For a guy who spoke publicly a month ago about wanting a contract extension, Zach Ertz certainly hasn’t played like a guy who deserves one.
That’s just the harsh reality right now for an all-time Eagles great.
In Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, the Eagles were able to put up 29 points with Carson Wentz throwing to Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward Jr., but Ertz — who is supposed to be his most reliable target — had just one catch for six yards.
In the last two games, Ertz has been targeted 11 times and has just 5 catches for 15 yards. This is the worst two-game stretch in Ertz’s eight-year career.
So … what gives?
“Yeah, I don't know,” head coach Doug Pederson admitted on Sunday evening. “Obviously, we know defenses know exactly where he is going to be, and they'll usually put a corner or safety, sometimes double him. They give him a lot of respect.
“It's something that, too, I think he's got to look at himself as we all do, and we just got to keep working and fighting, and we got to as coaches find ways to get him uncovered so we can use him a little bit more. We know Carson [Wentz] feels comfortable with him. Just got to keep working."
Sure, defenses are keying on Ertz. He gets a ton of attention but elite players are able to overcome all that. That can’t be an excuse because the Eagles need him. Without Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Jalen Reagor and Dallas Goedert in the lineup, the Eagles should be relying on Ertz. And he isn’t making plays right now. It's not all on him, of course. He and Wentz haven't been on the same page. And the coaching staff can do a better job of scheming him open.
But Ertz has to play better and he knows that too.
Through five games this season, all Ertz has done is prove that the pay gap between him and George Kittle and Travis Kelce is warranted.
Ertz has 20 catches for 145 yards and 1 touchdown through five games, putting him on pace for the worst season in his career. This is coming off three consecutive Pro Bowls.
Before the season began, the week of the opener in fact, Ertz spoke publicly about his contract status after negotiations with the Eagles were halted. It was pretty clear Ertz felt like the Eagles were low-balling him and he clearly took it personally. He even got into a spirited discussion after one practice with GM Howie Roseman that week.
“I think you guys know me over the years,” Ertz said the Thursday before the Eagles’ opener. “I’m kind of an emotional guy when it comes to football. I kind of play with my heart as much as I can. Obviously it’s been frustrating at times, it’s been difficult. I’ve said all along I want to be here for the long run. I don’t know for sure if that feeling is mutual."
In that same interview, Ertz said he let his contract status “got the best” of him for a couple days during training camp, but said he was committed to give everything he had for the city and the team.
Then you see a play like this and you start to question that.
Sure, there was illegal contact on this play and there should have been a flag. It also seems unlikely that Ertz still would have been able to get to his spot. But he certainly didn’t do all he could to recover and run through the contact. Instead, he tossed his hands in the air.
I don’t know if Ertz’s contract status is affecting him right now. And maybe it’s unfair to come to that conclusion. But we’re all thinking it, aren’t we?
Because Ertz doesn’t look the same. He doesn’t look like the same Pro Bowl player who led the Eagles in receiving every season in Wentz’s career. He doesn’t look like the same guy who became Mr. Reliable, catching more passes through seven seasons than any tight end in NFL history.
And he certainly doesn’t look like a guy who deserves a new contract.
“It's one of those things I'm not worried about just because as far as chemistry goes, I feel great with Ertz,” Wentz said. “I think we've showed that over the years. It was just that was the type of day it was today and really last week, but I still feel confident that he's going to get open, get his going forward, and we can be better there.”
The scariest part of Ertz’s struggles is the fear that they’re not temporary. After all, he’s in his eighth season and will turn 30 next month.
Ertz’s contract is up after the 2021 season, the same time Goedert’s rookie deal is up, so the Eagles will have a decision to make. Right now, Ertz’s deal comes with an APY of $8.5 million, a far cry from Kittle ($15M) and Kelce ($14.3).
But right now … that seems about right.
By speaking publicly about his contract, Ertz put a target on his back. He knew that. Now, he needs to play like he deserves to get paid.