It’s an exciting time to be an Eagles fan. While last week’s game result wasn’t the outcome fans wanted, the season as a whole showed us what the Birds can be. Head Coach Chip Kelly has a system that works and adapts to his players, and the players bought in. As our attention turns now to the draft and the off-season, General Manager Howie Roseman and Kelly both stated on numerous occasions that every position will be up for competition. From an offensive perspective, the tight end stable for the 2013 Eagles proved to be deep, talented, but yet open for improvement. This group provided Quarterback Nick Foles will solid blockers, and reliable check down weapons which he used to move the chains. Let’s look at each of the current tight ends, and how they fit into the team’s future.
The 2013 Eagles’ tight end depth chart begins with veteran Brent Celek. Draft in the 5th round back in 2007, Celek has grown over the years to be a versatile and reliable tight end. Looking at Celek’s yardage and reception totals over the last few seasons, it would be easy to write him off as inconsistent. However, he plays a key role as a blocker on many players, opening up running lanes and protecting the quarterback. In this situations, the obvious impact is to his stats. Even so, his 2013 production dropped off from prior years, and with a reported $4 million due him in 2014, the Eagles may look to the rest of their tight end stable and part ways with this veteran. It’s hard to see the Eagles choosing to restructure his contract, given the players behind him on the depth chart.
Next in line on the charts is Zach Ertz, a rookie selected in the 2nd round of last year’s draft. While not the type of blocking player that Brent Celek is, Ertz proved to be a fairly reliable target through the 2013 season. His obvious lack of NFL experience showed at times, but overall, the potential upside outweighs the maturation time under a 4-year $5.4 million rookie contract. Should the Iggles choose to part ways with Celek, Ertz would ideally become the passing down tight end, with third-stringer James Casey picking up run blocking responsibilities. Eagles fans can look forward to another dynamic playmaker who has shown flashes of brilliance more times than not.
Last in line on the depth charts is James Casey, drafted back in 2009 by the Houston Texans, Casey was picked up by the Birds on a 3-year deal. Used in primarily run blocking situations when Celek was unavailable or as part of 2 and 3 tight end sets, Casey should remain with the team for the upcoming season. The relative cost to the team is small, and he should provide healthy competition for Zach Ertz and another player, should the Eagles choose to bring someone in or draft a tight end. However, given the current player performance, Zach Ertz looks to stay ahead of Casey on the charts.
The 2014 roster of tight ends depends a lot on what Roseman and Kelly choose to do with Celek. Given the needs on the defensive side of the ball, and potential upgrades across the board, it’s hard to imagine not parting ways with Celek. That would elevate Zach Ertz to the first slot, bring Casey in as the second, and leave a hole for the third. With Foles relying on the tight ends this year in 3rd down and goal line situations, this is an obvious position the Birds can’t afford to downgrade. Do they choose to promote practice Emil Igwenagu? Do they use a pick in this year’s draft to bring someone in? Do they look across the league for a free agent? With free agency quickly approaching, and the draft three months away, we’ll start to see the puzzle pieces fitting together. The tight end position is one that will continue to play a significant role in the Eagles future success.