The brilliant play of Zach Ertz aside, expect the Eagles to be on the lookout for tight ends this offseason.
In fact, tight end just may be the most pressing need on the roster for 2018. Trey Burton is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, and based on current projections, the Eagles are already over the salary cap. Brent Celek has given no clear indication one way or the other as to whether he intends to return for his 12th NFL season.
Ertz is probably one of the top two or three tight ends in the league these days, but he can’t go it alone. His blocking could use work. He’s good for missing a game or two due to injury. The Eagles like to use multiple tight ends.
A hole is opening on the depth chart, and even if Celek returns, the Eagles can’t afford to wait to begin filling it.
The assumption is Burton will depart. Even if the Eagles unearth some money, the team has more immediate priorities than the No. 3 tight end. And Burton is going to get paid. He’s a weapon in the passing attack, with 60 receptions for 575 yards and six touchdowns over the past two seasons, and outstanding on special teams as well.
As for Celek, he artfully dodged questions about potentially retiring all season long, but never denied it was on his mind. He also has one year remaining on his contract, which carries a cap hit of $5 million. The Eagles can’t be certain of his status for 2018, let alone beyond.
The Eagles wouldn’t exactly be deficient at tight end, thanks to Ertz – but they’ll still need people to fill those other roles.
There is one intriguing prospect in the pipeline in Billy Brown. Undrafted out of Shepherd University, Brown spent his entire rookie season on the Eagles practice squad after turning heads in training camp. Listed at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds with 4.7 speed, he certainly looks the part of an NFL tight end.
Brown could very well be in line to earn a roster spot in ’18 after signing a futures contract last week, but the Eagles shouldn’t necessarily count on it. Regardless, that would only fill one of two eventual openings.
Replacing players of the caliber of Celek and Burton won’t be easy, but for the Eagles, that task is as pressing as it is inevitable.
TIGHT ENDS BREAKDOWN
*Ages as of Sept. 6, 2018
2018 Cap Hit: $10.595 million
It finally happened. This was the “breakthrough” season everybody was waiting for from Ertz. Well, sort of. The Pro Bowl was a first, and eight touchdowns a new personal best, but he actually bested his 74 receptions and 824 yards receiving in previous seasons. Ertz tacked on 18 catches, 192 yards and the game-winning score in the Super Bowl during the Eagles’ magical postseason run. The only debate now is how many tight ends are better than Ertz? Can’t be more than one or two.
2018 Cap Hit: $5 million
The Eagles approached Celek about taking a pay cut last offseason, and could do so again in ’18 if he intends to play. His outright release would save $4 million, though it’s difficult to imagine the organization treating Celek that way. If he comes back, you have to think they’ll find a way to make the cap hit slightly more palatable.
Destined to be a free-agent commodity from the start, Burton earned a bigger payday with his performance against the Rams in Week 14. Filling in for Ertz, Burton racked up career highs with 71 yards receiving and two touchdowns. His career totals are nothing exceptional, but few No. 3 tight ends have large roles. Plus, his versatility is unparalleled at his position. Burton has taken carries, been a lead blocker, plays special teams and just threw a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. He’s going to make a lot of money on the open market.