Eagles: Zach Ertz’s struggles are alarming

If you would’ve told me Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Jalen Reagor and Dallas Goedert were going to be hurt for the better part of the first half of the season, I think most fans would’ve suspected Zach Ertz to be the team’s leading receiver.

Right now, Greg Ward leads the team in receptions and yards (22 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns), with Ertz right behind him (20 catches for 145 yards and one touchdown). But stats can be a bit deceiving at times, and just because Ertz is still in the team’s top-3 for receiving, he has been a shell of his former self through five games this year.

In the past two games, Ertz has been targeted 11 times and has only recorded five catches for 15 yards. In an offense devoid of any real talent at the receiver position, Ertz should be a much bigger factor than he has been through these past few games. Especially for a guy who’s playing for a new contract next offseason, Ertz has done nothing to warrant any kind of pay raise.

Of course, Ertz has been keyed on by every defense so far this season. He’s seemingly the only legit weapon the Eagles have to throw to. But elite players find ways to make plays and contribute, even when defenses know you’re getting the ball. Ertz isn’t doing that, and at times it looks like he’s checked out.

Like on this play from Sunday’s loss to the Steelers:

The interception should have been negated by an illegal contact penalty, but Ertz just threw his hands up immediately looking for the flag. He didn’t try to fight through the contact and make a play on the ball. He may not have been able to make that catch, but at least show some fight. Looking for the flag immediately is a rookie move and something you don’t expect out of your so called ‘elite’ players.

Ertz is on pace for his worst season as a pro. Part of it has to do with the coaching staff not being able to scheme up ways to get him open, but watching every game this season is becomes more evident that Ertz has just lost a step.

I hope I’m wrong in saying that. I hope Ertz is able to turn his dreadful season around. But there’s no evidence this season that he’ll be able to do that.

You have to wonder if the whole contract situation is getting to him. Before the season opener, Ertz dropped this quote, making it pretty obvious that he’s not happy with his current contract situation.

“I think you guys know me over the years. I’m kind of an emotional guy when it comes to football. I kind of play with my heart as much as I can. Obviously it’s been frustrating at times, it’s been difficult. I’ve said all along I want to be here for the long run. I don’t know for sure if that feeling is mutual.”

It was also widely reported that Ertz got into an animated conversation with GM Howie Roseman after practice that week. It might not be fair to attribute all of Ertz’s struggles this year to his looming contract situation, but it’s certainly fair to assume it’s playing a role. If it wasn’t affecting him, Ertz would have never said anything about it publicly.

If he continues to struggle throughout the rest of the year, there’s no justifying a new contract. He’s going to be on the wrong side of 30, with a backup in Dallas Goedert who’s primed to be a crucial weapon for this team in the coming years. Honestly, there may be no justifying bringing Ertz back at all after the year.

The Eagles are already cap strapped as it is, and letting Ertz go after June 1 would free up about $8 million in cap space. With how this season is unfolding, ridding this team of bad contracts to aging veterans next offseason may be the way to go. And unfortunately, Ertz is a prime candidate to be one of the veterans who gets cut.

He’ll always be remembered as an Eagle, he’ll probably retire an Eagle and he’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame as an Eagle. But at then end of the day, the NFL is a business and this organization can’t afford to continue holding onto sentimental value from their 2017 Super Bowl team.

Maybe Ertz will turn it around and prove he’s still got something left in the tank, but as of right now, I don’t see this front office bringing back No. 86 next year.

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