Zach Ertz assumes role of wily veteran with Eagles' new look tight ends

For the first time in his NFL career, Zach Ertz will play without Brent Celek by his side.

The Eagles made, arguably, better use of the tight end position than any other team in 2017 — and it helped them win their first Super Bowl.

 

Between Zach Ertz, Brent Celek and Trey Burton, Philly's tight end group tallied a combined 1,202 yards on 110 receptions and 14 touchdowns. All of those numbers are better than the singular production of Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce of any of the other top tight ends in the NFL, with Ertz posting stats in the top five of TE's himself last season.

 

And in addition to regular season prodiction, one of the most memorable plays in the history of the franchise came from a tight end, when Burton tossed a pass on fourth down to quarterback Nick Foles as part of the now imfamous "Philly Special" in Minneapolis back in February. But simply, the tight end position is very important in Philadelphia.

 

Two of the three won't be back in 2018, as Trey Burton accepted a lucrative contract in Chicago and Celek was cut for salary cap reasons. Ertz, who developed in the shadow of one-time longest tenured ego Celek, is now the main man for the first time.

 

“Obviously, we lost two great people, first and foremost, and two really talented football players," Ertz said Tuesday. "Trey is moving on to something that he’s clearly earned, a [tight end] room … where he’s the head guy. Brent, obviously, played 11 years here, which is phenomenal. He’ll probably go down as the best or second-best tight end to ever play here.”

The best? As great as Celek was, Ertz is just 27 and with franchise quarterback Wentz in Philly to stay, the former second round pick from Stanford has a real shot at becoming the best himself. But he can't do it all himself.

Toward the end of free agency, Philly added Richard Rodgers, a 26-year-old former Packers tight end with 13 career touchdown catches. Rodgers has size, just like Ertz, at 6-foot-4, 257 pounds and will be a versatile addition to an offense that demands it. And a needed wingman for Ertz in the tight end meeting room.

“The room’s definitely going to be different," Ertz said. "It’s an opportunity for me to kind of move on to the next stage of my career, kind of be the veteran. I was listening to Richard Rodgers speak when he was introduced, [saying] ‘It’s going to be great to finally have a veteran tight end [to learn from].’ I was like, ‘Dude, I’m a year older than you.’ Richard’s a very talented tight end, we’re excited about what he can do."

Before the Rodgers signing many contemplated that the Eagles could add a tight end in next week's NFL draft — from a deep group of prospects and that could still be the case. But regardless, Ertz and Rodgers will be two of the most important tight ends in the NFL next year as they play in Philadelphia's potent offense. Like they did last offseason, the Birds have brought in a selection of ambitious veterans and Ertz expects the team will have the same winning edge as it did in 2017-18, playing the role of proud underdog.

"I don't think guys in our locker room will lose the mindset of being the hunter," Ertz said. "We are hungry as a football team and want sustained success for the city."

 
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