The New Orleans Saints lost tight ends Adam Trautman (foot) and Nick Vannett (knee) to injury during Monday's preseason win over Jacksonville.
Both players had an MRI on Tuesday. The extent of Trautman's injury is not yet known, while Vannett will reportedly miss 2-4 weeks.
The losses of Trautman and Vannett are big blows to a position that was already extremely thin and unproven for New Orleans. Former undrafted players Juwan Johnson, Ethan Wolf, and Garrett Griffin are the current tight ends remaining on the roster.
Johnson has had an impressive camp after being converted from wide receiver as a rookie last season. He seems to have a roster spot sewn up.
Griffin has spent significant time on the team's practice squad since 2016. Both he and Wolf have nice size, but offer little as downfield receiving threats.
If either Trautman or Vannett are going to miss significant time, the Saints will need to add talent to the position. Trading for Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz could be one option.
The 30-year-old Ertz is entering the last year of his contract and would be an $8.5 million dollar cap hit. He is coming off a career-low 36 receptions for 335 yards and one touchdown in 11 games for an Eagles team that was abysmal in 2020.
Ertz is just one year removed from three straight Pro Bowl appearances. Before last season, he had played in 113 of a possible 119 for Philadelphia, including playoffs.
Ertz has been one of the NFL's best receiving tight ends throughout his eight-year career. He has 561 career receptions for 6,078 yards and 36 touchdowns, hauling in 67% of his targets.
From 2015 to 2019, Ertz averaged 86 receptions for 905 yards per year with 28 touchdowns. His best year was in 2018, when his 116 receptions were second only to the Saints Michael Thomas for the league lead and his 1,116 receiving yards were second among tight ends.
Ertz led the Eagles in receptions and receiving yards in three of the last four seasons, including their Super Bowl championship squad of 2017. His 6’5” and 250-Lb frame is a mismatch for most defensive backs, but he has the athleticism to outrun most linebackers.
More than just a wideout in a tight end body, Ertz is also a willing blocker for the running game. He can seal the edge against defensive ends and gets adequate push in short-yardage situations.
Make no mistake, Ertz' primary value is in the passing game. He’s been one of the league's most consistent targets since entering the NFL as a second-round draft choice out of Stanford in 2013. His outstanding route precision and receiving skills make him capable of being a team’s primary receiving threat.
New Orleans is extremely thin at both wide receiver and tight end. Second-year WR Marquez Callaway looks like an emerging star, but the Saints could be without All-Pro WR Michael Thomas until mid-season after ankle surgery. The rest of the unit, outside of explosive kick returner Deonte Harris, is unproven or inconsistent.
Ertz could provide new Saints quarterback Jameis Winston an elite receiving threat and valuable security blanket in the intermediate zones and near the goal line.
The free agent market is extremely thin at tight end. Veteran Virgil Green is a long-time starter, but mainly a valuable blocker. A lengthy injury history has robbed Tyler Eifert of his game breaking potential. Trey Burton is an underrated receiver and willing blocker, but not a long-term answer.
New Orleans seems just as likely to wait until the league's final round of cuts to add another tight end. Or, perhaps they make a ‘‘splash move'' and trade for TE Zach Ertz, a move that would upgrade the entire offense.
Follow Bob Rose on Facebook and Twitter @bobbyr2613.