Today we are continuing our positional breakdown series for the Philadelphia Eagles. We are going to dive into one of the Eagles most talented position groups and one that has garnered a lot of trade talk during the last few weeks: the tight ends. What are the top storylines and question marks for the tight end position in 2020? How would I grade each position? Let’s break it down.
Tight End 1A: Zach Ertz
Zach Ertz has been a bonafide stud for the duration of Carson Wentz’s career and far and away his #1 target. In Wentz’s 4 seasons, Ertz has racked up 356 receptions for 3,719 yards and 26 touchdowns. Second place in each of those categories is Nelson Agholor (201 receptions, 2,232 yards) and Alshon Jeffry (19 TDs). The Eagles have consistently provided one of the worst receiving groups in the NFL for Carson Wentz to work with and Zach Ertz has stepped into that talent void and become Mr. Reliability. https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
To Trade, or Not to Trade: That is the Question
Despite all of this, there has been lots of talk amongst Eagles fans of trading Ertz. First, he was linked to the Jaguars in a trade for DE Yannick Ngakoue and then later to the Jets in a trade for SS Jamal Adams. From a strictly football perspective, the Eagles would be foolish to even consider trading Ertz. As much as the front office has failed to put weapons around Wentz, Ertz has always been there for him. However, in the NFL things are not always evaluated entirely based upon on-field performance. A cursory look at the salary cap shows that the Eagles have one of the worst cap situations in the league.
For a long time, GM Howie Roseman has restructured deals and moved money around load the team up with as many weapons as possible. The can can only be kicked down the road for so long and in 2021 it may finally be time to pay the piper as the Eagles are projected to be an astonishing $51.8 million over the cap in 2021. Both Ertz and Dallas Goedert have contracts that expire in 2021 and it seems almost certain the team will be unable to retain both of them.
Tight End 1B: Dallas Goedert
During the 2018 Draft, the Eagles made my year by trading up in front of the Cowboys to select a TE named after their team, in their stadium, the day after Jason Witten announced his retirement. In his first season, Goedert didn’t see a lot of action as the 2nd TE, but he did catch 33 passes for 334 yards and 4 TDs. More importantly, he showed that he was an excellent blocker (something that was thought to be a weakness during the scouting process) and showed some major flashes of talent. Last season he took another step forward catching 58 passes for 607 yards and 5 TDs, all good for 2nd on the team behind fellow TE Zach Ertz.
Goedert has skills that Ertz just doesn’t possess
He is a far better blocker than Ertz and is a much bigger threat with the ball in his hands after the catch. Last season Goedert averaged 5.7 yards after the catch and his YAC yardage accounted for 55% of his total receiving yards. Ertz averaged only 2.9 yards after the catch and his YAC yardage accounted for only 28% of his total. Ertz has the edge in his route running ability and has better hands than Goedert (5% drop rate vs 8% drop rate in 2019), but you have to wonder how long the Eagles can justify hanging onto both players and which one they will choose when keeping both is no longer viable.
In an interview with Bob Ford last offseason, Goedert said that he would be the starting tight end for 29 other teams in the NFL and acknowledged that he wants an opportunity to be a starter. He listed himself as the #4 TE in the NFL behind only Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle. That doesn’t sound like someone who is going to be content to sign a contract that would allow the Eagles to keep both him and Ertz for the 2022 season. The clock is officially ticking on the Eagles current TE duo and many argue that it would make sense to trade Zach Ertz and elevate Dallas Goedert to the starting role sooner rather than later.
Fighting for Tight End 3: Joshua Perkins and Alex Ellis
The Eagles run more 2 TE sets than any other team in the NFL. According to Sharp Football Stats, the Eagles were 1 of only 2 teams in the NFL to base out of 12 personnel last season. The Eagles lined up with 2 TEs on the field a whopping 52% of their offensive snaps in 2019, 18% more than the next closest team. For a team that relies on using 2 tight ends so frequently, the outlook for a replacement if 1 of their top 2 goes down is less than ideal. Joshua Perkins and Alex Ellis both came into the league in 2016 and in their 4-year careers have combined for a total of 20 receptions.
The Eagles have valued Joshua Perkins hybrid abilities at TE and WR in the past. Even though he isn’t really very good at either role, that versatility gives him the leg up on Alex Ellis and makes him the likely third tight end heading into 2020 unless the Eagles can find a better option somewhere else.
Position Grade & Final Thoughts
How will the tight end production be impacted in 2020 when the Eagles have a competent (hopefully) receiving group again? Will Desean Jackson and Jalen Reagor open up more space underneath for the tight ends or will they just steal targets? Will the Eagles continue to employ 2 TE packages as frequently this season? I expect the Eagles to still base out of 12 personnel this season, but I don’t think that it will be as overwhelming as it was in 2019 when Carson Wentz was literally playing with an entire roster of WRs from various practice squads. The Eagles have the best 1-2 punch at TE in the NFL and it isn’t even close, and I expect them to continue to rely on them heavily.
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