Zach Ertz’s time as an Eagle might be fleeting, and he knows it.
The Eagles tight end sat on the sideline at Lincoln Financial Field into Monday’s earliest hours, talking with Carson Wentz, Jason Kelce, and the Eagles’ vice president of security, Dom DiSandro, for the better part of 90 minutes.
About nine hours after he finally left the field, Ertz entertained the possibility that he has played his last game as an Eagle and broke down while talking about what the city and Eagles fans mean to him during his final news conference of the season.
“I think this city is the best city to play for,” Ertz said, wiping tears from his eyes. “I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. It means a lot to me, it means a lot to my family, and I’m thankful.”
It’s unclear whether Ertz has played his last game as an Eagle, but the writing was on the wall Monday. The 30-year-old has become one of the best tight ends of his era since the Eagles selected him in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, but he came into the season frustrated with the team’s unwillingness to sign him to a long-term contract extension. He’s under contract through next year, but it’s unlikely he’d be willing to play on a one-year deal and the team might have to release him to make salary-cap space.
Ertz, who set an NFL record for most catches for a tight end with 116 receptions in 2018, had his worst professional season in 2020. He set career lows in yards per reception, touchdowns and catch percentage, and missed five games with an ankle injury. For years, Ertz and Wentz’s chemistry was the foundation of the Eagles offense, but this season, the two struggled to get on the same page.
“We just weren’t clicking early on,” Ertz said. “It was just dumbfounding to a certain extent because we’ve been together for so long we can pretty tell each other exactly what the other person’s going to do.”
Wentz’s struggles this season haven’t changed Ertz’s view of the quarterback. Ertz even said he’s open to following Wentz if the Eagles move on from both of them in the offseason.
“Of course I want to play with Carson as long as I possibly can,” Ertz said. “In my opinion, he’s a franchise quarterback. He’s a quarterback that can lead you to the playoffs every year. He can put you in contention to win Super Bowls. Who wouldn’t want to play with that? Someone that wants to work on the practice field as much as he wants to shine on Sundays. For me, that’s an easy answer, of course I want to play with him as long as I can.”
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman alluded to the difficult decisions the front office will have to make when asked about Ertz’s future with the team. The Eagles are projected to be roughly $70 million over the salary cap going into this summer and will have to cut several veteran players on expensive deals to make it under the cap. Especially with 26-year-old tight end Dallas Goedert still on his rookie contract through 2021 and overtaking Ertz in playing time in the second half of the season, the team will likely consider releasing or trading Ertz to save about $4.7 million in cap space.
“I think for him, it’s all about wanting to be here and being a part of that,” Roseman said Monday. “Sometimes, you see that in my role, sometimes it’s not always the good cop. Sometimes you’re in a mode that you have to do what you think is right for the team, not only with Zach, but with everyone. That’s hard, that’s hard when you have relationships with guys.”
Roseman and Ertz reportedly got into an argument before the season opener against Washington because the tight end questioned whether the front office shared Ertz’s desire to keep him with the team long-term. Ertz said he and the Eagles’ front office haven’t discussed his contract situation since before the start of the regular season by Ertz’s request.
“We have a good relationship; obviously it is a business,” Ertz said. “This has kind of been my first taste of that business, but everyone says it is a business. For me, it’s something, I’ll never hold a grudge, everyone’s trying to do their jobs to the best of their abilities just like I am each and every week and I’m excited about the future.”
Ertz entertained the possibility of returning to the Eagles at the end of his career if he’s elsewhere next season.