the kind of leadership that Ryan is bringing.”
New pay day coming soon for the man in the middle?