What would possess an offensive lineman to play 20 seasons in the NFL? Some of it’s complicated. Plenty of it’s not.

The scenes and stories behind Jason Peters’ unprecedented run:

1. Head pounding, pride hurt, anger simmering, Peters was done with the sport before he ever started.

He was 14, a freshman in high school. It was the summer of 1996. Ten minutes into the first practice of his life, Peters slipped in a box-jumping drill, cracked his head against the wood and felt a lump starting to swell. The pain intensified. He thought he might pass out. He told the coach he needed to see a trainer, a nurse, someone.

“If you walk off this field,” the coach warned him, “you’re done.”

Peters walked off anyway, looking for help, resolute that he’d never play for that coach again. Who needed football, anyway? And for two years, the biggest, most gifted athlete at Queen City High in east Texas stuck to his word. He didn’t play as a freshman. Didn’t play as a sophomore.

By the time he was a junior, that same coach was begging him to reconsider.

“We need you,” the coach kept telling him. “We need you.”

Finally, Peters gave in. He became the best player on the team, this towering defensive end no one could block and who doubled as this towering tight end no one wanted to tackle. Word spread. College programs started to show interest. “I might have a chance to keep playing after high school,” Peters told himself.

This was a different era, Peters points out. Back then, no one had heard of a five-star recruit.

“I was a blue-chipper, man. That’s what they called five-stars back then.”

2. He arrived at Arkansas in the fall of 2000 as a highly touted defensive end but couldn’t get on the field. After redshirting, then riding the bench for a full season, he decided to transfer. He sat down the Razorbacks’ coach, Houston Nutt, and told him his decision.

If he moved on, Nutt reminded him, he’d have to sit out a year.

“That’s fine,” Peters said, calling the coach’s bluff. “I’ll just work my tail off at the next place and get on the field that way.”

But Nutt wouldn’t let him leave. He pleaded.

“Just give me one more year,” the coach said.

Fine, Peters said. He’d give Arkansas one last shot.

“What coach didn’t tell me,” Peters says now, laughing just a bit, “is that he was moving me to tight end.”

Initially, he was skeptical. How many tight ends weigh 300 pounds?

But Peters wasn’t just any 300-pounder — he had the footwork of a point guard, a byproduct of his basketball days back in Queen City. He snared four touchdowns in an early-season practice and told himself, “OK, this might actually work.” His junior year, he finished third on the team in catches and hauled in five touchdowns, enough to earn an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine the following spring. Even now, all these years later, his tape is something to behold.

3. He still remembers what an assistant coach told him his rookie year in Buffalo, and how much it pissed him off.

It’s been so long, Peters can’t even remember the coach’s name. He was sitting in a meeting, getting ripped after a lousy day of practice, just trying to keep his job for another week.

“You’ll never play as long as I played!” the coach screamed.

Peters stored those words away, never letting them leave his mind. The coach had played forever — something like 17 or 18 years in the league, Peters remembers — and he knew the odds were against anyone in that room lasting half that long. “The average NFL career is three seasons,” Peters says. “That’s it. Three seasons and you’re done.”

He couldn’t help but chuckle at that memory a few years back, when his 16th season became his 17th, then his 18th, then his 19th. Somehow, he had lasted longer than that coach, and he still wasn’t finished.

Tom Brady played 20 years,” Peters would tell close friends, “so why can’t I?”

4. Peters’ longtime agent, Vincent Taylor, remembers what teams told him before the 2004 draft. They loved Peters’ build but worried about his bulk. He was north of 300 pounds. Tight ends aren’t supposed to weight 300 pounds.

“Once he gets the money,” one team warned Taylor, “he could be a hamburger away from being out of the league.”

Taylor wouldn’t even let teams weigh his client at the combine.

Some scouts saw Peters as a blocking tight end, essentially a sixth lineman. Others envisioned him moving to offensive tackle, a position he’d never played. The hope was he’d go as high as the fourth round, but on draft day, he and Taylor sat there, waiting. Hours passed. The fourth round came and went. Nothing. The fifth. Nothing. The sixth. Nothing. Finally, late in the seventh, the Chiefs called Taylor, telling him they were ready to take Peters with the 231st selection.

They had just one question: was he willing to switch positions?

Taylor handed Peters the phone, urging him to sound enthused.

Peters nodded, but enthused wasn’t his style. Not then. Not now.

“Can you play offensive line for us?” the Chiefs exec asked.

“OK,” Peters replied.

Maybe it was the tone. Maybe it was the bluntness. Either way, the Chiefs weren’t sold. They pivoted. Pick 231 came, and they took an offensive tackle out of Syracuse named Kevin Sampson instead.

Peters never heard his name called.

Sampson started seven career games. On Dec. 10, Peters played in his 247th.

5. Peters joined the league in 2004, when his current coach, Pete Carroll, was knee-deep in a dynasty at USC and the two running backs he’s created holes for in Seattle this season, Kenneth Walker III and Zach Charbonnet, were toddlers.

He’s in Year 20, the oldest player in football, on his fourth team in four seasons, trying to block edge rushers two decades his junior. After a gilded 11-year run in Philadelphia, where Peters grew into the game’s best left tackle and a bedrock of one of the league’s most bruising offensive lines, he was content with all he’d accomplished: nine Pro Bowls, six All-Pro selections, a Super Bowl ring, $113 million in career earnings.

But he wasn’t ready to close the door. Not yet. He’d never grown tired of the work, the weekly grind, the rush of Sundays. Sixteen years in the league and his love for the game hadn’t faded.

Plus, what that coach had told him his rookie year in Buffalo still hung in his mind, gnawing at him enough to keep the door open.

You’ll never play as long as I played.

Jason Peters works to keep Khalil Mack at bay during a 2019 playoff game at Soldier Field. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

6. He left Philly after the 2020 season, uncertain what his future would look like. He settled back in Queen City and kept training. He decided he wouldn’t wait by the phone, hoping a team would call.

But he’d answer if one did.

“After Philly, I was cool with everything I’d done,” Peters says. “But I can’t lie, the competitor in me was still there.”

Then his phone buzzed.

“You wanna come up to Chicago and help us out?” Juan Castillo asked.

Castillo had been Peters’ first offensive line coach in Philly. He couldn’t tell him no. He signed with the Bears and made 15 starts in 2021, allowing six sacks across 485 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus. He wasn’t all-world Jason Peters, but he’d shown he could still survive at one of the game’s most unforgiving positions. A year later the Cowboys called, and he had no issue suiting up for the Eagles’ chief rival — “that’s my hometown team,” the native Texan says.

This fall, it was Carroll and the tackle-needy Seahawks who reached out. They signed Peters to the practice squad in September, then after he worked through a quad injury, threw him into a two-man rotation with Stone Forsythe at right tackle. “You know how hard it is playing on the right side after you’ve been on the left for almost 20 years?” Peters admitted to Forsythe at one point.

In his first game, Peters found himself on an island against one of the most disruptive pass-rushers in the league, Cleveland’s Myles Garrett. He held his own. “A guy who is an incredible football player looked like a regular guy in those moments,” Carroll said of Garrett after the Seahawks’ 24-20 win, heaping praise on his 41-year-old tackle.

“He played in an NFL football game in his 20th season. Man, that’s a remarkable accomplishment. Somebody has to go find George Blanda’s record.”

Blanda, a quarterback-turned-kicker late in his career, played until he was 48. At 41, Peters is the oldest offensive tackle in league history and the second-oldest offensive lineman ever (Ray Brown, a guard, played at age 43 in playoffs after the 2005 season).

Offensive linemen to play past 40

PLAYERPOSITIONTEAMAGE OF LAST GAMEYEAR
Ray BrownGuardRedskins432006
Jason Peters*TackleSeahawks412023
Jackie SlaterTackleRams411995
Jeff Van NoteCenterFalcons401996
Bruce MatthewsCenterTitans402002
Andrew WhitworthTackleRams402022
*active

Two weeks later, Peters played so well the Seahawks ditched the rotation and left him in for 56 snaps against Washington. Already stout in pass protection, Peters was central to Seattle’s second-half eruption in the run game, clearing lanes for Walker and Charbonnet in a 29-26 win.

How many 41-year-olds can do that?

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s one of them,” Carroll said. “What does it take? Whatever he’s got … he’s got great feet and quickness. You would think as you get older, you would lose that, but he has the ability to move and change direction and redirect, stuff that guys who are young don’t have.”

“The ageless wonder,” Seahawks QB Geno Smith called him.

With Abe Lucas back from a knee injury suffered earlier this season, Peters’ snaps have dipped. He saw just six in a Week 14 loss to the 49ers. But with his on-field role reduced, his presence is still felt. Every player in his position room is at least 14 years younger. At the very least, he’s an assistant offensive line coach without the title.

The Seahawks, who’ve lost four straight after a 6-3 start, are playing for their postseason lives Monday night against a team Peters knows well: the Eagles.

7. The biggest change from the start of his career to now, Peters says, is the body type he sees across the line of scrimmage. In the early days, he’d face defensive ends — Jason Taylor, Michael Strahan and Simeon Rice, to name a few — who won almost exclusively with power. Now, Peters says, the edge rushers he sees are smaller, quicker, more agile.

“These young guys are slippery,” he explains. “Nick Bosa don’t rush the same way Jason Taylor used to.”

But Taylor wasn’t the toughest to block.

Strahan wasn’t, either. Or Rice.

“For me, it was Dwight Freeney by far,” Peters says. “You know why? Because all his rushes look exactly the same. He set you up better than anyone. His speed rush looked just like the bull rush. The bull rush looked just like the spin. The spin started like the rest of them. Man, he was slippery. Hardest guy to stay in front of I’ve ever seen.”

8. The men who taught Peters how to be a pro early in his career are now in their late 40s and early 50s, decades removed from their playing days. Troy Vincent is 53 and has been working at the league office since 2010. Lawyer Milloy is 50 and has kids in college. London Fletcher is 48 and has been retired for a decade.

Peters is a month from 42 and still playing.

Back in Buffalo, in the mid-2000s, he’d watch those three on the practice field and in the locker room. He’d study their habits, memorize their routines and make mental notes. He used to marvel at the fact that Fletcher not only never missed a game, but also never missed a practice. “Ever,” Peters points out. “Not one.”

After waiting for hours on draft day, then never hearing his name called, Peters had options as a free agent. He ultimately picked the Bills because he believed their tight end room was thin and it’d help his chances of getting on the field. The signing bonus was $5,000.

He was cut after his first training camp, then signed to the practice squad. He didn’t get elevated to the roster until November, and by season’s end was targeted in the passing game just once — an incompletion. He was a special teams grunt, an afterthought, and deep down, was growing frustrated.

He made a promise to himself.

“Three years, that’s it,” he said. “My goal was to stay in the league three years.”

But for those looking, the flashes were there, this untapped talent looking for a home. As a practice squad tight end, Peters often worked against the Bills’ No. 1 defense. One day he spent the entire practice blocking the team’s top pass rusher, Aaron Schobel, who’d just signed a six-year, $28 million contract, one of the richest in the league at the time.

Snap after snap, Peters owned him. Dominated him. At times, embarrassed him.

This went on for an hour. At one point, Schobel had enough.

“You’re going too hard for practice, man,” he told the rookie. “You’re making me look bad.”

Peters shrugged him off.

“If you want me to stop, the coaches are gonna have to tell me to stop,” he shot back.

After the season, Peters sat down with head coach Mike Mularkey for his exit interview. “You know,” Mularkey told him, “the offensive line coach keeps asking about you.”

“I don’t care where I play,” Peters said. “As long as I’m playing.”

So, for Year 2, he’d try something different.

By midseason he was the starter at right tackle. A year later he moved to the left side. Nine Pro Bowls would follow. So would a spot on the NFL’s all-decade team.

“The most impressive physical athlete I’ve ever played with,” says Jason Kelce, the Eagles’ longtime center.

9. Peters has lined up in front of 24 starting quarterbacks in his career, from Drew Bledsoe back in 2004 to, most recently, Drew Lock in Week 14.

Ask him favorite teammate, and he thinks about it for a moment, scanning the years. He’s had thousands.

Lane Johnson,” he finally says, referring to the Eagles’ right tackle. “He’s like my brother.”

Johnson arrived in Philadelphia as the fourth pick in 2013, five years into Peters’ run there. He took him under his wing, same as Vincent, Milloy and Fletcher had done with him in Buffalo a decade before.

“As soon as I got in here,” Johnson says, “there was really never any animosity or ‘I was here to take his job.’”

Now Johnson is in his 11th season with the Eagles, and he remains one of the best in the game.

“I just always envied how he worked,” he says of Peters. “You don’t play 20 years in the league if you don’t have a good work ethic, a good routine. So, I respect him that way. And then I always respected how he treated people. Honestly, everybody knew what player he was. But I felt like with some of the stuff he did off the field — with helping people in the facility or helping people out — he had a big heart and he always thought about the guys here.”

10. The doctor had never seen anything like it.

He’d seen Achilles tears, sure. He’d just never seen the same one torn twice in a span of three weeks.

In 2012, three years into his run in Philadelphia, Peters ruptured his right Achilles tendon training during the offseason. Less than a month later, while rolling around in his house on a scooter, his injured ankle propped up behind him, the scooter’s handlebars snapped. Peters toppled over, snapping his Achilles again.

He had to go under the knife again.

“It was like putting together wet paper towels,” the surgeon told him later.

Peters would later sue the scooter’s manufacturer, and according to Taylor, walk away with a sizable settlement. But the injuries cost him a full season in the midst of his prime, requiring months and months of grueling rehab.

Peters was first-team All-Pro a year later.

“Just a resilient son of a b—-,” Johnson calls him.

11. The knee, Peters says, was actually worse.

Midway through the 2017 season, the Eagles were rolling, about to move to 6-1. Peters was still one of the best left tackles in the game, a nine-time Pro Bowl lineman headed for his 10th.

“I was dominating everyone,” he says nonchalantly.

Then, on the first snap of the third quarter of a Week 7 win over Washington, a 305-pound nose tackle named Evander Hood crashed into his right knee, shredding his ACL and MCL.

“Got my guy stoned at the line, and this guy just flew into my leg,” Peters says. “Tore my whole knee up.”

At first, his teammates didn’t soak in the severity of what had just happened, but the longer Peters laid there, the more it hit them. The Bodyguard — the nickname he’d earned and grown to like — wasn’t getting up. The entire roster jogged on the field while the trainers put Peters’ leg in an aircast and watched silently. Redskins’ linemen clapped out of respect. The fans at Lincoln Financial Field chanted his name while a trainer drove him off the field on a cart.

“Ja-son Pee-ters. Ja-son Pee-ters.”

The Eagles’ march toward a Super Bowl continued. Peters’ replacement, Halapaoulivaati Vaitai, was 24, just seven starts into his career. The injured vet took him under his wing and coached him behind the scenes. Three months later the franchise had its first Super Bowl triumph. Peters, cigar dangling from his lips, grin beaming from ear to ear, carried the Lombardi Trophy from the locker room to the team bus.

“Just had to help him along a little bit,” Peters says of Vaitai. “I put in the groundwork. Them guys finished it off for me.”

12. He remains a throwback, as you’d imagine, the aging vet groomed in another era who bristles at some of the changes he’s seen across his 20 years in the league.

“When I started, we didn’t have no Saturday games,” Peters says. “Now we’ve got Thursday games, even a Friday game. They’ve added all these new rules and regulations. I’m not a fan of some of those.”

Peters preferred how training camp worked back in the 2000s, when teams were still allowed to hold two-a-days and starting spots were earned under the stifling summer sun, not with weighty contracts handed out in March. He doesn’t spend his offseason training at a fancy, state-of-the-art facility, and never has. Peters retreats to Queen City and works in solitude there.

On game days, his routine never changes. He stretches. He rubs on his Icy Hot. He plays.

“There’s no real secret to 20 seasons, just a lot of work,” he says. “But for some reason, I always had this mindset that I was this free agent who was about to get cut. Even when I was one of the best in the league, that’s what I told myself every year. Might sound crazy, but that’s the truth.”

He’s never married. He has no kids. Football’s been his life, the passion he fell into by accident, urged to give the sport another shot by the coach he vowed to never play for after he lasted all of 10 minutes in his first practice.

A quarter-century later, he still can’t quit it.

“I just love it, man,” Peters says. “Just got this love for the game. Sometimes it’s that simple.”

Last summer, while he weighed shutting it down for good, he looked back on his career and marveled at how long he’s lasted. He was the undrafted, oversized tight end who was cut after his first training camp, switched positions twice and became one of the best offensive tackles of his generation.

“I was at 19 seasons,” Peters says. “And if I gotta be honest, 20 sounds a whole lot better.”

If Tom Brady can do it, why not him?

He’s not sure when it’ll end, but ask Peters about retirement, and he knows what it looks like.

“S—, man,” he says. “When they kick me out, I’m gonna go fishing.”

You May Also Like

New Trump Cases Shadowed by Rocky Relationship With Supreme Court

“I’m not happy with the Supreme Court,” President Donald J. Trump said on…

The First Secret Asteroid Mission Won’t Be the Last

For generations, Western space missions have largely occurred out in the open.…

“Flawless Record Not Enough for College Football Glory”

The metaphorical white smoke billowed from the College Football Playoff selection committee…

Inside Bill Belichick’s downfall after 24 years, six titles with the Patriots

Robert Kraft hoped things would end differently. He’d spent the final years…