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Jamaal Charles says he's nowhere near the finish line

Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles told me during our recent conversation that he planned to play six more NFL seasons and retire when he is 35 years old.

That sounds optimistic for someone with as much wear and tear on him as Charles, who endured one injury after another last season and who plays a position where skills tend to decline at a relatively early age.

The guy knows his body and what it takes to thrive in the NFL, so let’s take him at his word. Even if Charles plays that long, he’s still closer to the end of his career than the start. He has played seven years for the Chiefs, counting the 2011 season that was abbreviated to two games because of a torn ACL.

For Charles to be productive at what is an advanced age for a running back, he’s going to have to avoid the nicks that marred his 2014 season. He missed just one game but suffered a new malady seemingly every week.

“I’m definitely not going to take as many big hits as I did last year," Charles said. “I took the biggest hits last year. Normally, I try to get out of bounds or get down. I’m never going to try to take anybody on, be a tough guy.

“I’m going to think about my career, how I can help my team win. I’m not going to try to go out there and prove a point."

Even without the injuries, Charles might have been eclipsed anyway by linebacker Justin Houston last season. Houston set a Chiefs record for sacks with 22, a half-sack from the NFL’s all-time single-season mark.

Still, it was only the third time in Charles’ seven seasons he wasn’t named as the Chiefs’ Most Valuable Player. Charles missed winning the award when he suffered his ACL tear, and in his rookie season of 2008, when he was a backup to Larry Johnson.

Otherwise, Charles has been the star of the show. While he was still their best offensive player last season, that may not be the case anymore. Tight end Travis Kelce crashed the scene in 2014 with a brilliant debut season, and it’s hard to image the Chiefs won’t be asking him for more this year.

The team also gave a huge pile of money to free-agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and will be asking him for a nice return on that investment.

It’s unwise to count Charles out, though. He was by far their best running back last season, and though his numbers were down from the previous two seasons, he looked far from a player whose skills had begun their inevitable decline.

For his part, Charles has his sights set on something more than Chiefs MVP, which is named for former linebacker Derrick Thomas.

“I want to be [AFC] offensive player of the year," Charles said. “That’s always my goal, every year my goal. I want to come back to the [Kansas City’s annual] 101 Banquet for the Chiefs award. I want to come back as AFC player of the year. That’s what I’ve been wanting to do. I think I almost got there. Peyton Manning had an awesome season [in 2013], and he beat me out.

“I already have four Derrick Thomas awards. I’m thinking about something bigger than that."