Offseason Outlook: Eagles Tight Ends

Brent Celek scores in the first quarter.

This week, we’ll offer offseason outlooks for the Eagles, position-by-position. Each day, we’ll answer a pressing question and rank the position on the priority scale. First up was quarterback. We covered running backs Tuesday and wide receivers yesterday. Now onto tight ends.

PRESSING QUESTION: Will James Casey and Brent Celek be back?

Kapadia: Let’s start with Celek. The Eagles can save over $4M by parting ways with the veteran tight end. But I don’t see that happening.

Chip Kelly doesn’t have a daughter. But if he did, and if he had to pick one Eagle to marry her, my guess is it’d be Celek. That’s a convoluted way of saying Celek is one of Kelly’s favorites. The head coach appreciates the veteran tight end’s effort, his willingness to do the dirty work and his role in establishing a new culture at the NovaCare Complex.

The Eagles’ run game counts on the tight ends to carry out some difficult blocking assignments. Celek is in a different league than Zach Ertz in that aspect. That’s why he was on the field for 76.3 percent of the snaps this season. As a receiver, Celek’s overall numbers were down, but he still had six touchdowns and averaged a career-best 15.7 yards per catch. At 29, there’s no reason to part ways with him.

Casey might be a different story. He’s due just under $4M in 2014 and played just 16.2 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps. Casey was contributing in the run game towards the end of the season and played on special teams. But his salary and his role (two-thirds of his snaps were as a run blocker, per Pro Football Focus) don’t seem to match up. My guess is he won’t be around next season.

McManus: I agree with you about Celek. It would be a major upset if he wasn’t back.

Casey is an interesting one. We know how much Kelly values tight ends, and they could be more prominently featured in this offense going forward. I’m sure he’d prefer to have Casey on the roster. He contributes on special teams (He was second in ST tackles this past season) and is the type of selfless player that the head coach gravitates towards.

They’re going to have to figure the money part out. That three-year, $12 million deal was inked before Ertz was drafted. Casey just doesn’t have a big enough role to justify a $4 million base salary in my mind. (Two million of that base is guaranteed, though the deal does include offset language.) I can see Howie Roseman approaching Casey about a restructuring. Would Casey take a pay cut to stay with a team where he is the third option at his position? Not so sure.

PRIORITY SCALE: FROM 1 TO 5

* 1 indicates there is no need at all to address the position in free agency or the draft. 5 means it’s of the highest priority that the Eagles focus on the position in the coming months.

Kapadia: I’ll put the tight end position at a 1. Ertz had a promising rookie season and will compete with Celek for more playing time if he can prove his worth as a blocker. Those two will most likely account for the bulk of the TE snaps in 2014.

If the Eagles part ways with Casey, Ertz will get a chance to take those snaps too. For the third TE spot, they need a run-blocker. The guess is they can find someone to fill that role.

Of course, if a tight end falls to them in the draft, chances are they won’t hesitate to pull the trigger. We saw that last year when they had already signed Casey but still drafted Ertz in the second round.

Overall, this isn’t a need position, but there still will likely be some movement.

McManus: There is the issue of what to do with Casey, so put me down for a two.

I wonder if the wide receiver situation will affect their decision-making at all. For example, if they re-sign Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, they’ll theoretically be in good shape at receiver (and will have committed good money to the position). If you’re planning on playing DeSean Jackson, Cooper, Maclin, Celek and Ertz (plus maybe a draft pick), how is Casey ever going to see the field? On the other hand, if one or both receivers walk and the Eagles aren’t totally comfortable about the level in which they replenished, Kelly might lean on his tight ends more, thereby increasing Casey’s value.

The smart move, then, might be to hold onto Casey through free agency and the draft to see how everything shakes out.

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