Focus falls on Eagles’ Zach Ertz with George Kittle, Travis Kelce deals done

PHILADELPHIA — Now that tight ends George Kittle and Travis Kelce have inked their handsome new deals, all eyes turn to the Philadelphia Eagles and Zach Ertz.

The way these contracts were getting done Thursday — Kittle signed with the San Francisco 49ers for five years and $75 million in the morning, followed by Kelce’s four-year, $57 million extension with the Kansas City Chiefs a few hours later — it felt like Ertz might have been locked up by supper. But the Ertz-Eagles extension dance has dragged on a bit, and there’s still some intrigue as to how it will all play out.

This much is certain: Ertz feels he stands shoulder to shoulder with Kittle and Kelce, even if public sentiment sometimes paints him as being a notch below in tight end rankings.

“I do consider myself in that upper-echelon of guys, that same tier with all those guys. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think a lot the guys in this building feel the same way about me,” Ertz said last week. “I’m never in the business of comparing people. All three of us are at the top of our games, and I think we’re all perfect in the offense that we play in, honestly. 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 those guys.”

Ertz, 29, is a little more than a year younger than Kelce, 30, and three years older than Kittle, 26.

Ertz doesn’t necessarily have the same flash as some of his counterparts, but he is full of substance. He has more catches through the first seven seasons of his career (525) than any other tight end in NFL history, and is the only tight end in the league who has led his team in both catches and receiving yards in each of the past four seasons.

Ertz, who caught the winning touchdown in Super Bowl LII, needs 66 catches to pass Pro Football Hall of Famer Harold Carmichael for most Eagles receptions. Among all receivers over the past three seasons, Ertz ranks sixth in catches (278), ninth in receiving touchdowns (22) and 14th in receiving yards (2,903).

The Eagles approached Ertz about a contract extension in November, but the sides could not come to an agreement and talks went silent from there. Ertz, the Eagles’ 2013 second-round pick, has two years remaining on a deal that averages $8.5 million a year compared to $15 million per year for Kittle and $14.3 million for Kelce.

It makes some sense that negotiations between Ertz and the team could heat up now that the market has been defined. However, the Eagles have some interesting decisions in front of them. They are high on fellow tight end Dallas Goedert, whose rookie contract is also up after the 2021 season. Does signing both tight ends to large extensions fit with the Eagles’ team-building philosophy?

Philadelphia is projected to be $84 million over the salary cap in 2021, per Spotrac. A new deal for Ertz could offer short-term cap relief, but the longer-term picture would be a different story.

Ertz is one of Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz‘s closest friends and his top target. He has represented the team incredibly well on and off the field, and became an icon in the city after helping to deliver Philadelphia its first Vince Lombardi Trophy. He is, in other words, exactly the kind of player the organization would want to recommit to.

With Kittle and Kelce setting the market, we should find out the Eagles’ intentions soon enough.

“In regards to the contract, I made it clear from the moment I got here as a rookie and then when I signed my second contract that the goal is to be Kobe Bryant, Jason Witten — [Witten] then [before he signed with the Las Vegas Raiders], I should say — and play for that one organization their entire careers. I’ve made that known,” Ertz said. “I’ll let my agent and [GM] Howie [Roseman] handle the rest, but I know I want to be here for the rest of my career.”

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