Dallas Goedert’s improvement could come at Zach Ertz’s expense
Could the season opener be a harbinger of an ascending young player and a veteran one trending in opposite directions?
Dallas Goedert had arguably the best game of his career. Zach Ertz uncharacteristically dropped what could have been a key fourth-down completion.
It was difficult not to juxtapose the performances of the Eagles' top two tight ends in Sunday’s disappointing 27-17 loss at Washington. Goedert will have weeks when he isn’t as productive, and Ertz will have far more when he’s sure-handed.
But could the season opener be a harbinger of an ascending young player and a veteran trending in opposite directions? Goedert, who steadily improved in his first two seasons, could be poised for a breakout season.
“One positive observation after watching the Eagles' ugly offensive performance,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah wrote on Twitter Monday, “Dallas Goedert looks like an all-pro.”
Ertz, miscue aside, has shown little sign of slowing down. But his potential reduction could come as a result of Goedert’s improvement. The Eagles utilize their two tight end package – 12 personnel – more than any NFL team, but clearly one’s involvement will affect the other.
And in terms of the long term, how this season plays out could influence the team’s willingness to keep both. Ertz’s frustration with his contract situation has already spilled over into full view. Negotiations were tabled weeks ago, and just last week the 29-year old questioned whether the Eagles were committed beyond his current deal.
“I said all along I want to be here for the long run,” said Ertz, who has two years remaining on the five-year extension he signed in 2016. “I don’t know for sure if that feeling is mutual.”
Extending Ertz, under most circumstances, would be a no-brainer. He’s a homegrown talent who has reached a perennial Pro Bowl level, was instrumental in the Eagles winning their first Super Bowl, and does everything right on and off the field when it comes to preparation.
But most teams don’t have two franchise-caliber tight ends. If there is an impasse between the front office and Ertz – and the feeling here is that it may be overblown – it doesn’t have as much to do with him as it does Goedert.
The 25-year-old is still a work in progress. But if the Eagles believe he can become as good, if not better, then it may not suit them to give Ertz an extension as exorbitant as the ones George Kittle and Travis Kelce recently signed.
While Goedert said that the peculiar dynamic that exists between him and Ertz wasn’t awkward, it is one, at the very least, both will have to address until there is any resolution.
“I don’t want to really get into contract deals. Obviously, I have no part of that,” Goedert said Sunday in Landover, Md. "But he feels passionate that he deserves to get paid. He’s been here for eight years or whatever, and he’s played really good football all eight years.
“I don’t think he was throwing any shots at the organization or anything. I think it was just a little bit of his emotions.”
Ertz said last week that his contract situation wouldn’t be an in-season distraction. There was an NFL Network report Sunday that he had a heated conversation with general manager Howie Roseman following a recent practice. “Passionate” was the description used by Inquirer sources close to the situation. Nevertheless, contract talks are never easy.
“Obviously, Zach’s frustrated about that,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said. “But he’s been a great teammate and he’s not letting it affect his ability to play, his ability to be a leader.”
Curiously, Ertz wasn’t among the eight players chosen by coach Doug Pederson to be a team captain. Quarterback Carson Wentz, tackle Jason Peters and Kelce were the three chosen to represent the offense. On the surface, Ertz would seem worthy of the title in his eighth season.
Few in the locker room forget that he played in the playoffs after lacerating his kidney in the penultimate game of last season. Ertz’s injury, in some respects, opened the door for Goedert to make his greatest contributions in his first two seasons.
But Goedert had already started making inroads as a receiver. And in his last seven games dating back to last season – including Sunday’s eight catches for a career-high 101 yards and a touchdown – he has caught 42 passes for 492 yards (11.7 yards per) and two touchdowns.
Ertz was productive in the second half of last season before he went down. He caught 47 passes for 464 yards (9.9 yards per) and five touchdowns in the six games before his injuries. (He also fractured ribs.)
It’s not like the two can’t coexist. Ertz played in 58 of 68 snaps Sunday, Goedert 54. And Ertz was targeted seven times – he caught three passes for 17 yards and a touchdown – while Goedert saw nine passes his way, his lone miss also a drop.
Still, it will be interesting to see how playing time and targets will be divided as the season progresses.
“I think me and Zach have a good relationship,” Goedert said. “I’m not going to blame him for taking my catches. I don’t think he’s going to blame me for taking his catches. We help each other out a lot on the field, and I think our relationship is great.”