All offseason long, one thing was clear for the Jacksonville Jaguars -- the need for a tight end to help Trevor Lawrence. And as of Week 6, it appears the Jaguars may have finally found that player ... he just isn't the one who many thought it would be.
For the entirety of the offseason, the Jaguars' base and talking heads alike pointed to the Jaguars as a logical landing spot for formerly disgruntled Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. The Jaguars had the cap space, the need for a tight end, a relationship with the Eagles (the two teams have made two trades together since January), and needed a veteran leader like Ertz.
But instead, the Jaguars and Ertz were never meant to be. Ertz spent the first six weeks off the season remaining on the Eagles' roster, with the Jaguars trading player after player (including Joshiah Scott and Gardner Minshew to the Eagles) and never getting Ertz in return.
And on Friday, Ertz's Eagles tenure came to a close as the Eagles traded him to the Arizona Cardinals for cornerback Tay Gowan and a 2022 fifth-round draft pick -- a relatively low price for a three-time Pro Bowl tight end. And a price the Jaguars could have potentially paid considering both their abundance of Day 3 draft picks in 2022 and the fact that they have traded three cornerbacks (Scott, CJ Henderson, Sidney Jones) since the start of the offseason.
But, did the Jaguars actually end up on the better side of the tight end deals with their own trade, one that didn't involve Ertz? Is the grass indeed greener on the other side, a side that doesn't bring Ertz's reputation and production?
Through the last two weeks, it certainly appears so.
After the Carolina Panthers included veteran pass-catching tight end Dan Arnold in the trade for former Jaguars cornerback and No. 9 overall pick CJ Henderson, the Jaguars have seen Arnold explode in their offense. He has been in the playbook for barely two weeks, but he has become one of the team's best pass-catching options and a trusted outlet for Trevor Lawrence already.
And when you couple this with the surrounding circumstances between him and Ertz, then not trading for Ertz looks more like a win for the Jaguars than anything else.
In short, Ertz never made that much sense for the Jaguars. He is an aging player who is past his prime and is much more of a possession threat than a big-play threat at this stage of his career. The soon-to-be 31-year-old makes sense for a win-now team like the Arizona Cardinals who already have big-play weapons scattered along their depth chart, but not as much sense for a young and losing team like the Jaguars.
Trading for Ertz is a short-term move. Not only will he turn 32 next season, but he will hit free agency this March as well. Any team trading for him would have essentially been renting him for 17 games. The Jaguars aren't playing for much in 2021 other than Trevor Lawrence's development, so sacrificing a pick for him would have been, well, a bit useless.
Instead, the Jaguars have a younger tight end in Arnold (26), who is much more of an athletic threat before and after the catch. In short, Arnold provides more juice to the Jaguars' offense than Ertz would have, even if Ertz would likely have a higher floor. Add in the fact that Arnold is under contract for the next two seasons, and the Jaguars and Arnold are a better fit in every way than the Jaguars and Ertz would have been.
In two games with the Jaguars, Arnold has caught eight passes for 93 yards (11.63 yards per catch) on 10 targets -- a whopping 9.30 yards per target, a better mark than any Jaguars tight end has had in some time. It is a limited sample size, but Arnold has been a legitimate weapon for the Jaguars. And while Ertz could have done similar, it is hard to think the Jaguars aren't thrilled with adding Arnold.
“It’s great just having another guy out there. You have your different offensive personnel and that just adds a little bit of flexibility as far as we can have a tight end in there and, from a play calling perspective, it’s not always [the same]. [If] you put four wideouts out there, it’s most likely going to be a pass. But [if] you have Dan [Arnold] out there and three wideouts, it’s basically like you have four, but you also have the ability to hide some things, run the ball, have an extra blocker, all those things where he can do both, that helps you," Lawrence said about Arnold this week.
"Then just adding depth and that’s a guy that can go make plays. That’s a matchup at the end of the day when you get in these games where you have corners covering your wideouts and their nickel, their next guy covering your slot and then you have a fourth guy, they’re going to have either bring in another DB that makes them light in the run game or they’re going to have to play a safety or linebacker on him and you can get a mismatch all the time.”
Ertz is a good tight end who has some of the best numbers of any player at his position during the last 10 years. But for all of his talent, Ertz never made much sense for the Jaguars. That was as true this offseason as it is today. The only difference now? Dan Arnold, who is quickly becoming a breath of fresh air at tight end.