One man signed a $42 million contract extension in the offseason, almost half guaranteed, making him the game’s fourth highest-paid tight end. The other, after a breakout season that suggested even greater things, agreed this season to a six-year, $103 million contract extension, $63 million of it guaranteed.
That’s a $105 million worth of great expectations, which leads to the obvious:
Which has been the bigger disappointment?
It’s a real poser, as those Monty Python guys used to sarcastically say.
And yet among all the referendum questions surrounding the Eagles' fall from grace, this one seems to have escaped its rightful prominence. It’s legitimacy however, underscores two of the more pronounced disappointments in their demise. With Nelson Agholor AWOL and Ryan Mathews once again un-knee worthy, the Eagles' rookie quarterback, Carson Wentz, can no longer be blamed for Zach Ertz’s lack of productivity.
He’s looking for him. Hell, he’d look for you if you would be so kind as to suit up and run a route or two.
Without Agholor and with Jordan Matthews missing a sizeable chunk of Monday night’s loss to the Packers, Ertz caught three passes for 36 yards and was targeted six times. To lend further perspective – if it’s even needed – Trey Burton was targeted four times.
Ertz now has 38 catches over 11 games this season for 363 yards and one touchdown. Inside of an offense that has famously made stars of people like Travis Kelce and his veteran teammate, Brett Celek. If Ertz could even approach the blocking skills Celek has developed, a role reversal would be beneficial. But with Lane Johnson’s suspension and the injuries incurred by the offensive line, it’s a luxury they can’t begin to consider.
Ertz’s muted contributions, which have also included some excruciating drops, have not led directly to losses. The same cannot be said of Fletcher Cox, who for the mind-boggling third time this season, extended a stalled opponent’s drive with a late third-down hit Monday night.
Each has occurred, too, at a critical stage late in a game. Each has triggered a game-changing drive by the opponent. And this latest one suggests a pattern that will never be broken, especially given Cox’s post-game comments that he didn’t think it was a penalty, and that he didn’t commit it out of frustration.
In all three cases this season, the impression left has been the opposite. Cox hasn’t sacked anyone in seven games, five of which have been losses. He’s the poster boy for an underachieving front four that was projected to be the Eagles' ultimate strength this season, hiding a suspect collection of cornerbacks weakened further by in-season injuries, and providing the offense and its rookie quarterback time to find its footing via numerous stops.
When Cox hit Aaron Rodgers late in the third quarter Monday, the Eagles trailed by four points, had just completed a scoring drive, and were about to get the ball right back. Instead, the Packers parlayed the penalty into a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that used 6:28 of the clock, stalled the Eagles' momentum, and affected their play selection for the rest of the game. At the time, the Eagles' defense seemed finally to be finding its footing. Cox put an end to that, too.
His previous two late hits led to touchdowns in games the Eagles lost by small margins. That wasn’t the case Monday. But in my view, Cox is still leading the polls over Ertz. He is the face of that defense.
And for too much of this season, that face has been obscured by egg.