Trey Burton and Carson Wentz first met during the spring. Burton was a third-year tight end from Florida who made the Eagles as an undrafted rookie and stayed in the NFL because of his special-teams play. Wentz was a second overall pick who grew up in North Dakota and was expected to become the face of the franchise.
"We don't have anything in common other than football and our faith," Burton said.
That was enough. The two became fast friends, developing a close bond away from football that has translated onto the field. Burton has developed into one of Wentz's favorite targets, catching 12 passes for 118 yards during the last two games while seeing a spike in playing time. He was targeted 19 times in those games, and Wentz has looked Burton's way 47 times this season. He entered the season with only four passes thrown to him for him in his career.
"We have seen all the way from training camp and before that Trey is a playmaker," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "Carson has a lot of confidence in Trey and that's why he's on the field as much as he is. A lot of that is us as coaches and our quarterback having confidence in him. So I would anticipate that will continue."
Burton entered the season hoping to be more involved in the offense. He had been one of the Eagles' best special-teams players in his first two seasons, but he played only 69 offensive snaps and had just three catches.
The depth chart didn't change this year. Burton was still behind Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. Coach Doug Pederson sought creative ways to get Burton involved, even using three tight ends if needed. An injury to Ertz earlier this season offered a path into the lineup. His playing time has fluctuated, but he has taken 27 percent of the offensive snaps this season and has ranged from seven to 53 plays in games.
"I'm enjoying it," Burton said. "Obviously, there's a lot of things I'm still on myself about. I'm not the kind of guy who's going to relax now that I've had a couple decent games. I still haven't hit where I really want to be. I'm having a lot of fun."
Burton played quarterback, fullback, wide receiver, and tight end at Florida. He made the Eagles in 2014 because of his special-teams prowess, although his offensive versatility offered intriguing potential as he developed. But he was never accused of being a traditional tight end.
That versatility has been on display this season. When Jordan Matthews missed the Dec. 4 loss to Cincinnati, Burton helped in the slot. When Brent Celek exited Sunday, Burton contributed as the second tight end. He even played long-snapper against the Redskins. Burton knew the lack of a traditional position would hurt him on draft day, but he also thought it could help him carve out a career.
"I knew it was going to keep me in the league a little longer just because I knew I could do different things," Burton said. "I enjoy my role. I feel like personally I have the best role in the NFL because I can move around and do different things depending on what we need at that time."
When Wentz was with the third-team offense during the summer, Burton played with him more than the starting pass catchers. Burton also reached out to Wentz when the rookie was trying to learn the offense. He told Wentz he would always be available as an outlet. Their religious devotion brought them together off the field, and Burton said the relationship they share helps on Sundays.
"Look at this week, it was Ertz, [Matthews], and me in the stats - and we're all the closest guys to him off the field," Burton said. "So I feel like there's some type of confidence he has in all of us."
Pederson said there is "open dialogue" with Wentz during the week about plays and personnel packages that the quarterback likes. The coach said Wentz is comfortable with all of his receivers, but he has "more time invested" with a player such as Burton.
"The guy's just a good football player," Wentz said. "And both on and off the field, we have a great relationship, we have a great chemistry. That's big for this team."
It's coming at the right time for Burton, too. He's a restricted free agent at the end of the season. His special-teams ability and improved offensive production will make him more attractive. Burton said he can play better on special teams than he has this season, although he's still one of the Eagles' core special-teams players.
The Eagles have leverage because they can offer him a restricted-free-agent tender and match any offer he might receive. That will be determined in a few months. But Burton's value has never been higher than it is entering the offseason.
"It excites me," Burton said. "Obviously I would love to be here. But I'm also not afraid to see what's going on. But I love it here. My wife loves it here. My kids love the school and they love the guys on the team. I wouldn't go anywhere else, if it was up to me."