By Pete Baxter
NFL Week Six saw the Philadelphia Eagles fall to the defending Super Bowl champions. Not a huge surprise, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are aiming for a repeat while the Eagles aim for a rebuild.
After a rough first half that saw Philly trailing 21-7 at the break, the Eagles made it a game behind Miles Sanders’ (who received nine times more touches in the second half than the first) and Jalen Hurts’ legs. A gutsy two-point conversion brought the score within six late in the fourth quarter, but that was as close as the Eagles would get, as they fell 28-22 at home.
What was surprising, however, was the trade that was executed afterwards, and the emotional press conference that followed.
If You Love Him, Set Him Free
Philly fans will remember seeing Carson Wentz and his Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz sharing what seemed to be an emotional goodbye on the grass at Lincoln Financial Field after the 2020 season came to a close. The Eagles were headed towards a franchise reboot. Both veterans seemed destined to spend the 2021 season elsewhere. The next day on January 4, 2021, Ertz bid a tearful goodbye to Philadelphia in his post-season press conference. Later that month, Zach Ertz requested a trade.
Carson Wentz was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in March. It seemed Ertz would be out the door next, perhaps even joining his former quarterback in Indy. He was granted permission from the team to seek a trade on March 16, as reported by the NFL Network.
Fast forward to August and Ertz was still on the roster as the preseason kicked off. Fast forward another month, and he was still on the roster for the regular season. In an act of outstanding professionalism, Ertz withdrew his trade request. He pledged his respect for the team’s new coaching staff, and insisted he wanted to retire an Eagle. However, after a wildly inconsistent 2-4 start to the season, in which Ertz had recorded 18 catches through six games, the Eagles finally bought their tight end a one-way ticket out of Philly.
It was reported on Friday that Ertz had been traded to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for rookie cornerback Tay Gowan and a 2022 fifth-round pick. Ertz had been notified of the trade prior to the game. In an emotional post-game press conference, Ertz expressed his love for the city of Philadelphia. He admitted to crying in his locker for 30 minutes after the game.
Zach Ertz finished his eight-plus years in Philly with 579 catches for 6,267 yards and 38 touchdown catches. As GM Howie Roseman said, Ertz is an “Eagles Hall of Famer, on the verge of maybe the NFL Hall of Fame.”
Why the Trade Makes Sense
While watching a fan-favorite and three-time Pro Bowler get shipped out of town is a tough pill to swallow for fans, the trade makes a great deal of sense for the Eagles.
For starters, as Roseman explained to reporters on Friday, both Ertz and Eagles’ TE1 Dallas Goedert are on expiring contracts and set to become free agents in the offseason. There was no way that Eagles would be able to afford to keep both beyond this season. Goedert is the younger, better player at this stage of his career. Tyree Jackson, the 23-year-old 6’7” behemoth, also showed a ton of potential prior to his preseason back injury. Jackson is set to become a big part of this offense moving forward.
Six games into the season, it has become clear that the Eagles are not going to be contenders this season. Thus, Ertz has become expendable. Rather than lose their veteran tight end for nothing in the offseason, gaining a fifth-round pick and a prospect for the defensive backfield is a decent haul. The Eagles now have 10 draft picks for the 2022 offseason. Additionally, they have the rest of the season to have a look at their newly acquired young cornerback as they work to rebuild their inconsistent defense.
The trade also makes a great deal of sense for Zach Ertz. As noted, he was a good soldier and withdrew his trade request as the season approached. However, Arizona was high on his list as a destination and gives him a great opportunity to contend for a championship this season at age 30. Ertz has an opportunity to walk in the door as the team’s TE1 with starter Maxx Williams out for the season. He joins a loaded offense helmed by quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray is considered by many to be an MVP candidate this season.
Ultimately, this deal made sense for all parties.
It is Time for a Play Calling Change in Philly
Six weeks into the regular season, there have been an assortment of factors that have led to the Eagles’ 2-4 start. The defense has been wildly inconsistent. Jalen Hurts has been equally inconsistent, despite leading the Eagles in passing and rushing on a weekly basis. Injuries have plagued both the offensive and defensive lines.
However, one of the most consistent problems plaguing the team has been Nick Sirianni’s play calling. Despite criticism from players, fans, and media pundits, Sirianni has not taken the hint. He refuses to run the ball or remotely utilize Miles Sanders, one of the team’s best players. Sanders had just one carry in the first half of Thursday’s game against the Buccaneers.
He seems to lack the creativity to take full advantage of Jalen Hurts’ talents and physical gifts. Hurts is asked to drop back over-and-over again without utilizing RPOs or play-action regularly. Granted, the Buccaneers’ run defense has been outstanding this season, but it is impossible to keep a defense honest if they can zero in on your quarterback and anticipate the pass nearly every down. This predictability, along with injuries to the offensive line, have kept Hurts running for his life nearly as much as Wentz did last season.
Sirianni has never been a head coach. He has never been a primary play caller for an NFL offense. It seems apparent that, should he continue to split his attention to learning both of these highly complex, challenging tasks, he may fail at both.
It is time for Sirianni to hand off play calling duties to OC Shane Steichen. Steichen is nearly as inexperienced as Sirianni, but as OC for the Chargers in 2020, was credited for rookie Justin Herbert’s rapid ascension. Could he help Jalen Hurts make a similar jump moving forward?
Without having to worry about play calling duties, Sirianni can focus his attention of solving some of the teams’ other consistent struggles. The Eagles must be more disciplined and avoid penalties. The Eagles are the most penalized team in the NFL so far this season, which is a very alarming trend. Penalties (hand-in-hand with horrible officiating) were extremely costly in Thursday’s loss.
If Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts are going to stick around in Philly for the long term, this change has to take place sooner than later.
More to come from Philly.