Summer in the NFL is usually a somewhat mellow and down time of the offseason with teams wrapping up voluntary workouts and leaving for summer break before returning for training camp. News is generally slow during these months with perhaps a veteran signing for the league minimum here and there. Rarely do we see or hear about players being traded during this time, but this year appears to be different.
Future Hall of Fame players such as Julio Jones and Aaron Rodgers could realistically be traded in the weeks to come now that the post-June 1 deadline has passed, making it much easier for the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers to deal with the cap ramifications of a potential trade. While Jones and Rodgers are stealing most of the headlines in regard to the trade market, another former Pro Bowler could also be traded in the weeks to come.
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz has been mentioned in trade rumors dating back to this year’s trade deadline. Once a key member of the Eagles organization and a focal point of the offense, the team appears set to move on from the former three-time Pro Bowler after failing to reach a contract extension last summer. After contract negotiations fell apart a year ago, Ertz reportedly felt disrespected by the organization that he once meant so much too. This, coupled with the fact that the Eagles have undergone massive staff and personnel changes, makes the timing right to trade Ertz and allow him a chance to compete with a team ready to win now while giving the Eagles more future draft capital as they embrace their rebuild.
Earlier in the offseason, there were reports that the Los Angeles Chargers were one of the main teams interested in acquiring Ertz. A deal was rumored to be close to happening, but Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was adamant that whichever team traded for Ertz must relinquish a third-round pick in exchange. Ultimately, no team was willing to surrender such a high selection and Ertz remains on the Eagles roster to this day. That being said, with the 2021 NFL Draft now in the rearview mirror and even fewer teams needing tight ends, the Eagles may now be forced to lower their asking price as Ertz has made it quite clear he has no intention of playing for the team this fall.
If Roseman were to lower his asking price, the Chargers do make some sense as a potential suitor. The team lost Hunter Henry in free agency and hasn’t truly done enough to adequately replace him. Henry was a huge part of the Chargers' offense last season, finishing with 60 receptions for 613 yards and four touchdowns. Henry showed very strong chemistry with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert and his 90 targets were second on the team behind only Keenan Allen. The Chargers also have the cap space to pick up Ertz's contract, as whichever team that trades for him will be on the hook for his $8.25 million base salary. Ertz theoretically could play a similar role that Henry played last season, but if the asking price is anything more than a fifth-rounder, I have a hard time making this move if I am Tom Telesco.
Ertz, while being a very productive player for most of his career, is no longer the player he once was. He is coming off a season in which he dealt with a high ankle sprain, missing five games and finishing with just 36 receptions for 335 yards and one touchdown—all career lows. In the games Ertz played, he appeared to be a shell of himself, lumbering out of breaks, lacking the burst and playmaking ability he once had. Entering his age-31 season and coming off multiple seasons of dealing with lingering injuries, it is fair to wonder if Ertz will ever be able to be more than a part-time player who can contribute in the red zone.
For the Chargers, surrendering high draft capital for a tight end who is coming off an injury and could be well past his prime is not something I would be behind. While the team did lose Henry, they were able to sign Jared Cook in free agency. Similar to Ertz, Cook is an older tight end who is at the tail end of his career, but the Chargers didn’t have to surrender any capital for his services.
Los Angeles signed Cook to a one-year $6 million deal, and he projects to be the team's starting tight end. Cook is coming off a season in which he finished with 37 receptions for 504 yards and seven touchdowns, showing that he can still produce at his age. Cook’s age is concerning when projecting his 2021 success as you never truly know when the wheels are going to fall off for older players, but the fact that new Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi coached Cook with the Saints last season leads me to believe that he feels good about the production he can get out of him this season.
Behind Cook, the Chargers have some intriguing options at the position as well. Donald Parham, a former XFL player, had a productive year for the Bolts in his first year in the league in 2020. At 6-foot-8 and 237 pounds, Parham has an intriguing skill set with excellent size and athleticism. Parham is a nice depth piece who flashed ability down the field as a receiver and could develop into a solid No. 2 tight end. The Chargers also invested a third-round pick in this year’s draft in the position with the selection of Georgia tight end Tre' McKitty. McKitty is an athletic tight end who showed natural hands and ball skills with the Bulldogs and is also an aggressive blocker at the point of attack. Drafting a tight end in the third round is no meaningless action, and the team clearly sees McKitty as a potential starter down the road. Trading top draft capital for a declining Ertz to potentially stop the development of Parham and McKitty is not the recipe for success long term.
With the season only three short months away, it is highly likely that Ertz will be traded in the coming weeks. A team that considers itself a contender that has a need at tight end could see Ertz as a short-term solution as they try to prepare for a 2021 run. Teams like the Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks, and Arizona Cardinals could make sense for the former Eagles star. For the Chargers, unless they can swing a deal that wouldn’t require them giving up anything more than a fifth-round pick, this is a trade they shouldn’t make.