The tight end position is an important one in Doug Pederson’s offense. Before the season started we heard plenty about Pederson’s affinity for three-tight end sets and he did not disappoint. The formation was used frequently in goal line situations, leading to some of Mathews’ nine touchdowns.
For the third straight season, Zach Ertz dominated late in the season, giving Eagles fans hope for another offseason that the 26-year-old could take the next step into the elite level at his position.
However, Ertz may already be in that company. Number 86 finished the season fifth among tight ends in receiving yards behind Travis Kelce, Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham and Kyle Rudolph. Ertz was also fifth in receptions and tied for fifth in touchdown receptions. With the names listed above, it is hard not to think Ertz, at least for 2016, was in the company of the elites at the position.
By season’s end, Ertz was one of the players that Wentz was most confident going to. In the final five games of the season, the tight end had three games with nine or more receptions including a 13-catch outing in the season finale against Dallas. The game also yielded two touchdowns and a highlight that has been circulated across most national media outlets. After Ertz’ second touchdown catch, Wentz retrieved the ball and delivered it to two-time AL MVP and Eagles season ticket holder, Mike Trout.
Ertz’ end line of 78 receptions, 816 yards and four touchdowns is something to very much look forward to in the future. His 78 receptions were tied for seventh-most in the Eagles’ history.
Backup tight end Trey Burton had a career year in 2016 while continuing his exceptional play on special teams. Burton is set to become a restricted free agent in March. It would behoove the Eagles to make an offer to keep Burton on the squad for his knowledge of the offense and hopefully an increase in production for the second straight year.
Burton hauled in 37 receptions, good for fourth-most on the team, and 327 yards; sixth most on the Eagles. Burton also came on at the end of the season, catching five or more passes in three of the team’s last five games.
Finally, Brent Celek’s role on the Eagles has downgraded from feature tight end to, essentially, the Eagles’ sixth offensive lineman. Celek, along with longsnapper Jon Dorenbos, is the longest-tenured Eagle having been with the team since 2007. The 32-year-old restauranteur only caught seven passes through the first twelve games of the season and finished the year with 14 catches for 155 yards but failed to get into the endzone for the first time in his career.
If Burton is signed by another team, the priority will become slightly higher, needing to fill the role with a low-mid level free agent or late draft pick. There are only a handful of tight ends set to become free agents who are 26 years old or younger. All of these are set for bigger paydays than the Eagles are in position to give out. This would leave options of a veteran tight end to join the team or attempting to draft or sign a rookie.
The Eagles have been linked by some to the season’s top tight end prospect in the draft, OJ Howard from Alabama. Howard is all but guaranteed to go in the first round. The Eagles have not drafted a tight end in the first round since Keith Jackson in 1988. That went well for the Eagles then but don’t count me on board with the tight end with the first round pick. There are much, much higher priorities than tight end.
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