Eagles

Carson Wentz-Zach Ertz connection continues to grow on and off field for Eagles

Carson Wentz-Zach Ertz connection continues to grow on and off field for Eagles

As they were running off the field following Carson Wentz's 50-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith Thursday night against the Dolphins, Zach Ertz yelled something over to Wentz.

"He’s like, 'I love that, I love that!’" Wentz said with a laugh.

They know. They know that the more the Eagles can establish a deep game — something absent from the offense last year — the more the middle of the field will be open for Ertz.

Ertz and Wentz had a pretty good connection last year. Ertz ranked fourth among all NFL tight ends last season with 58 receiving yards per game, and his 5.6 catches per game led all tight ends.

But judging from the last month of practice and from the starting offense's brief preseason appearances, they look to be on another level this year.

“I think we’ve definitely taken a big step," Ertz said. "We’re seeing the game very similar. We’re both very high football IQ guys, so it’s easy to translate from the practice field or the meeting room to the game field.

"And just having the same quarterback for a second year, it’s huge for chemistry, especially when it’s someone as talented as him. I'm excited about it."

Ertz played with Nick Foles and Michael Vick as a rookie, Foles and Mark Sanchez in 2014, Sam Bradford in 2015 and Wentz last year.

This year, Wentz will become the Eagles' first quarterback to start consecutive openers since Vick in 2012 and 2013, and Ertz could be one of the greatest benefactors.

Wentz's comfort zone last year was Jordan Matthews and Ertz. With Matthews now in Buffalo, Ertz becomes Wentz's No. 1 target, and if the deep game blossoms the way it should, it's going to be difficult for defenses to account for both the Eagles' outside receivers and Ertz underneath.

We saw in the preseason game against the Dolphins on Thursday night just how effortlessly Wentz and Ertz are connecting on the field. Wentz found Ertz for completions of 12, 14 and 18 yards in just one quarter of action.

“It kind of speaks to the length of time and amount of hours we’ve put into this thing together," Ertz said.

"Not only talking but the reps that we’ve put on the field at each and every practice. When we get five minutes off, we’re over there on a separate field trying to perfect things. Hopefully, it shows up this year."

Ertz and Wentz are very close friends, and both believe that closeness off the field will lead to some big-time production on the field.

Ertz has the ninth-most catches by a tight end after four years — one catch out of sixth place — and if he stays healthy this year and just matches last year's production you're looking at about 90 receptions and over 900 yards.

But if that connection between Wentz and Ertz has grown as much as both say it has, it could be a historic season for Ertz. For both of them.

“I think the biggest thing is just the more reps on the field, but off the field, we’re so close too," Wentz said. "There’s a natural connection there that people don’t always see.

"When you’re on the same page, you kind of build that. When we’re hanging out, sometimes we’ll sit there and talk about certain plays against certain coverages and different things.

"The more we’re friends off the field, the more it helps us on the field. Does it make or break it? No, but I think it definitely impacts the relationship we have on the field."

And then there's the Eagles' new-found outside speed, with Smith and Alshon Jeffery and possibly an expanded role for Nelson Agholor.

That's why Ertz was so excited after Smith's 50-yard catch Thursday night. The Eagles didn't have a single TD catch over 40 yards by a wide receiver last year, and without the threat of the deep ball, defenses were able to cheat low instead of playing the outside receivers honestly.

In fact, in the three years since DeSean Jackson was released, the Eagles have six total TD pass plays of 50 yards to wide receivers — three by Jeremy Maclin in 2014 and one each by Matthews, Agholor and Riley Cooper in 2015

All of which makes the area of the field that Ertz roams more clogged.

Now?

“Now, they’ve got to back up," Ertz said. "You saw what happened when the safety played low (Thursday night). They kind of keyed on me on the corner route, and we were able to throw it over the top.

"Just having a guy like Torrey Smith, obviously an established speed guy in this league, they’re going to have to back up. So I’m excited about it. Our offense is going to be extremely versatile this year. We’ve got a lot of guys, so it’s going to be a good year."

And Wentz, who throws a sweet deep ball, now has a couple guys who can catch it.

“That will help tremendously," Wentz said. "It's just going to help everybody else.

"If they do want to sit, OK, we have speed out there. If not? the middle of the field is going to be open. I think it’ll definitely help open things up for Zach."

Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

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Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

In the latest edition of Eagle Eye, Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks discuss Darren Sproles' upcoming retirement. Does it put the Eagles in an awkward position on game days? Why do players care so much about their ratings in Madden? Also, Barrett shares how he decided on his jersey numbers throughout his football career?

1:00 - Derrick is back! What did he do with his time off?
5:30 - Barrett spent time with his grandson ... who ate pancakes with ketchup.
10:00 - Darren Sproles says 2018 will be his final year.
15:00 - Why do players care so much about their Madden ratings?
19:30 - If you can script your career, how would you want to retire?
22:30 - How did Barrett decide on his jersey numbers?

Subscribe and rate Eagle Eye: Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Stitcher / Spotify / Art19

Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

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Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

One thing Andy Reid was spot on about during his long tenure with the Eagles was the importance of building around both lines. 

Big Red always made the offensive and defensive lines a priority, and during the Eagles’ stretch of deep playoff runs — from 2000 through 2009 — the O-line was anchored by guys like Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Jermane Mayberry and Todd Herremans and the D-line by Corey Simon, Trent Cole, Mike Patterson and Hugh Douglas.

During that 10-year stretch, the Eagles had the most wins in the NFC and the third-most wins in the NFL, and the one constant during that stretch was solid line play. 

Donovan McNabb was very good when healthy most of those seasons, and the Eagles always had good running backs and corners, but the heart of those teams was up front.

Just look at how Big Red drafted. Eight of his 11 first-round picks were linemen. After taking McNabb in 1999, all six of Reid's picks in the first half of the first round were linemen.

They obviously didn’t all work out, but Reid was committed to both lines, and Howie Roseman, then a young, rising personnel executive, was paying attention.

The Eagles have done a lot of things differently in the five years since Reid's final season here, but one thing Doug Pederson and Roseman believe in is building around the lines, and it sure paid off last year.

According to figures on salary cap website Spotrac, the Eagles in 2017 were the only team ranked among the top five in the NFL in both offensive line and defensive line spending.

And the only team that had a parade in February.

And they’re only going to spend more this year.

The Eagles will spend 22.36 percent of their 2018 cap money on the offensive line, fourth most in the league, and 28.84 percent to the defensive line, fifth most.

That’s more than half their 2018 payroll on the big guys up front.

The Jets — sixth in O-line spending, 10th in D-line — are the only other team in the top 10 in both.

Seven of the Eagles’ 10 highest-paid players last year were linemen, as are eight of their 13 projected highest-paid players in 2018.

And five of those guys — Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce, Vinny Curry and Jason Peters — are actually holdovers from the Reid era.

Think of them as Reid’s parting gifts to the 2017 championship team.

Creating a Super Bowl roster was a complicated process for Roseman, and to be able to make this sort of financial commitment to the two lines means you just don’t have much money left for everything else. 

The only way to make that work is to build with cheap labor elsewhere. 

And that means younger players on bargain-basement rookie contracts, cheap but productive quarterbacks and low-round picks and undrafted players with cheapo contracts excelling.

It means drafting well and making exceptional free-agent decisions without overspending.

It’s a crazy juggling act, and Roseman juggled all those things magnificentely last year.

In fact, according to Spotrac’s data, the two lines are the Eagles' only positional groups ranked even among the top 15 in the NFL.

The secondary and QB positions rank 16th in cap allocations, tight end 18th, running back 21st, wide receiver 27th, linebacker 31st and special teams 32nd.

These numbers are all based on the 53 highest-paid players currently under contract, so they will change slightly once the final roster is set, but they won’t change much.

The Eagles were very good in a lot of areas last year — really, in every area — but their offensive line was the best in football and the best in Eagles history, and the defensive line was easily one of the two- or three-best in football.

Everything the Eagles did, everything they accomplished, started up front.

Put Peters back on the O-line and add Haloti Ngata and Michael Bennett to the D-line with an increased role for Derek Barnett, and both lines could conceivably be even better this year.

It’s going to get harder for Roseman to keep paying the Eagles’ linemen the way he has. Once Carson Wentz signs his next contract, the Eagles’ entire salary cap balance will change. 

Those $25 million annual cap hits for one guy have a tendency to make roster decisions way more challenging.

So it will be tricky for the Eagles to re-sign Graham. He wants a fortune, and he deserves a fortune. 

But even if Roseman can’t get that done, Barnett has three more years on his rookie deal, and that’s the key to making this whole thing work. 

You can’t re-sign everybody, so if you want to remain elite, you have to draft well so you can replace the people you invariably lose.

You lose Patrick Robinson, you have Sidney Jones waiting. You lose LeGarrette Blount, there’s Corey Clement ready to go. You lose Mychal Kendricks, you hope a Nate Gerry can contribute. Trey Burton leaves, and Dallas Goedert is cheaper and better.

You get what you pay for. And the Eagles right now are paying for the best in the business.

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