Could the Eagles keep four tight ends on the roster? It makes more sense than you think

Eagles Rookie Camp Football
Philadelphia Eagles’ Billy Brown runs the ball during an NFL football rookie minicamp at the team’s training facility in Philadelphia, Friday, May 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

2014. It feels like an eternity ago, but in reality it was only a few season’s ago that the Chip Kelly era was filled with excitement and potential. But buried in the remnants of that era is one former undrafted tight end; Trey Burton. Since signing with the Eagles and working his way up through Fipp’s prestigious special teams unit, the former Florida Gator has emerged as a viable and versatile receiving option for Carson Wentz. 327 yards and a touchdown in 2016 showed the Eagles that there is receiving depth beyond Zach Ertz. The Eagles haven’t kept four tight ends on the roster since the arrival of Trey Burton…but history may be set to repeat itself.

Enter Billy Brown. A UDFA out of Shepherd University, the 6’4″ 225 lbs, playmaker who has made quite the name for himself during Training Camp. Brown’s soft hands, impressive catch radius, and sheer athleticism have carried over from his days at Shepherd in which he recorded 1,580 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2016 alone.

Brown shares a lot of the same genetic makeup as Burton, who stands at 6’3″, 235 lbs. Both are incredibly versatile and can contribute in all four cores of special teams as well as helping run-block or explode over the middle for some big plays. For Burton, being the fourth tight end on the depth chart was integral to his development.

“I don’t know if I’d be in the league right now if I didn’t have Celek, Ertz and James Casey in my rookie year.” Burton told us in an exclusive interview with us a few months ago.“I can’t really describe what they mean to me on and off the field but I owe so much to those guys. For their work ethics, their attitudes and on top of that how they treated me throughout this whole process. Being a fourth tight end doesn’t happen that often in the league, especially an inactive fourth tight end. The encouragement I’ve received from them, the knowledge, the wisdom, the friendship off the field. You’ve got a guy in Celek who is one of the all time greats in Philly, maybe the best tight end Philly has ever had. The way he’s treated me, I have the upmost respect for that guy and would do anything for him. I’m extremely thankful for him.”

If the Eagles decide to keep Billy Brown on the roster, he will be entering a nearly identical scenario. Brent Celek is one of the longest tenured Eagles on the roster and an unquestioned leader on the roster having been a mainstay since being drafted in the fifth round back in 2007. A mentor in every sense of the word, Celek is the glue that has kept the Eagles offense glued together through the years. But as he enters his eleventh season, Celek’s long-term future will likely see him retire in midnight green…but who fills that void after his retirement remains a mystery.

The Eagles only offered Trey Burton a one-year tender, so it’s possible that with so many free agents (Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount & Jordan Matthews to name but three) potentially seeking a payday at the end of the season, that the team decide to part ways with both. In that instance, Zach Ertz would be the lone wolf on the roster…opening up another hole that was previously a position of strength.

It would make sense from a longevity standpoint to keep Brown around, at least on the practice squad. But with development being such a key part of this fast-forwarded Eagles rebuild, being able to spend a season behind such a dynamic trio would only do Brown the world of good as he contributes in one of the league’s most efficient special teams units.

To make things even more enticing, he’s earned the affection of Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich.

“I think Billy has some play-making ability.” Reich told the media recently. “He’s got a little speed. He’s got good hands. I think he’s learning the offense, and we’ll see when the pads get on you have to be an effective blocker at some level. I think he has some toughness to him. I think he’s shown me a little bit more toughness at the line of scrimmage than I was expecting, so that is encouraging.”

The Eagles have several positions on their roster where keeping an extra player will be integral to the success of the team, but make no mistake…tight end is one of them. Zach Ertz may have missed some time last year, but Burton appeared in all 16 games in 2015, before seeing his snap-count spike offensively last year. The Eagles love running 3-tight end sets under Doug Pederson, and if all three tight ends are active more regularly…it would make sense to have one insurance policy behind the trio.

With such an abundance of offensive weaponry, it would be easy for the likes of even Zach Ertz to fall through the cracks, unnoticed by opposing defenses and positioning huge breakout situations. When you factor in the versatility of both Brown and Burton, it only enhances that usage. Reich spoke on the strength of the unit after practice on Monday afternoon.

“I think last year we used them pretty well. You know, I think [TE] Trey [Burton] had a good year. [TE] Brent [Celek] is always going to play the way he plays. He’s a great player. And [TE Zach] Ertz had a good year, as well. We’re going to mix in those packages. It’s going to be a week-by-week, almost a series-by-series thing in how we can attack [and] what match-ups we get. We have some really good, play-making tight ends. There are times where that’s an advantage to us to do. Then there are times where we’ll want to be in four wide receivers or three wides. [We] just got to keep mixing it up, keep teams off balance. They don’t know what we’re going to do, and play to the strengths of our players and the plays that we run.”

A strong pre-season might be all it takes for Brown to prove that he too fits the mold of a play-making tight end. Ertz, Celek, and Burton are near locks to make the Eagles final 53, but make no mistake…Billy Brown could provide the Eagles with a lot of optionality; Something that the team have craved over the last 12 months.


Mandatory Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke