Rob Gronkowski

NFL 2020 tight end rankings: Could Zach Ertz miss the top-four cut?

NFL 2020 tight end rankings: Could Zach Ertz miss the top-four cut?

Zach Ertz has been an elite pass-catching tight end basically since 2014, his second season with the Eagles. His size, route-running, and athleticism makes him a near-impossible matchup for defenses.

But Ertz turns 30 this November, and he has a TE1-in-waiting sitting behind him on the depth chart in Dallas Goedert. Is 2020 the year we see him take a step out of the elite tight end ranks?

The folks over at Pro Football Focus think, even if it's not a big step, Ertz won't be a top four tight end in the NFL this season. They projected receiving totals, and instead of Ertz rounding out the top four, as most would expect, they have...

Rob Gronkowski?

Yep:

There's a lot to take in here. Let's look at some things that aren't Ertz.

For one, Mark Andrews at No. 1 would be quite a jump for the third-year tight end. He's had two great seasons to start his career, but the Ravens aren't a pass-happy offense. I don't see the yards piling up like this.

The Raiders' Darren Waller had 1,145 yards last year. It's possible he's a one-year wonder, and it's likely rookie Henry Ruggs III sees Waller get fewer targets, but having Gronkowski over Waller is... odd.

As for Gronk, he hasn't played a 16-game season since 2011, and he went for just 682 yards in his most recent NFL season. Is he well-rested enough to return to 2017 form? Maybe. But with stud wideouts like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin available for Tom Brady, there likely aren't enough targets in Tampa Bay to push Gronk to 999 yards.

Now, for Ertz. Ertz has reached 999 yards in a season just once: 1,163 yards in 2018. He saw his yards number tumble last year, but the whole team really took a step back, and Dallas Goedert became more comfortable in the offense. Ertz is still a stud until proven otherwise, and I think he's still a top-four tight end. 

Of course, with rookie Jalen Reagor catching passes, Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson both ostensibly healthy, and Goedert continuing to grow, Ertz could either see his pass-catching opportunities get easier... or see his targets dry up. So it's not unthinkable that he finishes with, say, 825 yards in 2020.

But I certainly don't think he'll finish lower than a recently-unretired Gronk.

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How the Rob Gronkowski trade from Patriots to Buccaneers affects the 2020 playoffs

How the Rob Gronkowski trade from Patriots to Buccaneers affects the 2020 playoffs

The NFL Draft was supposed to be this week's big football news, but Rob Gronkowski had other ideas.

Gronk, the legendary Patriots tight end who retired after the 2018 season and has spent time with WWE in the interim, un-retired Tuesday and was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to reunite with Tom Brady.

Yes, seriously.

Here's the deal, per ESPN's Adam Schefter:

Once you've wrapped your head around the absurdity of Gronk returning to football after some serious time off, it's time to think about how this affects the Eagles.

Brady and Gronk used to be a once-every-four-years headache for the Eagles, and a potential Super Bowl foe. (41-33, never forget.) Now, the duo resides in the same conference as the Eagles, and presents a likely obstacle to their Super Bowl aspirations at least in 2020, if not for the next two years. 

How has Gronkowski fared against the Eagles, historically? 

Interestingly, because of his relatively short career, his injury problems, and his playing in the AFC, the Eagles have only faced Gronk twice.

In Week 12 of the 2011 season, Gronkowski - then in his second year, his first breakout season - caught four passes for 59 yards and a touchdown for a Patriots win. Then, in Super Bowl LII, Gronkowski exploded in the second half, catching nine passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns, but the Eagles obviously won that game.

So his average game against the Eagles is 6.5 receptions, 87.5 yards, and 1.5 touchdowns, with a 1-1 win-loss record.

Whether Gronkowski will return to form immediately is unclear - and, frankly, it's unlikely he'll be as good as he was during his peak Patriots years. 

But he's still an enormous body and an athletic freak who's given the Eagles problems in the past; he's rested his body in his year-plus off from pro football; and he's probably Brady's favorite target ever. Even with next season's expanded playoff field, Tampa Bay has gone from just another NFC team to a serious problem for the Birds.

In short: the NFC just got way weirder.

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Did the Eagles just end the Patriots' dynasty?

Did the Eagles just end the Patriots' dynasty?

As the Delaware Valley basks in the glow of getting that King Kong-sized monkey extracted from their backs, one of the added perks of the Eagles' Super Bowl win is who it came against. That's right, The Hoodie, Tom Terrific and the Evil Empire.

Revenge is a dish best served cold and Doug Pederson and Nick Foles were cooler than the sub-zero temperatures outside U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. But did the Eagles' win spell the end of the Patriots' dynasty? Let's explore:

Tom Brady
Let's be real clear, this is not about performance. Brady won NFL MVP at the age of 40. What he's doing at his age in his sport is unheard of. The question is: How much longer does he want to do this?

Brady is fanatical about everything from his diet to proper sleep, conditioning with his personal trainer, etc. But at what point does he say to himself, 'I'm good, there's nothing left to prove?' Five rings, the G.O.A.T. title and Gisele money? Last but not least, the physical beatings he's endured through 18 NFL seasons.

Brady/Belichick/Kraft
It's been perhaps the greatest player-coach-owner run in sports history. But are there cracks? ESPN had a detailed story prior to the playoffs chronicling a rift between the trifecta. Ego has brought down many a high-ranking man or conglomeration. Think Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson. Belichick, like Brady, is widely considered the best who's ever done it. But at 65 years old and having won seven rings as both a head coach and assistant, how much more grind does he have left in him?   

Matt Patricia out
Although Josh McDaniels had a change of heart and will be staying on as the offensive coordinator and not taking the Colts' head-coaching gig, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has accepted the Lions job. Belichick has lost many an assistant over the years and did just fine, but one additional move needs to be made.

Gronk done?
Rob Gronkowski did not shoot down a report after the Super Bowl that he is considering retiring. Gronk is only 28 and when on the field, he is as dominant at his position as anyone in football. But keep in mind, he has had nine reported surgeries since his last season in college. Four on his forearm, three on his back, one knee and one ankle. Not to mention the concussion he suffered in the AFC Championship game this season. He too has won rings and made a lot of dough. Stepping away may not be that far-fetched.

Free agency
Here are some of the key contributors to this year's Patriots team that will be hitting the free agent market: CB Malcolm Butler, OT Nate Solder, WR Danny Amendola, RB Dion Lewis, DT Ricky Jean-Francois, LB Marquis Flowers and LB James Harrison.

What does all this mean?
Look, if we've learned one thing about Brady and Belichick, they are like the villain in a horror flick, they can be shot, stabbed, run-over, thrown in a shallow grave, but you better make sure they're dead. If not, don't count them out.

But wouldn't it be sweet if the Eagles were the ones to end the dynasty?