By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
JC Tretter had the opportunity this year to do what many that have played in the NFL haven’t – reach free agency.
Selected by Green Bay in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft out of Cornell, Tretter spent most of his rookie year on injured reserve because of an ankle injury, and then played at center, left guard and both tackle positions in 31 games over the past three seasons.
Following the 2016 campaign in which he started the first seven games at center before suffering a season-ending knee injury, Tretter became a free agent and signed a reported three-year contract with the Cleveland Browns worth $16.75 million, including $10 million guaranteed.
“I really tried to just kind of sit back and go into it with an open mind,” Tretter said. “Obviously, this was the first time I’d ever hit free agency and so I met with my agents and kind of picked their brains about how things would go. And coming off a season that I was injured, there were question marks on how the free agency period would go. But we had faith that it would work out well for us.
“I think going into it, I knew what I was looking for and what was important to me. We talked to a handful of teams. I think in the end it was Cleveland who gave us the best pitch and offer. It was definitely the best decision for me.”
It may have also been the best decision for his parents, Joe and Cindy Tretter, and his sister, Katie. Or at least the most convenient one.
“We really enjoyed the experience we had in Green Bay,” Joe said, “and we knew of the discussions the various teams were having with him and the Cleveland contract was significantly better. That being one thing, and then selfishly as parents, we knew that this change in location was definitely going to help our travel plans in the coming years.
Over the past four seasons, Joe and Cindy have attended an average of seven Packer games a year in Green Bay. They’ve also driven to Packer road games in cities such as Detroit and Washington from their home in Akron, New York, a suburb of Buffalo.
“We would fly from Buffalo to Chicago and then rent a car and drive to Green Bay,” Joe said. “We would typically get a flight out at 6:30 a.m. and so we’d get to the airport at 4:30 a.m., meaning we left our house at 4:00 a.m. We would get up to Green Bay right around 1:00 p.m. So, nine hours of traveling, and that’s in perfect situations when the flights weren’t cancelled.
“And on the way back was more of a nightmare because you always had to deal with that Monday Milwaukee and Chicago traffic variable. And we’re always early. We would leave JC’s place at 3:00 a.m. and then we’d sit in (Chicago’s) O’Hare (airport) for hours waiting and hoping that the flights weren’t cancelled.”
“Being able to shoot home for things like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, which I haven’t been able to get back home for in a while, are always nice things that I definitely enjoyed this offseason,” Tretter said. “Just being three hours from home is something that for me to get home and for them to be able to have a little easier time travelling is definitely an advantage.”
The first weekend of Browns training camp in July became a Tretter family reunion when 10 to 15 family members attended each of the open practices to watch JC.
“They do a great job of coming out and being at games, practices, whatever it is,” Tretter said. “I have a really supportive family and I think that’s something that is really special. Obviously, I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”
While Tretter may be closer to home and his family, he still has a job to do as the Browns’ new starting center.
“I think we’re building something special. You can feel the excitement and the energy in the building,” Tretter said. ‘Having a guy like (10-time Pro Bowl and six-time All-Pro offensive tackle) Joe Thomas and (guard) Joel Bitonio here, and (guard) Kevin Zeitler signing, and then me signing, and the other talented players they had in the room already, I think just the offensive line itself is exciting to watch grow and come together.
“Once you sign that second contract, you’re officially labeled an older guy. That quick change from being one of the younger guys to one of the older guys on the team was something that I was looking forward to. I’ve been lucky enough to play with other offensive linemen like Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, who have passed down a bunch of information and knowledge to me. And now I see it as my job to pass the stuff I’ve learned onto the next guys.”
Browns head coach Hue Jackson is happy to have Tretter as his guy on the job at center. “Having a guy like that in the middle is like having another quarterback,” he said. “He’s done a good job and we’re glad he’s here.”
“That’s a huge compliment, but that’s what I try to be at center,” Tretter said. “The way I see it, I want to be able to come to the line and kind of paint the picture for everybody. Tell everybody what they’re looking at and what they need to do. That allows everybody else just to play fast and it kind of takes the thinking out of football for everybody else when they know that I’m going to put them in position to be successful. All they have to do is just go out and play. That’s the role of a center, to really be an extension of the quarterback.”