Zach Ertz has been on the Injured Reserve list since Oct. 30 with a high ankle sprain but even before then his 2020 season wasn’t going very well.
Days before the season began, Ertz wondered publicly if the Eagles still wanted him to be a part of their future and then he began to give them reasons why maybe they shouldn’t.
In six games this season, Ertz has caught just 24 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown, putting him on pace for the worst season of his otherwise spectacular career.
“I think he’s just, he had a rough couple of games there in the middle before the injury,” Eagles tight ends coach Justin Peelle said on Tuesday. “All the great ones are going to go through a stretch like that. I know last year, he had a couple games where the production wasn’t what he wanted it to be. Not really a concern of mine. Once he gets healthy and gets back out there, I’m sure we’ll be OK.”
Maybe Ertz will be OK. Maybe when he returns from IR he’ll be the same consistent, wildly productive Pro Bowl player he’s been for the past few seasons.
But Ertz also turned 30 Tuesday and it’s fair to wonder if he and the Eagles are at a crossroads. After all, Ertz is signed through the 2021 season but it’s hard to imagine him playing next year on his current contract. The Eagles were reportedly up for listening to trade offers before Ertz’s injury and it would be logical to assume that will continue after this season.
Because if the Eagles have to choose between a 30-year-old and possibly declining Ertz or a 25-year-old ascending Dallas Goedert, if you take emotion out of it, the decision seems a little easier. On a team that needs to rebuild — or at least retool — the younger player with more upside probably gets priority.
Of course, taking emotion out of this situation hasn’t been easy, especially not for Ertz.
During the week leading up to the season, Ertz had a spirited discussion with GM Howie Roseman at the NovaCare Complex about his contract situation. And when Ertz spoke to reporters about the lack of a new contract, he even admitted the situation got to him during training camp.
While Ertz during the season rejected the idea that he was lacking focus, it was easy to jump to that conclusion when his production and play began to dip this year.
For what it’s worth, Peelle on Tuesday said he didn’t see any lack of focus from Ertz.
“No. Zach, one of his greatest assets is his true professionalism,” Peelle said. “He gets in his routine. Every day is this, this and this and that didn’t waver. I didn’t see anything like that. I thought his intensity at practice was on point like it had been. In my eyes, I never saw any of that. I thought he brought his same energy. He was asking me the same questions he’s been asking me for eight years, which a guy of his caliber you wouldn’t think would do that still. But we still had our same routine, so to speak. In my eyes, nothing changes.”
And according to Peelle, he also didn’t want to change anything when Ertz was going through his struggles earlier in the season. He said he believes in staying the course, especially with a player like Ertz, who has accomplished so much.
Maybe it was just a rough stretch of games for Ertz. But against the 49ers and Steelers, Ertz finished with fewer than 10 receiving yards in back-to-back games for the first time in his NFL career. Travis Kelce has never done that in 105 career games and George Kittle has never done it in 51.
Those two are widely considered to be the top two tight ends in the NFL and both helped reset the tight end market this offseason. Coming into this year, Ertz was considered by many to be top three at the position.
A few rough games have many people rethinking that.