By Pete Baxter
A candid moment between Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick and embattled Eagles’ tight end Zach Ertz is going viral. The main highlight of the brief conversation, caught during a joint practice between their respective teams, went as follows:
“I’m still going to get you some day,” the legendary coach told Ertz, “but Howie (Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman) wants two first round picks. And two of my grandchildren.”
Normally, a head coach actively recruiting another team’s former Pro Bowl tight end would be a shocking revelation. However, Ertz has been discussed in trade scenarios since the end of last season. This is, in truth, less surprising than the fact that Ertz is still an Eagle.
Clearly, Belichick’s comments were tongue-in-cheek, though his respect for Ertz is evident. That said, could there be more to this story than just some light-hearted small talk?
Probably not. Belichick is notorious for his refusal to share even the most basic of insight with the media. He isn’t one to show his cards. If he is actively engaging in trade talks for Ertz, he certainly isn’t going to make any pitches in front of a camera.
However, a deal sending Ertz from Philadelphia to New England would make a ton of sense for both teams. It would also make sense for Ertz himself.
Let’s put on our fantasy GM caps and explore this theoretical deal a little closer.
The Eagles are Ready to Move On
As the Eagles’ disastrous 2020 campaign to a close, Ertz joined since departed quarterback Zach Ertz on the field. Their conversation (along with Jason Kelce) went on long after the field had been cleared following their week 17 defeat to the Washington Football Team.
Many read this scene as foreshadowing for what was to come. Both Wentz and his trusty tight end were expected to be long-gone before the 2021 season. The Eagles were ready to tear things down and start fresh with a new, young quarterback and fresh set of weapons. Zach Ertz requested a trade, and the Eagles seemed poised to oblige. In March, the team even granted the 30-year-old tight end permission to seek a trade.
In one of the biggest surprises of the Eagles’ offseason, Ertz remains on the roster at this point. Almost as surprisingly, he reported to camp and has been a good soldier throughout the preseason thus far. That said, it may not be for long.
Ertz struggled with an ankle injury in 2020 and watched his numbers decline across the board. After recording 88 catches for over 900 yards in 2019, he caught only 36 passes for 335 yards in 11 games last season. 26-year-old Dallas Goedert, meanwhile, outperformed Ertz in 11 games of his own. Goedert looked explosive when healthy and recorded 46 catches for 524 yards. Goedert has looked strong in training camp and in a brief preseason performance. He looks like a lock for the starting tight end role.
With Goedert at the top of the depth chart, another young tight end has suddenly thrown his hat in the ring to receive more reps. Tyree Jackson, a former college quarterback at the University of Buffalo, has looked outstanding in training camp. Jackson is a massive, athletic 6’7” behemoth who potentially creates major matchup issues for defenses. He is only 23 years old.
Jackson is also a heck of a bargain. He is set to make only $660,000 in base salary this season. Ertz, meanwhile, is due $8.5 million this season. This nearly $8 million in savings, should Ertz move on, could open a number of doors for the Eagles as they look to improve their depth and build up this young team moving forward.
Jackson has the opportunity to develop under a former wide receivers coach in Eagles’ head coach Nick Sirianni and veterans Goedert and 29-year-old Richard Rodgers (who caught 24 passes for Philly last year). He can potentially match or exceed Zach Ertz’ productivity at a massive discount.
In addition to the major financial savings, the Eagles would certainly receive some level of draft capital in return. Earlier in the offseason, it was reported that the Eagles were seeking a third or fourth-round pick as compensation for Ertz. Based on the fact that Ertz remains on the roster, it would appear they had no takers.
However, even if they had to settle for a fifth-round draft pick, it would only add to what could be a pivotal 2022 offseason. The Eagles already have 10 available draft picks next year. A fifth-round pick could certainly add further depth to their work-in-progress of a defense. It could also add another developmental weapon to Jalen Hurts’ arsenal.
The Patriots Need Help
Bill Belichick went all in during the Patriots’ 2021 offseason to build a dangerous tight end group. New England signed two of the top free agents at the position in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.
Amazingly, early in preseason, they find themselves dangerously thin at the position. Henry (shoulder) and Smith (ankle) are both out nursing injuries. They are both expected to miss multiple weeks. Third-stringer Matt Lacosse went down with what appears to be a concussion during Monday’s joint practice against the Eagles. Last year’s disappointing third-round pick Dalton Keene is currently on injured reserve.
That leaves New England with just two active tight ends on their roster, headlined by second-year player Devin Asiasi. Asiasi, another disappointing third-round pick, caught just two balls last year.
Bringing in Zach Ertz would stabilize the position as their starters recuperate and give the Patriots’ offense a fighting chance early in the season.
Regardless of whether Cam Newton or rookie Mac Jones ultimately starts at quarterback in New England, they will need a reliable tight end to start the season. Particularly if Mac Jones takes the field, only having Asiasi as his big target could be disastrous. Ertz could fill this critical role.
If Belichick can acquire a widely respected, former Pro Bowl tight end for just a fourth or fifth-round pick at this point, he should pull the trigger immediately. He would not even need to give up a grandchild.
Where There is Smoke, There is Fire
It is entirely possible that there is zero traction for the Ertz/Belichick bromance to develop in New England. However, sometimes things really are how they seem. Maybe Belichick was speaking the truth in his candid talk with the Eagles’ veteran tight end.
Zach Ertz has had an outstanding career in Philadelphia. He is a three-time Pro Bowler and became a Super Bowl champion during his eight-year stint as an Eagle. He is an Eagle legend. However, he is on the downswing of his career and wants a fresh start elsewhere. It would be a win-win for player and team to amicably split at this point.
Pipe dream or not, it would make a ton of sense for both sides to make this move. As we have all offseason in following the Ertz situation, will have to wait and see.
More to come from Philly.