Business of Sports Ultimately Hurt Eagles Relationship with Ertz
The expectation for the last several months has been that the 2020 NFL season would be the final year for Three-Time Pro Bowl Selection Zach Ertz in a Philadelphia Eagles uniform. Ertz, who turns 31 years old this November, had the worst individual season of his career in 2020 and the reasons why may be multiple.
No offense to Pete Retzlaff, Brent Celek, and Chad Lewis, but arguably the best Tight End in Philadelphia Eagles history is Zach Ertz. Ertz is currently second in Eagles Franchise History in Receptions (561), seventh in Receiving Touchdowns (36), and fifth in Receiving Yards (6,078) in 117 games in an Eagles Uniform (12th most games played). Even thought Ertz is one of the best home grown talents for the Philadelphia Eagles over the last decade and an important part of the organization winning their first Super Bowl Championship, the "Business of Sports" has created a fracture in the relationship. There are many aspects of the non-football side of the NFL that many football fans are not fully aware of or they choose to ignore.
Every year, teams have to make difficult decisions in order to fit everyone under the NFL Salary Cap and many of those decisions are made while also looking ahead to the future, keeping in mind what their budgets could look like over the next five seasons. This reality complicates the Zach Ertz situation because when both side began to talk last year about a contract extension, they had to overcome road blocks:
*Thanks to the COVID-19 Pandemic, NFL teams had to plan for a world were the NFL Salary Cap would be less than they previously planned for and as a result, player salaries would not be able to continue spiking as in previous years.
*Reports months ago that Zach Ertz wanted to be paid like one of the best Tight Ends in the NFL and negotiations stalled; Considering that Ertz as of the 2021 NFL season has no more Guaranteed Money on his current contract, he wanted to make sure his next deal was in line with market value. Travis Kelce is a year older than Ertz and playing on a Four Year contract extension signed last summer with reportedly 27 million dollars in guaranteed money. George Kittle, who is three years younger than Ertz, is also playing on a contract extension his signed in 2020 that is worth 40 million dollars in guaranteed money with his salary full guaranteed for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
*Contract negotiations between Zach Ertz and the Eagles Front Office stalled then Philadelphia would have a 4-11-1 season plagued by injuries, poor Quarterback play for the first 12 weeks of the season, and the lack of depth at certain positions came back to hurt the team on the field.
I choose to accept the reality that Zach Ertz poor 2020 season was a biproduct of all of the factors above, not just the contract negotiations or his injury suffered midseason. Many football fans and some media conveniently forget that these Professional Athletes are still human beings and issues such as contract disputes or nagging injuries can be deflating, causing a player to not be at their best mentally which impacts what they can and can't do physically. It's realistic that the turmoil of 2020 from the Pandemic to poor Quarterback play to disappointment in Contract Negotiations all factored into Ertz play last year.
Zach Ertz is owed 8.5 Million Dollar Base Salary for the 2021 season, which is the Sixth Highest Average Annual Salary among NFL Tight Ends for the upcoming season, and the final two years on his current contract are voidable years, allowing a team to release him with a negligible Dead Cap Hit. Ertz wanted financial and professional job security from the Philadelphia Eagles at a financial number he believed that based on his performance on the field that he had earned. I don't believe Ertz for feeling the organization doesn't value him and his exit from the Philadelphia Eagles has a vibe of a situation that could have been avoided if both sides approached things differently.
But again, the Business side of Professional Sports has corrupted the On-Field Product and the love of the game has been diluted. No matter what the future holds for Zach Ertz, to me that man will always be remember as an Eagles in every way. He hard work to become one of the best Tight Ends in the NFL while playing at a high level for Philadelphia while also giving back to many charities in the community, Ertz will be missed by many inside and outside the Nova Care Complex. The National Football League is a Billion Dollar business and if each team has approximately 182.5 million dollars available to them for the 2021 Fiscal Year, so every team has to try and make all the player salaries fit under that number. Now teams can get creative in how they pay players each season in order to make the math work, but all signs point to that the way that Philadelphia was willing to make the numbers work was not what Zach Ertz was hoping for at the end of the day.
Yes, one day Zach Ertz should be elected into the Eagles Hall of Fame in the future and his number retired among the display of the best players in the franchise history around the stadium. But for the 2021 NFL season, expect Zach Ertz to play in another uniform and get another NFL contract to play for at least a few more years. The situation definitely has the feel of the infamous divorce between the Philadelphia Eagles and Brian Dawkins. The good news is that relationship was repaired and Dawkins returned to Philadelphia to do work with the organization. Hopefully that is also what the future holds for Zach Ertz and the Eagles too, a day down the road both sides can reconcile.