Why the Eagles traded Zach Ertz | Jeff McLane
Ertz has been through ups and downs with the Eagles franchise, but in the end, he won over Philadelphia as the fans loved him back.
Late in the 2016 season, Zach Ertz missed a block against the Bengals. It wasn’t just your typical run block, though. Ertz had an opportunity to protect the scrambling Carson Wentz in the open field, but rather than impede the path of the charging Vontaze Burfict, the Eagles tight end made like a matador.
Ertz’s non-block was a non-factor on the play, then-offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. But his sidestep looked more like a business decision than a professional one, and because the spiraling Eagles were already getting blown out, some Philadelphia fans and media wanted Ertz to be held accountable.
By the time the then-26-year-old tight end had walked to his locker stall the following Wednesday, the furor had yet to subside. Ertz knew exactly the firestorm awaiting him because he was often his own harshest critic, and because, by his fourth season, he had known what to expect from his adopted hometown:
Brutal honesty, however irrational sometimes the delivery.
“It’s OK to be told you’re not playing great. It’s OK to be told that you need to be better,” Ertz said Friday. “In reality, nobody should have to tell you as a professional. I can tell myself if I played well or didn’t play well.
“I could tell you exactly how the fans are going to react based on how I played.”
For most of his eight-plus seasons with the Eagles, Ertz didn’t have to worry about criticism. He was one of the best at his position in the NFL, and if he did have subpar games, fans knew that he would answer for his mistakes, by never dodging reporters and by working tirelessly.
It took some years for the native Californian to understand and eventually embrace the tough love. But when he faced the cameras and microphones after his Cincinnati olé and expressed regret, it was almost as if Ertz had passed the Philly sports test and could be called one of its own.
It took the next season, when Ertz was a pivotal part of the Eagles’ championship run, for the love affair to be consummated. But the last 18 months, when the 30-year-old and the team were often at odds, did little to diminish the mutual respect. And when Ertz was finally traded Friday, fans mourned the departure of an athlete who got Philly.
“This city loves their players and they want to see us succeed as much or not more than we want to succeed,” Ertz said shortly after he was dealt to the Cardinals for cornerback Tay Gowan and a fifth-round draft pick. “And for me, it’s what I Ioved about this place. People were honest. They’re blunt. ... They want to see you putting in the work Monday through Saturday to get better for Sunday.
“And, for me, I think that’s why I resonated in this city, because all I knew was how to work hard.”
So why would the Eagles trade away arguably the best tight end in franchise history, who is still seemingly playing at a high level, if not at his peak? And why not do it in the offseason, when trade compensation, according to league sources, was relatively the same?
General manager Howie Roseman wouldn’t go into detail when asked the second question. He said that the trade was about opportunity for both the Eagles and Ertz. The first question was easier to answer, although there were myriad factors, the most prominent being Dallas Goedert.
Roseman said it had become increasingly clear that the Eagles couldn’t keep both pending free-agent tight ends. But that ball had started rolling the moment he moved up for Goedert in the second round of the 2018 draft.
Ertz responded by having the best season of his career, setting an NFL mark with 116 receptions. But Goedert was too talented to keep off the field and by 2019 the pair led the team in receiving. Ertz wanted a new contract before last season, though, to reflect the increasing salaries for top-flight tight ends, but Roseman drew a sharp line.
» READ MORE: What’s next for Eagles’ Dallas Goedert as No. 1 tight end and in free agency after Zach Ertz trade
After a miserable 2020 for all parties involved, Ertz could read the writing. He gave an emotional news conference in January, and was given permission to seek a trade, but Roseman didn’t pull the trigger even though the Bills and Chargers had made offers, per sources.
New coach Nick Sirianni also wanted to feature more three-receiver sets, which ended up being the case. Ertz and Goedert mostly split reps when the season started and neither was pleased, or could get into rhythm, which Roseman oddly offered up.
So why did you keep both for six games?
“This isn’t Days of Our Lives, my man,” Roseman said to a reporter who asked if Ertz was leaving the Eagles on good terms.
Roseman spoke of his affection for Ertz, whom he also drafted in the second round. He said he told him Tuesday evening that a trade was in the works and that he wanted him to enter Thursday night’s game against the Buccaneers with “open eyes.”
It was a risk, but Goedert was also unable to play because he was on the COVID-19 list. Ertz was named a captain and, as the No. 1 tight end, played his most snaps, and got open many times, even if it wasn’t reflected in his numbers (four catches for 29 yards and a touchdown).
» READ MORE: Eagles trade Zach Ertz to the Cardinals, and as the deal was being finalized, he got a send-off in Philadelphia
He was one of the last players to leave Lincoln Financial Field and was visibly emotional as he entered the locker room. Ertz said he cried at his stall for 30 minutes.
“Last January against Washington, there were no fans, so it was weird,” Ertz said. “I was glad I didn’t end it like that. It was special last night. Obviously, we didn’t win, which sucked, but it was fun to do what I do out there and I felt great.”
Eight-and-a-half years earlier, Ertz arrived in Philly shy and uncertain. He was clearly nervous during his first session with reporters at the NovaCare Complex and struggled with answers partly because of a speech impediment.
He worked as hard to overcome his stutter as he did catching a football and now gives many public speeches — along with his soccer superstar wife, Julie — as leaders of the Ertz Family Foundation.
The organization is revamping the House of Hope in the Hunting Park section of North Philly to provide a Wi-Fi cafe for local kids. Ertz, who was raised by a single mother, has spoken about how after-school youth sports offered him a sanctuary.
It’s a topic he remains passionate about, but he and his wife wanted their most significant project to be in Philly. He said when those close to him started to learn of his pending trade, and they mentioned how moving back to the West Coast would allow the Ertzes to be closer to home, he corrected them.
“This is home. Philadelphia is home,” Ertz said. “That was tough just to kind of articulate that to people — that I love this place.”
Ertz spoke about the possibility of even returning late in his career to top Harold Carmichael’s franchise receptions mark, as he departs while 10 catches shy of it.
But he’ll be back to Philly for other reasons, and definitely one day to be inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame. And he’ll only hear cheers.