Doug Pederson can call plays designed for Zach Ertz. And Carson Wentz can throw Ertz the ball.
But neither of them can pay him.
The Eagles’ head coach and franchise quarterback find themselves in tricky situations early in the 2020 season as tensions mount between Ertz and the Eagles’ front office over a contract extension that hasn’t happened yet and may never happen. If anything, Pederson and Wentz have to be peacemakers to keep this thing rolling and keep the emotional Ertz focused.
“I’m always talking to all the guys, honestly,” Wentz said. “I’m talking to Zach quite often. As players, we just stay together, we believe in each other. Some of those things sometimes just, they take care of themselves.”
Sometimes they do. And sometimes they don’t.
The Eagles and Ertz are at an impasse right now. And the problems between the two sides were further exacerbated last week when Ertz came out publicly and voiced frustration about his contract days before the season opener. Ertz said he wants to be with the Eagles for his whole career, but is no longer sure the Eagles feel the same way.
And then there was a spirited discussion between Ertz and GM Howie Roseman after one practice last week. That conversation has since been characterized as “constructive” but how constructive can it really be to have a GM and star player debating about a contract a few days before the season opener?
In Sunday’s opener in Washington, Dallas Goedert ended up having the best game of his young career and Ertz caught just three passes for 18 yards. Ertz had a touchdown but he also dropped a key ball on 4th down — one that he normally catches.
Maybe it’s unfair, but it’s impossible not to wonder if Ertz’s focus is where it should be. He even admitted he let his contract situation get the best of him a couple days during training camp.
Pederson has to make sure his Pro Bowl tight end is locked in. Even though Goedert is good, they still need Ertz to be Ertz in 2020.
“Well, I'm the head football coach and so I take the high road,” Pederson said. “I encourage the player to try to eliminate the distractions, leave that between the agent and the club and just focus on your job.
“I’m all for the player getting as much as they can and I'm happy when they can, but at the same time, until that's obviously — until the contract is signed or you know whatever it might be, I think it's just from my standpoint as the head coach, just continuing to talk to players and say, hey, man, let's focus on this week. Let's get better today. We've got a game coming up and this is how we're going to use you in this game and try to get his mind, the player's mind, off of that situation and let the powers to be kind of handle those contracts."
If you take a step back, you can see this situation from both sides.
If you’re Ertz, you watched George Kittle and Travis Kelce get big contracts and you think that you’ve played to that level and you deserve your money too. After all, your current contract is worth just $8.5 million per season, well below the new baseline.
But if you’re the Eagles, you’re looking at Kittle and Kelce and telling Ertz he’s not as good as either of them. We’re not paying you that. Kelce’s deal wasn’t even that great, but you’re not as good as him, so we’ll pay you less than that.
They offer a contract and Ertz sees it as a slap in the face.
And now here we are. Contract talks were halted before the season and that doesn’t happen if the two sides are relatively close. Now, we’re into the season with no long-term future established and the Eagles have to wade carefully.
For Pederson, he’s the head coach and he’s not going to take sides. But Wentz’s position is more interesting. After all, not only is Ertz his favorite target, but he’s also one of his closest friends.
If Wentz is jumping on the table telling the front office to sign Ertz, he’s doing it behind closed doors.
“As players, we just keep believing in each other, keep encouraging each other,” Wentz said. “I’ve been able to talk to Zach plenty and I’m expecting a big season for him. Last game, obviously only getting a couple catches. That’s just the way the game went. That’s neither here nor there. But we know he’s going to get his and he’s going to be a big part of this offense. He’s a great teammate and we all love him and believe in him.”