PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz has cemented himself as the team's top receiving option, and he wants to be compensated accordingly. But contract-extension talks have gone quiet of late, creating a bit of intrigue around the situation as the tight-end market readies to explode.
Ertz, George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers and Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs make up a trio that promises to take tight-end money to unprecedented heights, and soon. All three led their teams in catches and yards last season -- a feat Ertz has accomplished four years running -- and are pushing to be paid more like their wide receiver counterparts. Kittle is in the last year of his rookie deal and is line for a monster contract that some believe could come in around $14 million per season or more, which would blow past the $10.5 per year standard for the position recently set by Austin Hooper and Hunter Henry.
Ertz's figure might be around $12.5 per season in the current climate -- a raise of about $4 million per year -- but that could very well change if one of the other big fish goes first. If you're motivated to get your star tight end under contract long term, there's plenty of incentive to act before that Kittle deal goes down.
In November, around the time the Eagles agreed to four-year extensions with offensive linemen Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson, they were also in talks with Ertz about a new contract. The sides were unable to come to terms, however, and have not had financial discussions since.
Perhaps that colored Ertz's thoughts as he spoke with uncertainty about his future following a playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks in January.
"The fact of the matter is that no one knows what's going to happen, with me or with anyone. Probably the only one who knows for sure is Carson [Wentz]. So it's been an incredible seven years for me here. I want to be here forever," he said.
"And whatever they decide, they're going to decide, but it's been a heck of a run."
Despite those comments, indications to this point are that Ertz remains central to Philadelphia's immediate plans. He still has two years remaining on the five-year, $42.5 million deal he signed in 2016. The Eagles want to build a strong supporting cast around quarterback Wentz, so now it would make little sense to strip him of his favorite and most reliable target, who also happens to be one of his best friends.
It's beyond next season when things get hazier absent a new deal. The Eagles are high on fellow tight end Dallas Goedert, whose contract, like Ertz's, runs through 2021. He'll be eligible for a new deal after this season. How would it play if they gave Goedert a shiny new contract, but not Ertz? Or how about the other way around? Would Goedert, 25, be keen on staying in Philly if there's no clear path to becoming the No. 1 tight end? Are the Eagles prepared to dedicate all those cap resources to the position by extending both, or would it make sense to move one of them?
Ideally, they'd find a way to make it work. Ertz has been massively productive since being selected 35th overall by the Eagles in 2013. He has more catches through the first seven seasons of his career (525) than any other tight end in NFL history, and he needs 65 catches to pass Hall of Famer Harold Carmichael for most Eagles receptions. He became an icon in Philadelphia after scoring the game-winning TD in Super Bowl LII, has shown no sign of decline, and has represented the team extremely well off the field.
At the same time, Ertz will be 30 in November, and the Eagles have been stressing the importance of a youth movement -- a message backed by the decisions to allow Malcolm Jenkins and Jason Peters to hit free agency this offseason. They're in the mode of forecasting out over the next several years and need to weigh anticipated production over accomplishments when deciding on resource allocation.
The Eagles' intentions will come into focus soon. The longer they wait, the higher the price tag gets for top-tier tight ends, especially with new television deals potentially on the horizon. As one of the best financially run teams in the NFL, they know the time to strike, so it would be telling if they didn't.