Zach Ertz

Eagles Pick Up Zach Ertz’s Option

The Eagles have exercised Zach Ertz‘s option for the 2021 season, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter). No surprise here – he’s one of the league’s most skilled tight ends and the Eagles are expected to try for an even longer arrangement in the coming months. 

[RELATED: Eagles To Sign Nickell Robey-Coleman]

For now, Ertz is slated to count for $8MM in 2020 and $8.25MM in 2021, the aforementioned option year. Given the advancement of the tight end market, and Ertz’s production, you can expect to see a sizable pay bump on the next pact.

Last year, Ertz racked up 88 catches for 916 yards and six touchdowns – an especially solid stat line given the Birds’ up-and-down season. In 2018, he notched career highs in just about every category with 116 receptions (also an NFL record for TEs), 1,163 yards, and eight touchdowns. A Pro Bowler in each of his last three seasons, Ertz has 525 grabs, 5,743 receiving yards, and 35 touchdowns to his credit across seven pro seasons. Meanwhile, he’s led the team in catches and receiving yards in each of the last four seasons.

Austin Hooper reset the tight end market earlier this month by signing a four-year, $42MM deal with the Browns that includes $18.5MM fully guaranteed. That deal, which topped the previous record held by Jimmy Graham, will likely be leapfrogged by Ertz.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Eagles Opinions: Jenkins, Backup QB, Ertz, Goedert

The Eagles will pay for deciding to wait on signing defensive back Malcolm Jenkins to an extension last season, according to Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94 WIP. Philadelphia declined to restructure Jenkins’ very team-friendly deal last offseason, but now the team faces a cap crunch on the rest of the roster as well. At 32 years old, there is reason to be concerned about giving Jenkins a large contract, but his production over the past few seasons has been on par with some of the best in the league.

Here’s some more commentary on the Eagles offseason:

  • Few teams require a better backup quarterback than the Eagles and Shorr-Parks identifies six plausible targets for Philly. Obviously, starter Carson Wentz has shown he has the potential to be an elite quarterback, but an extensive injury history will always make fans and team officials nervous about the team’s prospects if there is not a strong backup behind him. The Eagles, of course, were eliminated from the playoffs when Josh McCown had to play under center after a series of injuries at quarterback.
  • Zach Ertz expressed some apprehension about his future with the Eagles organization at the end of the season. With two years left on his contract, many were caught off guard by his cautious comments. However, Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer discusses the impact tight end Dallas Goedert could have on the Eagles (and Ertz’s) future. Goedert was selected in the 2nd round of the 2018 NFL Draft and has been an effective contributor for the Eagles. McLane points out that 49ers tight end George Kittle is set to reset the tight end market as well. The team’s confidence in Goedert combined with the increasing cost of tight ends could soon lead to Ertz’s departure.

Eagles’ Nelson Agholor Out Vs. Seahawks

The Eagles will face the Seahawks without the services of Nelson Agholor. The wide receiver’s knee injury will sideline him for the opening round of the playoffs, head coach Doug Pederson announced. 

Agholor has not played since suffering a knee injury in Week 13. Before that, he caught 39 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns in eleven games.

Meanwhile, the statuses of tight end Zach Ertz and right tackle Lane Johnson remain murky.

Zach [is] still not cleared for any contact,” Pederson said. “He will work a little bit on the side again like he’s done this week and stuff like that, but we’re waiting on a few doctor results tomorrow. If things go favorable, he’ll play. If they don’t, he won’t.”

The Eagles can get by without Agholor, but it won’t be easy for Carson Wentz to move the chains or convert in the red zone without Ertz. The tight end caught 88 passes for 916 yards and six touchdowns this season, giving him his third-straight Pro Bowl nod. Ertz is known for his toughness, but doctors won’t let him take the field unless his broken rib and lacerated kidney show drastic improvement.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Zach Ertz’s Playoff Availability In Doubt

In addition to a cracked rib, Eagles tight end Zach Ertz is dealing with a lacerated kidney, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (via Twitter). Ertz is unavailable for Philadelphia’s critical game against the Giants this afternoon, but if the team should win and clinch a playoff berth, RapSheet says Ertz could be back for the playoff opener next week.

Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer confirms RapSheet’s report but says Ertz’s playoff availability is uncertain (Twitter link).

It’s another difficult blow for the Eagles, who have been ravaged by injury all season. Even if they clinch the historically weak NFC East today, they will not be expected to do much damage in the postseason, and losing Ertz would further undermine their chances.

Ertz was named to this third consecutive Pro Bowl this year, and if he had been able to play today, he may have cracked the 1,000-yard barrier for the second straight season. He recorded 88 catches for 916 yards and six TDs and was clearly the most effective (and available) receiving weapon for Philadelphia in 2019. He is under contract through 2021, but the team is reportedly looking to extend his current deal.

The Eagles will need to rely more heavily on second-year player Dallas Goedert and the newly-signed Richard Rodgers in Ertz’s absence.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Injury Notes: Eagles, Jacobs, Steelers, Hawks

Afflicted with injuries to their receiving corps for most of the season, the Eagles will be severely shorthanded on this front in their win-and-in game Sunday. In addition to Nelson Agholor missing another game, Zach Ertz is not ready to return. Carson Wentz‘s top target will miss Week 17 due to back and ribs injuries. Ertz left the Eagles’ Week 16 win, leaving second-year tight end Dallas Goedert as Wentz’s most proven target.

Here is the latest from Philadelphia and other contending teams’ injury situations going into the regular season’s final Sunday:

  • While the Eagles are stripped of their top three wide receivers and their premier tight end, Jordan Howard will return. The fourth-year running back missed Philadelphia’s past six games due to a shoulder injury. The Eagles’ leading rusher when the injury surfaced at the midseason point, Howard will rejoin a backfield that’s seen more from Miles Sanders and some contributions from Boston Scott.
  • Moving to another playoff hopeful’s running back situation, the Raiders will be without Josh Jacobs on Sunday in Denver. The team declared Jacobs out, meaning he will miss a third game in his past four. Their offensive rookie of the year candidate is battling a shoulder malady and a skin condition, the latter prompting him to undergo a minor surgery this week. Jacobs missed Week 14 and Week 16 due to a shoulder injury. Free agent-to-be DeAndre Washington has filled in well for Jacobs, amassing 202 scrimmage yards in those two games. The Raiders need to win and receive another Sunday of good fortune to make the playoffs.
  • One of the teams the Raiders need to lose Sunday will be shorthanded on the ground as well. James Conner will miss the Steelers‘ regular-season finale, joining Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey in that regard. After missing a chunk of Pittsburgh’s season with a shoulder injury, Conner is now dealing with a quad problem. Pouncey is down due to a knee ailment.
  • Most of the non-Marshawn Lynch Seahawks news this week centers around the players who will not be available Sunday night, but the team will have some key players back in uniform. Jadeveon Clowney and Shaquill Griffin missed Seattle’s past two games but will be on the field in Sunday’s de facto NFC West championship game against San Francisco. Clowney is still battling the core issue that he initially played through but one that’s caused him to miss time.
  • The 49ers placed another defensive lineman on IR. Defensive tackle Jullian Taylor will end his season on the injured list because of an ACL tear sustained in practice this week, Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area notes. A 2018 seventh-round pick, Taylor played in six 49ers games this season. Defensive linemen Taylor, Ronald Blair, D.J. Jones and Damontre Moore reside on San Francisco’s IR list.

Eagles Restructure TE Zach Ertz’s Contract

Zach Ertz has helped the Eagles clear up some cap space. ESPN’s Field Yates reports (via Twitter) that the Eagles have restructured the tight end’s contract.

Specifically, the team converted $7.195MM of Ertz’s contract into a bonus, opening up $5.76MM in cap room. The move increases the Eagles’ cap space from around $21.7MM to around $27.5MM. It’s seemingly a win-win for both sides; Ertz wasn’t required to take a pay cut, and the Eagles received some financial flexibility. We’ve actually seen the organization do a similar maneuver with the tight end’s contract back in 2017 and 2018.

The 28-year-old Ertz had his most productive NFL season in 2018, hauling in 116 receptions for 1163 yards and eight touchdowns. The former second-rounder has spent his entire six-year career with Philly.

There are a variety of reasons why the Eagles could be looking to clear up cap space. The front office may be looking to add free agents after May 7th, when several notable veteran players are no longer tied to compensatory draft picks. The team could also be looking to sign some of their current players to extensions, including quarterback Carson Wentz. Most likely, the team is just looking for some extra financial flexibility in case the offseason takes an unexpected turn.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Notable 2019 Pro Bowl Incentives/Escalators

The NFL announced the 2018 Pro Bowl rosters earlier on Wednesday, and aside from determining which players will spend a week in Orlando early next year, the rosters also dictate several important bonuses and/or contract escalators for individual players. Former NFL agent and current CBSSports.com contributor Joel Corry has rounded up the notable incentives earned, and we’ll pass those along below. As Corry notes (Twitter link), only first ballot Pro Bowlers who actually participate in the game (unless injured or playing in the Super Bowl) are in bonuses, which are typically paid out by the end of March.

Here are the notable Pro Bowl bonuses and escalators that were netted last evening (all links to Corry’s Twitter):

Bonuses

  • Ravens S Eric Weddle$1MM; requires Baltimore in playoffs (link): For the second consecutive season, Weddle’s bonus will ride on the ability of the Ravens to earn a postseason berth. Baltimore is one of several teams in the mix for the AFC’s No. 6 seed, but FiveThirtyEight gives the club only a 41% chance of actually making the playoffs. Weddle, who will be entering his age-34 campaign in 2019, could potentially retire or be released before next season starts.
  • Chargers C Mike Pouncey, $500K (link): Pouncey somewhat surprisingly earned a Pro Bowl nod alongside his brother, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey. Mike Pouncey hasn’t been a terrible player by any means, but Raiders center Rodney Hudson has undoubtedly been better. Signed to a two-year contract this offeason, Pouncey is due a $6MM base salary and a $1.5MM roster bonus in 2019.
  • Vikings WR Adam Thielen, $500K (link): Thielen, notably, signed arguably the most team-friendly contract in the NFL in March 2017, a three-year deal that’s worth less than $20MM. By picking up a half-million dollar Pro Bowl bonus, Thielen will collect a bit more cash, but he’s still vastly underpaid. Second in the league in receptions, Thielen will count just $11.5MM total on the Vikings’ salary cap over the next two years.
  • Eagles TE Zach Ertz, $100K (link): Ertz will also see his base salaries increase by $250K in each of the 2019, 2020, and 2021 campaigns. He’s already surpassed career-highs in both receptions and yardage, and could top his career-high of eight touchdowns with a strong showing down the stretch.

Escalators

  • Chiefs T Eric Fisher, $500K base salary increase in 2019 (link): While Fisher hasn’t necessarily lived up to his status as a former No. 1 overall pick, he has played nearly every offensive snap for the Chiefs over the past six years while offering respectable play. He’s signed through 2021 as part of a four-year, $48MM extension he inked in 2016. Kansas City’s best tackle — Mitchell Schwartz, who mans the right side — has somehow been named second-team All-Pro for three consecutive years without ever being given a Pro Bowl nod.
  • Lions CB Darius Slay, $550K base salary increase in 2019 (link): Slay needed to reach two of three thresholds in order to earn his escalator. While he hasn’t yet met a five interception requirement, he was named to the Pro Bowl and has played on at least 80% of the Lions’ defensive snaps.
  • Packers WR Davante Adams, $250K base salary increase in 2019 (link): While he’s not quite at Thielen-level in terms of selling himself short, Adams arguably signed his extension with the Packers well before he needed to. Adams took a four-year, $58MM deal in December 2017, just months before he was scheduled to hit the open market. He’s vaunted to true No. 1 wideout status this year, but he’s just the NFL’s ninth-highest-paid wideout in terms of annual average.
  • Eagles G Brandon Brooks, $250K base salary increase in 2019-2020 (link): Brooks, 29, is quietly one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL, and Pro Football Focus currently grades him as the No. 5 guard in the league. He’s signed through the 2020 season, although his contract does contain two void years in 2021-22 that are in place only for salary cap purposes.

NFL Contract Restructures: 3/15/18

With the 2018 league year officially underway, a number of teams have reworked player contracts in order to create additional cap space. Here’s what moves clubs have made today:

  • Broncos: Created $12.375MM in 2018 cap space by converting $16MM of LB Von Miller‘s $18.5MM base salary into a signing bonus (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com).
  • Cardinals: G Mike Iupati accepted $3MM pay cut. 2018 base salary reduced from $7.75MM to $5MM. $250K roster bonus eliminated. 2019 contract season is now voidable (Twitter link via Field Yates of ESPN.com).
  • Cowboys: Created ~$7.5MM in 2018 cap space by restructuring C Travis Frederick‘s contract (Twitter link via Jane Slater of NFL.com).
  • Eagles: Created $5.407MM in 2018 cap space by converting $7.21MM of TE Zach Ertz‘s $8MM base salary into a fully guaranteed roster bonus (Twitter link via Yates).
  • Ravens: Created $5.625MM in 2018 cap space by converting $7.5MM of DT Brandon Williams‘ $8.5MM base salary into a signing bonus (Twitter link via Yates).

Top 2018 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. We’ll start today on offense, before getting to defense and special teams later this week.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. The rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts that each player is expected to land in free agency, they are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account. Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents are not listed here since they are unlikely to actually reach the open market. The same goes for players who have been franchise tagged or transition tagged.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some guys than you are, so we encourage you to make your voice heard in our comments section to let us know which free agents we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2018:

Quarterback:

  1. Kirk Cousins
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Case Keenum
  4. A.J. McCarron
  5. Sam Bradford
  6. Teddy Bridgewater
  7. Colin Kaepernick
  8. Josh McCown
  9. Mike Glennon
  10. Drew Stanton
  11. Jay Cutler
  12. Chase Daniel
  13. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  14. Brock Osweiler
  15. Tom Savage

There were many difficult calls when putting this list together, but ranking Kirk Cousins as the No. 1 QB available was not among them. Cousins is the best quarterback to reach free agency in recent history and he’ll become the highest-paid player of all-time – at least, for some period of time – in mid-March. Who will make history with Cousins? That’s anyone’s guess right now. The Browns have more cap room than any other team, but a recent report from Adam Schefter of ESPN.com listed the Broncos, Cardinals, Jets, and Vikings as the final suitors for Cousins. Of those four, the Jets have the most money to work with, but they’re concerned about the Vikings winning out and Cousins’ desire to win could point him in another direction. If the Broncos and Cardinals want in on the Cousins sweepstakes, they’ll have to get creative with the books.

Drew Brees is included here, but by his own admission, he’ll be re-signing with the Saints rather than testing the open waters of free agency. Unless the Saints lowball their franchise QB, it’s hard to see him leaving New Orleans.

Case Keenum put together a tremendous season for the Vikings, but he doesn’t have a history of success beyond 2017. There will be plenty of interest in Keenum, but only after QB-needy teams strike out on Cousins. The incumbent Vikings could re-sign Keenum, but right now, it seems like they are intent on exploring the Cousins waters first.

There isn’t a ton of footage on A.J. McCarron, which made his placement on this list awfully tricky. We know this much: McCarron did well in place of Dalton in the home stretch of the 2015 season and his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was salivating at the chance of landing him before the Browns bungled the trade with the Bengals. McCarron’s relative youth is a plus (he won’t turn 28 until September) and his lack of experience can be looked at as a positive. Unlike some of the other names on this list, he hasn’t run up his NFL odometer.

What will NFL teams make of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford this offseason? Not long ago, both seemed like quality starting options. However, there are serious injury questions about both players and any team signing them will either look to backstop them with another decent option or ask them to come onboard as a QB2. With that in mind, one has to wonder if Bradford would consider retirement if asked to hold the clipboard for another signal caller. Bradford has earned upwards of $110MM over the years in the NFL, so it’s safe to say that he has enough money in the bank to call it quits if he wants. For now, he’s intent on playing.

Colin Kaepernick‘s placement on this list is sure to draw some strong reactions from his fans and detractors alike. Looking purely at his football ability, there’s no question that he belongs on someone’s roster. At minimum, Kaepernick profiles as a high-end backup, even after a year out of the game.

Quarterbacks coaches have long believed that Mike Glennon is capable of great things, due in part to his height. At 6’7″, he can see over any defensive line, but he hasn’t done much on the field to prove that he is a quality Week 1 starting option. Josh McCown, who is a decade his senior, edges him here for his surprisingly strong performance in 2017 at the helm of a weak Jets offense.

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Notable 2018 Pro Bowl Incentives/Escalators

The NFL announced the 2018 Pro Bowl rosters earlier tonight, and aside from determining which players will spend a week in Orlando early next year, the rosters also dictate several important bonuses and/or contract escalators for individual players. Former NFL agent and current CBSSports.com contributor Joel Corry has rounded up the notable incentives earned tonight, and we’ll pass those along below. As Corry notes (Twitter link), only first ballot Pro Bowlers who actually participate in the game (unless injured or playing in the Super Bowl) are in bonuses, which are typically paid out by the end of March.

Here are the notable Pro Bowl bonuses and escalators that were preliminarily netted this evening (all links to Corry’s Twitter):

Bonuses

  • Ravens S Eric Weddle, $1MM; requires Baltimore in playoffs (link): Still playing like one of the league’s best coverage safeties at the age of 32, Weddle needs the Ravens to land one of the AFC Wild Card slots in order to earn his incentive. Baltimore appears to on course to do just that, as FiveThirtyEight gives the club an 87% of earning a postseason berth. That playoff appearance will be largely due to the Ravens’ defense, which ranks second only to Jacksonville in DVOA.
  • Bills S Micah Hyde, $400K (link): Sean McDermott can coach defensive backs. After spending years finding gems at safety for the Eagles and Panthers, the Bills head coach has helped Hyde transform into a top-notch DB. Hyde, who inked a five-year, $30.5MM contract with Buffalo in the spring, ranked a respectable 53rd in Pro Football Focus‘ safety grades a year ago. This season? He’s ninth.
  • Raiders G Kelechi Osemele, $300K (link): Under general manager Reggie McKenzie, the Raiders have employed what is often referred to as an “all cash” salary cap management system, wherein prorated signing bonuses are rarely used while base salary guarantees, roster bonuses, and — as evidenced by the number of Oakland players on this list — incentive clauses are heavily employed. Osemele, the league’s highest-paid interior offensive lineman, is signed through 2020 with cap charges north of $10MM in each season.
  • Rams K Greg Zuerlein, $250K (link): While the Los Angeles offense garners the most headlines, the club’s special teams unit has maintained its dominance under coordinator John Fassel, who briefly took over as the Rams’ interim head coach in 2016. Fassel, Zuerlein, & Co. have managed a No. 2 ranking in special teams DVOA, while Zuerlein himself has been worth 15.1 points of field position (second in the NFL).
  • Raiders T Donald Penn, $200K (link): Penn’s summer holdout lead to extra guarantees in the future, but didn’t end with a change to his 2017 salary, meaning this bonus part of his original deal. The 34-year-old Penn is currently on injured reserve, and will miss his first game since 2007 on Sunday. Still, his renegotiated contract now contains a $3MM guarantee for 2018, meaning he’s likely part of the Raiders’ plans.
  • Patriots ST Matthew Slater, $150K (link): Slater has now earned a Pro Bowl berth in every season since 2011. At some point, it’s fair to wonder if Slater is skating by on reputation, as he played only a quarter of the Patriots’ special teams snaps this year. Slater missed more special teams tackles than he made prior to his 2016 berth, tweets Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus.
  • Raiders C Rodney Hudson, $100K (link): For all of Oakland’s problems this season, the Raiders have continued to boast some of the NFL’s best pass-blocking offensive lineman. Hudson is the best pass-blocking center in the league by a wide margin, meaning he’s eminently affordable at $8.9MM annually.

Escalators

  • Lions CB Darius Slay, $550K base salary increase in 2018 (link): As Corry reports, Slay had three ways to earn this heft escalator — post five or more interceptions (he sits at seven), play on 80% or more of Detroit’s defensive snaps (he’s at 97.6%), or earn a Pro Bowl berth. Slay managed all three in what has become the best season of an increasingly impressive five-year career.
  • Eagles T Lane Johnson, $250K base salary increase each season from 2018-21 (link): Depending on Jason Peters‘ health and the Eagles’ plans, Johnson could very well be playing left tackle as soon as 2018. Even with his base salary set to increase, Johnson won’t have a cap charge north of $13.5MM over the life of his contract.
  • Eagles G Brandon Brooks, $250K base salary increase each season from 2018-20 (link): General manager Howie Roseman zeroed in on Brooks at the outset of the 2016 free agent period, and the 28-year-old has quickly proved to be one of the best free agent signings in recent memory. Brooks will earn an $8.5MM base salary — the largest during his five-year deal — in 2018.
  • Eagles TE Zach Ertz, $250K base salary increase from 2019-21 (link): Per Corry, Ertz also picked up a $100K bonus for 2017. Ertz has already set a career-high in touchdowns (eight) and has a shot to set new marks in receptions and yards even though he missed two games with injury. A former second-round pick, Ertz ranks among the top-five tight ends in catches, yards, and scores.