FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Ryan Kalil would like to apologize.
The Jets newest center wouldn’t say to whom, specifically. But very generally, he wanted "to apologize to anyone publicly or behind closed doors that I criticized for retiring and coming back,” he said.
“I get it now.”
It was all very tongue and cheek, but it’s also absolutely true that when the Panthers season ended in January, Kalil was ready to hang it up. He headed west, to California, started living the quiet life in Hermosa Beach, and began to settle into the world of the 34-year-old retiree. It was nice while it lasted, which, in this case, was about two months.
By March, he started getting the itch, he said Saturday, in his first news conference since the Jets signed the five-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All Pro — a veteran presence for Sam Darnold that general manager Joe Douglas hopes can fill Josh McCown’s formidable cleats. Kalil started to work out around the same time players start getting ready for OTAs and, wouldn’t you know it, the only way he really knew how to exercise was by preparing for a football season.
The itch became a full-on rash. He wasn’t ready for his career to be over.
“To say it’s done and make that such a definitive thing, it was so finite,” Kalil said. “I had a hard time moving on. I had a hard time turning the page.”
And Douglas, brought on after the Jets big free agent signings and after the draft, saw an opportunity. He contacted Kalil’s agent right before camp and eventually, the two sides decided on a one-year, $8.4 million contract.
“I wasn’t here, but I heard how beneficial a guy like Josh was to Sam’s development last year and I really think that torch can be passed to Ryan this year, as far as continuing that development,” Douglas said. “I think it’s going to be very beneficial for Sam. We’re a young team and when you have veterans that have proven themselves and have proven to be great players in the league, young guys, they watch them every day.”
Both Darnold and Kalil played at the University of Southern California — granted, well over a decade apart. And though Kalil has struggled with injuries the last few years, he was healthy in what was supposed to be his final year in the NFL, and played every game. He had barely retired when friends and teammates began asking him if he was sure this was it.
“He’s the big reason for me being here,” Kalil said of Darnold. “I’ve been a big fan of Sam since USC and Sam and I know each other a little bit. We’ve talked in passing, in California, here. I got excited at the opportunity to come and work with him and I think obviously, given my experience, I’ve seen a lot of stuff, especially [Jets new defensive coordinator] Greg Williams — God, I hate that guy. I hate Greg Williams. He’s one of the coaches, though, if he’s on your team, you love him.”
And though the Jets are taking it slow — Kalil said he’s in shape, but not football shape, so he only watched Saturday’s scrimmage — Douglas said he’s confident they can get the duo comfortable with each other in time. Kalil, who slimmed down to 260 pounds post retirement, already has gotten back to his playing weight, and clocks in at 297. The Jets plan to use Sunday’s day off to determine how best to reintroduce Kalil to the field, Adam Gase said.
“He’s worked with young quarterbacks before,” Gase said. “That's kind of the marriage it is. I see that really helping our whole group. Once again, it creates some depth in our O-line room as well. It's another good player for us, added to that room. We need that.”
G Tyler Jones left Saturday’s scrimmage with a calf injury, Gase said. LB Harvey Langi is being evaluated for a knee injury. LT Kelvin Beachum, who limped off the field Friday, sustained a right ankle sprain, Gase said, but the Jets do not believe it to be severe.