The 2016 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles, which means Howie Roseman and new head coach Doug Pederson will spend the next couple of weeks evaluating the 2015 roster. The team went 7-9 last season and improvement is clearly needed. By the time NFL free agency starts on March 9, the Eagles will have a good idea of which players they'll want to bring back for the 2016 season. Today we'll continue this offseason review series by looking at the tight end position.
Numbers: 809 snaps, 75 receptions, 853 yards, 11.4 Y/R, 2 TD, 1 fumble, 7 drops
Review: The most obvious takeaway from Ertz's 2015 season is that he finally outplayed veteran tight end Brent Celek. Ertz's counting stats improved with more playing time. He set new season highs in receptions and yards. His efficiency dropped yet again, however. After finishing with 13 yards per reception as a rookie and 12.1 in 2014, Ertz finished at 11.4 in his third year. Ertz's touchdowns have also gone down each year from four to three to two. In fairness to Ertz, he had at least a few touchdowns wiped out due to illegal formation penalties that weren't his fault.
Ertz hasn't really been that dominant player some have expected him to be at this point. He got off to a slow start in 2015 due to a groin injury suffered in training camp. Ertz said he didn't start feeling like himself again until after Week 4. He had a nice, productive stretch in the middle of the season before suffering a brutal concussion in late November. Ertz missed one game but returned to go on a dominant tear down the stretch.
Ertz finished the season with 35 receptions, 450 yards (12.9 average), and one touchdown in his last four games. His 30 receptions over Philadelphia's final three games set a franchise record for the most catches over a three game span. Jimmy Graham and Ertz are the only two tight ends since 2013 to record 450 yards in a four game stretch. Ertz also showed improvement as a blocker. He graded out as the fifth best run blocking tight end, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Eagles need Ertz to build off his late season success and become a primary weapon. There are still concerns about his ability to do that, however. Some of his late season stats came in garbage time. Drops are also still an issue; he had seven last season.
Ertz recently received an long-term contract extension so now it's up to him to prove he's worth it.
Numbers: 616 snaps, 32 receptions, 398 yards, 14.7 Y/R, 3 TD, 1 fumble, 0 drops
Review: Celek was sneakily productive as a receiver last season. His 14.7 yards per reception ranks only behind his 15.7 in 2013. He didn't drop a single pass, which is something most Eagles pass catchers can't say. Celek is hardly a weapon in the passing attack but he proved to be serviceable to some extent.
Celek was better as a receiver than a blocker in 2015 and that's weird because usually the opposite is true. Pro Football Focus graded his pass blocking 57th out of 73 tight ends and his run blocking 46th out of 73. PFF grades aside, he did not pass the eye test.
It was a little surprising to see the Eagles give Celek a contract extension. His new deal was earned on reputation and culture more than talent and production at this point.
Numbers: 65 snaps, 3 receptions, 54 yards, 18 Y/R, 0 TD, 0 fumbles, 0 drops
Review: Burton makes his living on special teams. He led the Eagles in ST tackles. Burton also flashed some big play ability with a nice catch-and-run against the Lions. Maybe he deserves some more touches moving forward.
Review: Pantale spent most of the season on the practice squad. The team signed him to a futures deal so he'll have the chance to compete for a roster spot this summer.
Who Could Leave
No one significant. Celek could have been cut in order to save $5 million but the team gave him a contract extension instead. Burton has been too good on special teams to cast aside. He has some offensive potential as well.
The Eagles always kept at least three tight ends (and sometimes four) in the Chip Kelly era. The Chiefs relied heavily on multiple tight end sets while Doug Pederson was in Kansas City so it seems safe to say the Eagles won't skimp on keeping tight ends either.
Who Could Sign
The Eagles won't be signing a tight end in free agency.
NFL Draft Options
It's hard to see the Eagles spending a draft pick on a tight end. Maybe late, if anything. It couldn't hurt to take a flyer on a guy in undrafted free agency.