Blocking His Way Into History

On April 29, 2006, Paul Tagliabue, in one of his last acts as NFL commissioner, declared the NFL draft open at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The Houston Texans had the number one pick, picking defensive end Mario Williams of North Carolina State. The New Orleans Saints, followed by running back Reggie Bush, who starred at Southern Cal, and the Tennessee Titans then selected Texas quarterback Vince Young.

A total of 255 players were included in the two-day draft. Today, only one of them remains on an NFL roster. Marcedes Lewis, a star tight end at UCLA, was the 28th player selected in the first round of that 2006 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. When the Green Bay Packers open camp late next month, the No. 89 will make league history. He will tie Tony Gonzales and Jason Witten for the longest career by a tight end when he begins his seventeenth season.

To put that in perspective, the Packers selected linebacker AJ Hawk with the fifth overall pick in the same 2006 draft. Hawk, who has had a solid career, has been retired for six years.

Seventeen-year careers are generally reserved for star players, enduring professionals, many of whom end up in the Hall of Famers when they finally hang up the spikes. Marcedes Lewis is perhaps the most unsung 17-year veteran in league history. He was only selected to one Pro Bowl (2010) and has never been a first-team professional. Still, he played 12 years and three contracts with the Jaguars and is close to his fifth campaign with the pack.

Green Bay signed Lewis to a one-year deal in 2018. He played in all sixteen games this season and caught exactly three passes in total. However, the Packers willingly signed him to another one-year contract in 2019, then another in 2020, and then a two-year contract in 2021. He just turned 38. What’s his secret?

It’s no mystery to his coaches or anyone who’s ever played with him on the same team. He is the poster child for hard work, lack of ego and leadership in the dressing room. Look, Lewis’ job is to block. And few have been better at it over the last two decades. Blockers rarely get headlines or fan recognition and adoration, but the team recognizes their critical value. That’s why there was always a place for Marcedes Lewis.

The California native is a massive six-foot-tall, 267-pound human understandably known to his teammates as the Big Dog. Not only is Lewis great at blocking, he loves it. “How I play the tight end position,” he recently said on OTA. “I don’t necessarily avoid people. I put people in the ground. So I’m the one enforcing that pain.”

There you have it. The perfect mentality for a blocker. Let the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, and even the other tight ends have the glory, do the highlight rolls. He’s content to get a wannabe tackler out on the street to pave the way for someone else to make a first down or throw a score. He’s also a stunner in the dressing room. Colleagues have often cited his willingness to speak out loudly to cheer or calm the troops as needed.

The delicious irony is that Lewis does his job so consistently that the defense sees him more as a member of the offensive line and forgets he’s a capable receiver. Green Bay coaches, of course, took notice, and last season they began calling games designed for Big Dog to come off a block and run to the flat, where he’s inevitably wide open. The team especially likes this game in third and short place. In 2021, Lewis actually caught 23 passes, 10 of which resulted in a first down. Is there anything a Packer fan enjoys more than watching Big Dog slam the ball down and start pounding through defenders, many of whom are shoved aside like flies off a horse?

Business leaders love him for his consistency. He’s never had a major injury. He has missed more than one game in just two of his first sixteen seasons. “It’s hard work,” he says of his off-season training program, much of which involves mixed martial arts. “I feel like if you work your butt off you put yourself in a position to catch a little bit of luck (with injuries).”

Referring to the tight end longevity record, Lewis just smiles and says, “This year I’m going to tie the record. It would be great to break it and then I’d be like, okay, I did that. Eighteen (Seasons) is kind of a bazaar.” His last contract expires after this season. To break the record, someone would have to bring him back for another campaign.

If the salary cap allows, I’m guessing the Packers would come first.

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