GREEN BAY – Following one of the most challenging seasons of his 14-year NFL career, Marcedes Lewis had to think long and hard about whether he wanted to return in 2019.
This time, the 35-year-old tight end needed less than a day.
Speaking with reporters during locker-room clean-out on Monday, Lewis made his intentions known he plans on playing again in 2020 – preferably with the Packers.
"I think mentally and physically, I was in a really good place this year," Lewis said. "I'd love to come back. When I wake up in the morning, I still love it."
An unrestricted free agent this offseason, the 6-foot-6, 267-pound tight end saw his role in the offense grow substantially under new Head Coach Matt LaFleur.
Lewis went from playing 190 offensive snaps (17.7%) in 2018 to 487 (45.2%). He caught five times as many passes (15) for four times as many yards (139), highlighted by a touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay's 31-13 win over the New York Giants in Week 13.
Lewis' second season in Green Bay reunited him with former Jacksonville offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. He also developed a connection with new position coach Justin Outten and felt like a natural fit for the offense LaFleur employs.
Pegged as more than just a blocking tight end, Lewis dropped around 10 pounds and played the lightest he has since his prime years in Jacksonville.
"Physically, I was in the best shape I've ever been in my life," Lewis said. "Knowing that I'm older in the tooth, it has to be that way. There was not one game where I went into it feeling like I was at a disadvantage."
Most of all, Lewis has served as a mentor to young tight ends Robert Tonyan and Jace Sternberger, and a vocal leader in the locker room. He frequently addressed the team during pregame warmups and provided several moving speeches.
In his postgame news conference Sunday, Rodgers stated leadership as one of the biggest reasons he's encouraged about the future of the team before adding, "You can't have enough Marcedes Lewises on your roster."
"I can't say enough about that dude," said Lewis of Rodgers. "He's not a big rah-rah guy. He's going to lead by example. He doesn't walk in here with a chip on his shoulder. Even though he's been the MVP a couple times and won a Super Bowl, you don't get that out of him. He's a guy who wants to get better and wants to be great every day."
Lewis will remember the 2019 Packers as being "one of the closest teams" he's been on. At his locker Monday, Lewis was wearing the custom sweatshirt guard Billy Turner made for the players and support staff. That camaraderie made this playoff run – only the third of Lewis' career – special.
Lewis plans to take a few small vacations before beginning his offseason training. It is sobering how the years have passed but Lewis remains as dedicated to his craft as ever.
"Once I hit like five (years), it was like, 'Pww, pww, pww.' It just started flying," Lewis said. "It's crazy it had to end that way (but) this is why you play. Everybody can't win. They'll be better here next year, I'm sure."
One veteran debating what he'll do next season is backup offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. The 32-year-old initially retired this past May before getting the itch to play again in November.
Despite playing in only four games, Veldheer called this "one of the more fun seasons" he's been a part of. Claimed off waivers from New England, Veldheer made pivotal relief appearances at right tackle for Bryan Bulaga in the regular-season finale against Detroit and the NFC Divisional playoff game vs. Seattle.
"I'm going to go home and get family life back to how it was in Michigan … put our little girl back in school and let this adventure soak up," Veldheer said. "Going back to Week 1 … when I was in the stands at Soldier Field, to think that later in the season I was going to be a part of that team and be able to lend a hand to the journey – the thought didn't even cross my mind. It's funny how life works and what you can make of it if you want to."