Free-agent tight end Marcedes Lewis awaits call for a record-setting 18th NFL season

By Mark Long

Well before sunrise at a posh rental home in Mexico, Marcedes Lewis is working out. He’s running sprints, lifting weights, jumping boxes, hitting heavy bags. It’s how he starts his days, even on vacation.

It’s also how the now-39-year-old Lewis stays ready for a phone call he believes is coming, one that will get him back in the NFL for what would be a record-setting 18th season.

The free-agent tight end, a guy nicknamed “Big Dog” because of his 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame and his adept leadership, anxiously awaits a chance to join a new team. He hopes it happens before training camps open next month but also understands it could take an unforeseen injury somewhere for him to strike a deal.

“I get the business side of it,” Lewis told The Associated Press this week. “My agent is in talks with a handful of teams, but it’s just small talk. I guess teams are trying to figure out their rosters and what they need.

“But if you just look at my film from the last three years, there’s no decline in what I’m able to do. I’m the best blocking tight end out there.”

Last year, Lewis tied Dallas’ Jason Witten and Kansas City’s Tony Gonzalez for the most seasons by a tight end in NFL history. One more would leave him alone atop the list.

A first-round draft pick by Jacksonville in 2006, Lewis has played in 251 games and logged roughly 10,000 snaps over 17 NFL seasons. He totaled 375 catches for 4,502 yards and 33 scores in 12 years with the Jaguars — all franchise records for a tight end — and made his lone Pro Bowl in 2010.

FILE - Green Bay Packers tight end Marcedes Lewis (89) runs off the field after an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, in Orchard Park, N.Y. Veteran NFL tight end Marcedes Lewis wants to go out on top. The 39-year-old Lewis is a free agent and is anxiously awaiting a chance to play an 18th season. (AP Photo/Bryan Bennett, File)

FILE – Green Bay Packers tight end Marcedes Lewis (89) runs off the field after an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bryan Bennett, File)

Jacksonville unceremoniously dumped Lewis in 2018. He quickly landed in Green Bay, where he spent the past five years and became close friends with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receiver Davante Adams and others. He was used primarily as a blocker with the Packers, finishing with 57 receptions for 582 yards and six TDs.

His chances of returning to Green Bay shrunk considerably when Rodgers was traded to the New York Jets and then the Pack added two tight ends in April’s NFL draft: Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave in the second round and South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft in the third.

Following Rodgers and his former offensive coordinator (Nathaniel Hackett) in Jacksonville and Green Bay to New York still could happen, but the Jets currently have six tight ends on their roster.

“It is very common for new faces to want old faces to be able to come in and help accelerate the installation of an entire program,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said last month, adding “you never know” when asked specifically about the possibility of signing Lewis.

Lewis figured reuniting with Adams in Las Vegas — a short flight from his daughter and home in Los Angeles — might be an option, especially after the Raiders traded Darren Waller, but then they moved up to take Notre Dame standout Michael Mayer in the second round.

Sixteen tight ends were drafted in all, including an NFL-record nine in the first three rounds. That leaves fewer spots for backups across the league, but Lewis considers himself an ideal role model for any rookie.

After all, he’s never been suspended, has missed just one game in the past six seasons and has a sterling reputation as a teammate.

“For older players, there’s two things where they could potentially not get picked up,” Lewis said. “One is that their play is declining for their role. The second thing is they’re asking for too much money. I’m neither of those. I just want to compete.”

Lewis missed offseason team activities for the first time since he was awaiting a new contract in 2011; watching from afar this time around felt “weird and awkward.” He focused on staying in shape, which has come easy for him throughout his career. He even has a minority ownership stake in a health and wellness social club.

Even though he made nearly $4 million last season and has more than $60 million in career earnings, wanting at least one more accrued season has nothing to do with money. Being the only tight end in NFL history to play 18 seasons would be a testament to his ability and his durability.

“When I was playing Pop Warner at 7 or 8 years old, the only thing I could think about was just trying to be the best in my hood,” he said. “I did that, learned how to compete in high school and did really well in college — getting inducted into the UCLA Hall of Fame last year was big for me — but now to be potentially going into my 18th year, it means a lot.

“It just shows that hard work does pay off. I’m excited for it. I’m antsy. I want to hurry up and figure out where I’m going to be. But it’s definitely an honor to still be able to do it.”

The Associated Press is an independent, non-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in New York City. Our teams in over 100 countries tell the world’s stories, from breaking news to investigative reporting. We provide content and services to