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The scenario isn’t playing out as expected because of the pandemic, but Zach Ertz is destined to land a nice pile of money from the Philadelphia Eagles. And he can thank George Kittle and Travis Kelce for it.

Ertz turned down the Eagles’ offer of a contract extension last year. He likely anticipated that the price for star tight ends was on the rise. Now, Kittle and Kelce have made that happen.

George Kittle, Travis Kelce drive up the price for tight ends

George Kittle and Travis Kelce agreed to huge contract extensions hours apart on Aug. 13. The San Francisco 49ers presented Kittle, 26, with a five-year, $75 million extension. The Kansas City Chiefs agreed to a four-year, $57 million extension with Kelce, 30.

At 29 years old, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz fits into their age demographic and has comparable stats:

  • George Kittle: 85 catches for 1,053 yards, five touchdowns, and 53 first downs in 2019. Career numbers: 216 catches and 12 TDs in 45 games over three seasons.
  • Travis Kelce: 97 catches for 1,229 yards, five touchdowns, and 65 first downs. Career numbers: 507 catches and 37 TDs in 96 games over seven seasons.
  • Zach Ertz: 88 catches for 916 yards, six touchdowns, and 50 first downs. Career numbers: 525 catches and 35 TDs in 106 games over seven seasons.

Kittle is a better blocker and Kelce is more of a threat to turn the play up the field after making the catch. But Ertz has earned spots in three straight Pro Bowls. His leverage at the negotiating table is hindered somewhat because 2018 draft pick Dallas Goedert is emerging at tight end for the Eagles. Still, Ertz is indispensable.

The Philadelphia Eagles have money to spend – for now

The Philadelphia Eagles are sitting on more than $24 million in excess cap space but will be facing the same crunch that the other 31 teams will face in 2021 because the pandemic will be driving down attendance this fall. They need to redistribute some of that spare change now, and Zach Ertz is as good a place as any to invest.

Ertz will make $6.66 million this season and $8.25 million next season, when he’s scheduled to count $12.47 million against the cap as his current contract extension expires.

Moving his future money up to this fall in order to pay him less in 2021 frees up some future money. A three- or four-year extension for subsequent seasons when the salary cap should return to normal growth makes sense.

It looked like Zach Ertz had gambled and lost

Zach Ertz rejected the overtures last fall when the Philadelphia Eagles approached him to offer his second contract extension is two years. Reports at the time said the money was likely better than the $44 million over four years that fellow Stanford grad and tight end Austin Hooper accepted from the Cleveland Browns this spring.

In turning down the offer, Ertz was banking on two things happening:

  • Other tight ends would sign deals that would drive up his own value after the 2019 season, which turned out to be true.
  • The salary cap would explode upward with the addition of two playoff games and the new round of negotiations on TV contracts. On top of that, the latest collective bargaining agreement bumped up the players’ share of the revenue split by a percentage point.

The gamble on the salary cap’s growth isn’t panning out in the short term, but it will later. Meanwhile, George Kittle and Travis Kelce drove up the salary scale by more than Ertz could have possibly imagined.

When all is said and done, Ertz should fare nicely.