Having celebrated his 39th birthday in May, Marcedes Lewis could be spending the summer relaxing on a tropical beach or in a hammock with a cold drink in his hand.
After signing with the Bears last Friday, the veteran tight end will instead be slamming his body into 300-pound men who are typically 10-15 years younger than he is.
The reason that Lewis is preparing to play an 18th NFL season—which would be the most ever by a tight end—is simple.
"I still love it," Lewis said. "I still love the game, and it's one of those things where if I were to stop playing this game, it would be mentally first because physically that's going to be there. It's when your mind just checks out, your body normally just follows that. But mentally I'm still at a place to where I still feel like I can help a team win ballgames, and ultimately, win a championship. If I still have that feeling and there's still opportunity out there for me to showcase my talent, why not?"
The Bears provided that opportunity to Lewis, whom they view as a seasoned veteran who can both mentor teammates and still be a valuable contributor on offense.
"With such a young team," said general manager Ryan Poles, "I thought it was critical to get a pro's pro, a leader, someone the guys can lean on to understand how to be the ultimate pros and win a lot of games in this league, how to stay healthy and take care of their body, all those little things. He's going to bring that as well as help us in the run game and help us stay balanced. It's incredible at his age. His tape is still good. His ability to win on the edge and help us get on the perimeter and also get movement in the run game, that's going to be critical."
Lewis' desire to keep playing at his age is due mostly to his love for the game, but there's another motivating factor.
"Part of it, too, is showing people that it can be done," he said. "Just being able to have the singular focus to go out there and be your personal best every single day. And for me, this is part of my purpose. I was born to do this. I'm not going to disrespect the gift by still being able to do it and not being here. I'm just grateful for the opportunity and looking forward to being able to add value to the building and do what I love to do."
One pro athlete who inspires Lewis is LeBron James, who entered the NBA right out of high school in 2003 and is still performing at a high level.
"I was just watching a video of one of his workouts," Lewis said. "And to think that this dude is about to go into 21 years of playing the game of basketball is ridiculous. His workouts look like he's still getting ready to be on his first NBA team, and it's just inspiring."
Lewis was selected by the Jaguars with the 28th pick in the first round of the 2006 draft out of UCLA. He spent his first 12 NFL seasons with Jacksonville, catching 375 passes for 4,502 yards and 33 touchdowns in 170 games with 157 starts. He earned Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors in 2010 after establishing career highs with 58 receptions, 700 yards and 10 TDs.
Lewis spent the past five seasons with the Packers, catching 57 passes for 582 yards and six TDs in 81 games with 64 starts.
At this stage of his career, the 6-6, 265-pounder is much more adept at blocking than receiving, but that's just fine with him.
"Davante Adams is one of my best friends, and we spent a lot of time together over the past five years," Lewis said of his former Packers teammate. "I remember one time when we were watching film, I'm just like, 'Man, I remember when I was in my prime and I was catching touchdowns.' He was like, 'Bro, you are in your prime, you're just in your second prime.'
"So it's just different. Being able to adapt and adjust to whatever the team needs in order to be successful as a whole is something I've been able to do a long time over the course of my career. Now it has me in a place where I'm still able to help a team be successful.
"Making a great block is just like making a great catch to me, a really great catch and touchdown to me. Helping the running back run off my block on the outside zone or smacking somebody on power or inside zone, it doesn't matter what it is, I've got gratitude for it all. I feel the same way about just being on the field and just being able to compete."