The ankle injury that landed Zach Ertz on Injured Reserve the last six weeks may also have derailed his bid to break Harold Carmichael’s franchise record for catches.
Carmichael’s once-seemingly unbreakable record of 589 receptions in an Eagles uniform has stood for 37 years.
The Hall of Fame receiver averaged 45 catches in 13 seasons with the Eagles and broke the previous franchise mark of 452 catches set from 1956 through 1966 by Pete Retzlaff.
Carmichael’s mark stood unchallenged for decades.
Mike Quick caught 363 passes, Keith Byars caught 371 and Brent Celek 398. But the only Eagle to surpass 400 in the 30 years after Carmichael retired was Brian Westbrook, who caught 426 passes in his brilliant Eagles career but still fell 163 receptions short of Carmichael.
Then came Ertz.
After backing up Celek and catching 36 and 58 passes in his first two seasons, he caught 227 passes from 2015 through 2017, moving into the top 10 in Eagles history.
In 2018, he set an NFL record for tight ends with 116 receptions, which increased his career total to 437 and moved him from 10th place all the way up to third, behind only Carmichael and Retzlaff.
He caught 88 passes last year, passing the 500-catch plateau and finishing the season with 525.
That left him only 64 catches behind Carmichael going into this year.
Considering Ertz hadn’t caught fewer than 74 passes since 2014, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would catch Carmichael this year.
Maybe even this week.
At his pace from 2015 through 2019 of 5.8 catches per game, Ertz was on pace to pass Carmichael Sunday in Green Bay.
But Ertz’s season hasn’t gone the way anyone expected.
He caught just 24 passes the first six weeks of the season and then suffered a serious ankle injury against the Ravens that left him on Injured Reserve the last five games.
The Eagles activated Ertz this week, and he’s expected to return to action Sunday.
But can he catch Carmichael?
Ertz now has 549 career catches, which leaves him 41 short of passing Carmichael with five games to go.
The math doesn’t work.
He’d have to average 8.2 catches per game to catch Harold by the end of the year, and although he has 25 career games with eight catches - 4th-most in history by a tight end - his odds of averaging 8.2 catches over a five-game span coming off an injury playing alongside Dallas Goedert and in a season where he’s averaging only 4.0 catches per year are remote.
If he catches four passes a game, he’ll finish the year at 569. Even if he averages six per game, he’ll only get to 573.
Agonizingly close but not there.
Normally, you would just say if he doesn’t catch Carmichael this year, there’s always next year.
But is there?
That remains to be seen.
Ertz and the Eagles are mired in a protracted contract dispute that raises the real possibility that Ertz won’t be an Eagle in 2021.
With Goedert playing at a high level and even the emergence of Richard Rodgers - who’s fifth among all NFL tight ends with 246 yards during Ertz's absence - the Eagles have two far less expensive options at tight end.
Neither one is as accomplished as Ertz, but with the Eagles facing severe salary cap issues in 2021 that might not matter.
Considering the production the Eagles have gotten from Goedert and Rodgers, Ertz’s contract impasse and the Eagles’ cap situation and there’s a very real possibility the Eagles will try to trade the 30-year-old Ertz this offseason.
And that means no record.
If Ertz doesn’t catch Harold will anybody?
DeSean Jackson is 6th in Eagles history with 378 catches, but at his rate of 11 catches per season since rejoining the Eagles it would take him another 20 years to catch Carmichael.
The 25-year-old Goedert is next with 121 catches.
So he’s 468 behind.
It just might be that Carmichael’s record stands another 30 years unless the Eagles and Ertz resolve their differences.