Examining the NFC East: The Tight Ends

The Eagles should still be at the top of the division at the position even if Zach Ertz leaves
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PHILADELPHIA - Our annual series examining the NFC East from a positional perspective with the help of league personnel sources continues with the tight ends.

In Philadelphia, a seismic shift is developing with the expected move away from franchise great Zach Ertz to Dallas Goedert as the centerpiece at the position. The secondary part of that is new coach Nick Sirianni wants to move away from a two-tight end centric offense and get more speed on the field.

Doug Pederson had a similar mindset when it came to the latter point but defaulted to 12 personnel quite a bit over the past few seasons when it became clear his receivers simply weren't good enough to force the tight ends off the field.

The thought from early in the offseason was that Ertz, who is under contract for 2021, would be moved, eliminating the safety net after a career-worst season in which he struggled with a high ankle sprain and caught just 36 balls for 335 yards, a far cry from his 2015 to 2019 wheelhouse in which the low-water mark was 74 receptions in the 2017 Super Bowl season and the apex was an NFL record for TEs with 116 catches in 2018.

Both sides want to move on, but Eagles GM Howie Roseman has continued to play hardball when it comes to Ertz's value and he remains on the roster for now,

"I’ve had an opportunity throughout, early when we all first got here, had an opportunity to call and speak with Zach and have continued to stay in touch," Eagles TE coach Jason Michael told SI.com's Eagle Maven. "Consistent communication with him throughout, so that’s been good just in terms of the conversations that we’ve had."

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It remains unlikely that Ertz and Roseman find common ground for the 2021 season but the predictions of an imminent departure have proven to be premature on a consistent basis and the calendar keeps churning while speeding toward the opening of training camp on July 27.

What we do know is that the Eagles are planning for life after Ertz and trying to work out a big-money contract extension with Goedert. More so the team has informed Ertz that Goedert is going to get the lion's share of snaps at the position no matter what.

The Eagles may have the best tight group in the NFL and it's led by Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert

Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert

Depth was a concern with lesser-experienced options like Jason Croom and Caleb Wilson batting with UDFA Jack Stoll and projects like Tyreek Jackson and Hakeem Butler in the hope to give Nick Sirianni and Michael some competency behind Goedert, who has quietly developed into one of the NFL's most well-rounded TEs in the shadow of Ertz, the franchise's No. 2 man in all-time receptions behind Hall of Famer Harold Carmichael.

That depth concern was alleviated somewhat when the Eagles agreed to bring back veteran Richard Rodgers.

"I think that’s what this time of the year is for," Michael said when discussing the young talent he has on hand. "The guys that in there are doing a great job. They’re working hard to learn the system. We’re a long way away from training camp, we’re a long way away from the start of the season.

"The time we’ve been able to spend thus far, what all those guys in the room do from now until we get a chance to come back to training camp, and offseason have been modified slightly to how we’re doing things. When we get in pads that’s when we’ll get a true chance to evaluate these guys. Everyone in the room, to see who’s going to make those strides."

In some eyes, Goedert is already the best TE in the division and he's certainly the most well-rounded.

Despite a leg injury that caused him to miss five games in 2020, he finished with 46 receptions for 524 yards and was graded sixth-best TE in the NFL by ProFootballFocus.com behind only stars like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller, as well as Indianapolis' Mo-Alie Cox, and Rodgers, who excelled in limited snaps (274).

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"Whether people know it or not [Goedert] is already one of the best tight ends in football," a former AFC personnel executive said. "In some way, his value as a blocker limits his receiving numbers but he's a better athlete than Ertz and can stretch the field."

The division as a whole is solid at TE and the difference between No. 1 and No. 4 might be the closest race at any position when it comes to evaluation:

4. - Dallas Cowboys: For now we will put the Cowboys at No. 4 because Blake Jarwin played less than 30 snaps last season before injuring his knee in Week 1. Dalton Schultz came in and held his own with 63 receptions but he's more of an outlet receiver who isn't going to stress the defense.

"It's a solid group but Jarwin is the guy they need out there if the goal is more explosiveness. I'm not sure they need that with the receivers they have so I'm OK with Schultz" a former NFC scout said.

3. - Washington Football Team: The WFT had accomplished what the Eagles want to do with Jackson, turning former king-sized Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas into a really good TE who finished with 77 catches for 744 yards and six touchdowns last season.

The depth is not there, however, with Deon Yelder, Temarrick Hemingway, Ricky Seals-Jones, and rookie John Bates presumably in a competition.

2. - New York Giants: Evan Engram is as athletic as it gets and is one of the more dangerous TEs in the league but remains very inconsistent catching the football. Former Minnesota Pro Bowl selection Kyle Rudolph is the anti-Engram, amazing hands but little speed to stretch the field so Jason Garrett should have a nice in-line/flex complement.

"Rudolph has those [big] Mickey Mouse hands. He catches everything. Give Engram those hands and he's the best flex TE in football," a former AFC scout said.

1. - Philadelphia Eagles: Goedert is the best TE in the division so you might as well keep the Eagles at No. 1.

It's doubtful Rodgers can play to the same level he did last season but he's still a competent player at worst and the Eagles have enough projects to think one might turn into a player. Keep an eye on undrafted rookie Stoll.

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.