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August 14, 2020

What's the rush for the Eagles to extend Zach Ertz's contract?

Eagles NFL
101_01052020_EaglesvsSeahawks_Zach_Ertz_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.

On Thursday, a pair of star tight ends in the 49ers' George Kittle and the Chiefs' Travis Kelce received lucrative new contract extensions. As expected, they reset the previously undervalued tight end market.

Kittle struck his deal first, landing a five-year contract worth $75 million, or $15 million per season. Hours later, Kelce and the Chiefs agreed to a four-year, $57 million extension, or $14.25 million per year.

Previously, the highest-paid tight end in the NFL was Austin Hooper, who signed a four-year, $42 million deal with the Browns in free agency in March. At the time Hooper signed his deal, NFL Network's Mike Silver reported that the Eagles' Zach Ertz had previously turned down a contract extension more lucrative than Hooper's deal.

Last Friday, Ertz stated that he believes that he is in the same class as Kittle and Kelce.

"I consider myself in that upper echelon of guys, in that same tier with all those guys,” he said. “I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think a lot of guys in this building feel the same way about me. I’m never in the business of comparing people. I think all three of us are at the top of our game, and I think we’re all perfect in the offense that we play in. I think we all have unique skill sets. We’re all very different, with some similarities. But overall, I don’t think my game is any less than any of their games."

So, is Ertz in the same class as Kittle and Kelce?

In terms of contract negotiation power, Ertz most certainly is not in the same class as Kittle.

  1. Kittle is still only 26 years old. Ertz is 29. 
  2. Kittle only has three years of NFL wear and tear on his body. Ertz has seven.
  3. Kittle is arguably a more productive receiver than Ertz. He had a stat line of 173-2430-10 stat line over the last two years, vs. 204-2079-14 for Ertz. Those numbers are similar, but Kittle has the chance to become even better, while there's a pretty good argument that we have seen Ertz's ceiling.
  4. Kittle blocks like an offensive lineman. Ertz... doesn't. He has gotten better in that area as his career has progressed, but he will never be known for his blocking, while Kittle is thought of by some as the best blocking tight end in the NFL. 

There's no doubt that Ertz's representation will attempt to use Kittle's contract as a benchmark for negotiations, which from the Eagles' perspective, should fall on deaf ears. 

The much better subject for comparison is Kelce, who is 30 years old. Kelce and Ertz were both selected in the 2013 NFL Draft. Kelce had knee surgery his rookie season, and he did not post any stats that year. He has only missed one game since. Despite that missed rookie season, Kelce has 722 more receiving yards and 2 more TDs than Ertz. Kelce has also been selected to the NFL All-Pro team in each of the last four years (first team twice, second team twice), while Ertz has not yet been named an All Pro in his seven year career.

Like Ertz, Kelce got a contract extension during the 2016 offseason. In fact, the two players' extensions were finalized a day apart:

• Ertz (1/25/16): 5 years, $42.5 million ($8.5 million APY)

• Kelce (1/26/16): 5 years, $46.8 million ($9.36 million APY)

Since then, here are Kelce's numbers vs. Ertz's numbers:

 PlayerRec Yards YPC TD 
 Zach Ertz356 3719 10.4 26 
 Travis Kelce368 4728 12.8 27 

And once again, while Kelce isn't the elite blocker that Kittle is, he is widely regarded as being better in that area than Ertz.

As such, there isn't a great argument for Ertz to coax a deal as lucrative as the one reached by Kelce on Thursday.

Is Kelce's deal as lucrative as advertised?

As is often the case with initially reported deals... nope. It is actually a team-friendly deal.

Jason Fitzgerald of broke down the Kelce contract in detail (it's worth a read in full), but the most notable part is the year-to-year breakdown:

The important numbers here are the first three years of the contract. The $9.25 million salary in 2020 is exactly what Kelce was set to earn in 2020. So the new money for that year is zero. Next year Kelce was set to earn $9 million in base salary (he has some escalators he could earn so I would not be surprised if they were playing off a $9.25M salary) and will earn a raise of $4.25 million. The third year of $7.5 million brings the new money total for the first new contract year to $11.75 million.

$11.75 million is right in line with the current market for tight ends and actually less than Kelce earned on his last extension. It is a far cry from Kittle’s $18 million reported signing bonus.Through two years Kelce will earn $25 million in new money, an average of $12.5 million a season. It is increase of $2 million in total over Hooper's contract and I would imagine far under Kittle’s two year salary.

The big money is unlocked on the back end where Kelce would earn $40 million over three years and $57.25 million over four years. Kelce will be 35 and 36 during those years making them far less likely to be earned. Maybe Kittles numbers pushed those last two years up but those are easy concessions for a team given the age of the player.

If Kelce didn't get a much better deal than Hooper, and Ertz already turned a deal down that was reportedly better than Hooper's, then Ertz and his representation will not be thrilled with the details of the Kelce deal.

So should the Eagles and Ertz get back to the negotiating table?

We have already gone a long way to establish that Ertz is not worth the same amount as Kittle or Kelce, however, he remains an integral part of the Eagles' potential success in 2020. 

In his first four years in the NFL, Carson Wentz's most reliable target, by far, has been Ertz, who has led the team in receptions and yards in each of the last four seasons. In 2018, he had 51 more receptions than the next closest player, and 321 more yards. In 2019, he had 31 more receptions than the next closest player, and 309 more yards. On a team that still has major question marks at the wide receiver position, Ertz remains an extremely important player to Wentz heading into the 2020 season.

Ertz has been a player commonly brought up by the fan base as trade bait, since the team already has Dallas Goedert, a young, complete tight end who already looks like he might be a very good long-time starter in the NFL. That's not happening, of course, for the reasons noted above. The Eagles think they're Super Bowl contenders, and they were never going to trade their only tried-and-true, unquestionably reliable pass catcher.

But should they extend him?

Since Ertz is under contract through the 2021 season, the first new year of any contract extension will be the 2022 season (duh), or Ertz's 10th year in the league, during which he'll turn 32 years of age. That also happens to be the year that Goedert will become an unrestricted free agent if the Eagles don't work out a new deal with him. 

Maybe it might be a good idea to wait and see if he stays healthy, and doesn't experience some sort of decline? Why commit top-of-the-market type of money to Ertz now when there's a reasonable chance that Goedert will be better than him by the time Ertz's current contract expires?

Under his current contract, Ertz's salary cap numbers in 2020 and 2021 will be $12,481,500 and $12,471,500, respectively. Those are big numbers for a team that needs to find ways to free up cap space as a result of the NFL's lowering of the 2021 cap. A contract extension could help achieve that in the short term. However, is whatever small immediate savings worth the risk of another situation like the one the team has on their hands with Alshon Jeffery, a player the team extended for short-term benefits, but blew up in their faces when he was unproductive in 2019, and then suffered a major injury?

The feeling here is that the Eagles should simply hold off for now, and see what happens with Ertz during the 2020 season. After all, it's not as if another comparable tight end is going to reset the market again in 2021. 

So what's the rush?

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