Eagles Offseason Outlook: Tight End
Throughout the next two weeks, we’ll take a position-by-position look at where the Eagles stand going into the offseason. In the first three installments, we covered the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Now, it’s on to the tight ends.
STATE OF THE ROSTER
After 11 weeks of underwhelming performances, Zach Ertz came alive in the last four games of the season. He racked up 450 yards over the final four games, joining Jimmy Graham as the only NFL tight ends with at least 450 yards over a four-game span since 2013.
Ertz recorded 30 receptions over the last three games, setting a franchise record for the most catches over a three-game span. His 75 catches during the season also ranks third among all Eagles tight ends in team history.
Brent Celek’s receiving production also improved compared to 2014 as he tallied 398 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Celek’s small uptick came despite a smaller snap count, with Ertz playing 68 percent of the offense’s snaps compared to Celek’s 52 percent.
Trey Burton, who only played on offense in six games, was on the field for five percent of the Eagles snaps. The third tight end, however, is a quality contributor on special teams.
The biggest surprise from this unit, in my eyes, was that Ertz clearly overtook Celek as the Eagles’ best blocking tight end. Ertz was slowed early in the season because of his sports hernia injury, but his overall improvement provides reason to believe that his elusive breakout year will happen in 2016.
WHAT I THINK WILL HAPPEN
Thanks, Howie Roseman, for making this section so easy to fill out. Between Ertz’s five-year extension and Celek’s three-year deal, it’s safe to say the Eagles know who they want two of their tight ends to be for the next few years.
Despite the talent Philadelphia has at the position, they rank in the bottom half of the league in 2016 salary cap money dedicated to tight ends, per Spotrac. Both Burton and Chris Pantale, who spent 2015 on the practice squad, are also under contract through 2016.
If the Eagles ever become interested in cutting Celek, 31, they likely wouldn’t do so until 2018 because of his contract structure. In 2017, they’d only save $1 million, while in 2018, they’d save $4 million.
FREE AGENT LIST
Here are the top tight end free agents, according to FOX Sports’ WalterFootball.com:
- Ladarius Green
- Antonio Gates
- Zach Miller
- Jermaine Gresham
- Coby Fleener
- Ben Watson
- Larry Donnell
- Dwayne Allen
- Marcedes Lewis
- Vernon Davis
New Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich coached two of the top free agent tight ends — Green and Gates — in San Diego, but don’t expect the Eagles to sign anyone.
Here are the top tight end prospects in the draft, according to ESPN’s Scouts Inc., including their overall ranking:
- Hunter Henry, Arkansas (No. 19)
- Nick Vannett, Ohio State (No. 51)
- Austin Hooper, Stanford (No. 58)
- Bryce Williams, East Carolina (No. 97)
- Jerell Adams, South Carolina (No. 102)
- Caleb Smith, Oregon State (No. 159)
- David Grinnage, N.C. State (No. 180)
- Darion Griswold, Arkansas State (No. 193)
- Henry Kreiger-Coble (No. 216)
- Jake McGee, Florida (No. 268)
It’s possible the Eagles could spend a Day 3 pick on a tight end who drops far in the draft, but I’d bet against Roseman selecting someone at this position.