As Zach Ertz faces an uncertain future with the Eagles with just three games left in the 2020 season, it’s fair to wonder if we’ll ever see Ertz play at a Pro Bowl level again in Philadelphia.
After missing six weeks with an ankle injury, the Eagles have brought Zach Ertz back slowly the last couple weeks. They ramped up his workload from 27 snaps to 50 in those two games back from injury and he’s been very mildly productive, catching 4 passes for 39 yards.
But it’s not like he was having a good season before the injury either.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson on Friday said he “most certainly” thinks Ertz can get back to a high level this season as Ertz gets further away from his injury.
“I think the biggest thing right now is he is feeling better, he's practicing a lot faster and feeling better,” Pederson said. “And that goes a long way from the mental side of it with players, just being able to get through the week and to be able to practice.”
All of that is true. But Ertz’s season wasn’t going well before the injury either.
Just before this season began, contract talks between Ertz’s camp and the Eagles broke off and Ertz, who wears his heart on his sleeve, publicly questioned the Eagles’ commitment to him. And then he didn’t play well.
In the first six games of the 2020 season, Ertz caught just 24 passes for 178 yards (7.42) and a touchdown. So even before hurting his ankle, Ertz — coming off three straight Pro Bowls — was on pace to have the worst season of his NFL career.
“Well, I think the ball was being spread out just a little bit more,” Pederson said on Friday. “We had opportunities. We missed the connection between Carson and Zach just wasn't there early in the season, and then the ball was going other places.
“So it has nothing to do with Zach or anything like that. It's just a matter of sometimes the game plan, the call, the play design, where the ball is going to go, and you can’t necessarily control. Now, there were times when we dialed his number up and we just didn't execute the play. Those are things that as we study our film we get better at and learn and try to improve there.”
During Ertz’s month-plus layoff with the ankle injury he turned 30 and while that is somewhat of an arbitrary number, players typically begin to see a decline in their skills as they age.
So it’s natural to start wondering if there’s still a Pro Bowler inside of Ertz. And if not, maybe the 2021 version will fall somewhere between the 2017-19 version and the 2020 one.
Because before this season, Ertz was clearly one of the top tight ends in the NFL. Sure, George Kittle and Travis Kelce were widely considered the two best but Ertz was in their company. From 2015-19, he averaged 86.2 catches, 914.4 yards and 5.6 touchdowns per season. We’re talking about elite numbers.
But the Eagles also have Dallas Goedert in their building and Goedert is 25 and still an ascending player. So if it comes down to extending Ertz or Goedert — both are under contract through the 2021 season — you can see which way the Eagles probably ought to go.
With Ertz, we’re now in a situation where the Eagles and Ertz’s camp were already not seeing eye to eye and it’s hard to imagine that after his struggles this season they’ll all of a sudden be able to come up with a long-term deal. It seems likely that Ertz would have been traded before this year’s trade deadline had it not been for that injury.
So we’ll see what Ertz is able to do in these last three games. He can help himself by playing well and he can help the Eagles if he boosts his trade value.
Is there a chance Ertz is back with the Eagles in 2021? Sure. But he wants a new deal and the Eagles don’t want to give him one, nor should they given their situation and his decline in play.
These last three games could be the end of his time in Philadelphia.
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