Eagles’ Zach Ertz on NFL Future: ‘My Goal Was To Be Like Kobe Bryant’

Getty Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles

When Zach Ertz was getting ready for the 2013 draft, he mentioned two major goals to his trainer at the combine. He wanted to be a first-round pick and get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Well, Ertz missed out on the first one by three picks after going in the second round at 35th overall. (For the record, one tight end went ahead of him: Tyler Eifert). But, fast forward eight seasons and that second goal is slowly morphing into a reality. There are nine tight ends in Canton and Ertz already has more receiving yards (5,743) than three of them (Dave Casper, John Mackey, Charlie Sanders), with two more guys in his sights. The Eagles star needs 69 yards to surpass Mike Ditka and 998 yards to overtake Kellen Winslow.

The Holy Grail at the position is Tony Gonzalez, sixth on the NFL’s all-time receiving list with 15,127 yards. He also ranks third on the all-time receptions list with 1,325 catches (Ertz has 525). It’s doable but Ertz has a different immediate objective, to better himself as a teammate, as a football player, and as a human being.

“The Hall of Fame goal is always something I strived for,” Ertz told reporters on Friday, “and you talk about accomplishments and you talk about progress. It’s never something, in my opinion, that you look at while you’re playing. It’s looking at the next season and how can you become a better football player, and how can I become a better teammate.”

That’s been his mentality since coming into the league, even after the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Ertz measures success by an incremental improvement from year to year — and, despite his numbers being down across the board in 2019, he called it the “best year he’s had as a pro.” It’s a pretty telling quote coming the man who set the single-season record for receptions by a tight end with 116 in 2018.

“I don’t think I’m slowing down by any means,” Ertz said. “Doug [Pederson] and my tight ends coach [Justin Pelle] told me last year was my best year yet as a pro, that they’ve seen. The end goal will never change. I’m just blessed to even have my name in those conversations this early in my career.”

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Eagles Working on New Contract for Ertz?

There was a report floating around last March that Ertz turned down a contract extension from the Eagles in the middle of the 2019 season. While the 29-year-old wouldn’t confirm it, he did make it clear that his desire is to remain in Philadelphia. He wants to follow in Kobe Bryant’s footsteps and never wear another jersey — in this case, that jersey is midnight green.

“I made it clear from the moment I got here as a rookie to the moment I signed my second contract that my goal was to be like Kobe Bryant,” Ertz said, “and play for one organization the rest of my career. I’ve made that known and I’ll let my agent and Howie [Roseman] handle the rest. But I know for sure I want to be here for the rest of my career.”

Ertz is also a realist and isn’t blind to the fact that the Eagles are always looking toward the future, to upgrading and getting younger all over the field. The organization used a second-round pick in 2018 on his possible replacement, Dallas Goedert. While the Eagles love causing match-up nightmares with their menacing two tight-end sets, it’s not be lost on anyone that Ertz’s future could be in limbo.

“Everyone every year is playing for their job, that’s just the way it is in the NFL,” Ertz said. “I’ve never gone into an offseason thinking that I’ve made it or that my job is safe. It doesn’t matter if I have Brent [Celek] in front of me or Dallas [Goedert] behind me, I always felt like I had to earn my job each and every year.”

It’s something Ertz’s best buddy Carson Wentz is going through after the team drafted Jalen Hurts this year in the second round.

“It doesn’t matter if they brought Aaron Rodgers in here to compete with him [Wentz],” Ertz said. “It’s going to be the same mentality from him and he’s going to give it everything he has to be the best quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, for the City of Philadelphia, that he could possibly be.”

Ertz: ‘Best I’ve Felt Going Into a Season’

The weird offseason caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a crooked wrench in the best-laid training camp plans. Spring minicamps were scrapped. Reporting dates were pushed back. And teams aren’t even allowed to put the pads on and hit each other until Aug. 17.

For some, the “virtual” meetings have provided a relaxing breath of fresh air. It has presented a certain set of challenges, yet Ertz revealed it’s given him an opportunity to work on his body. He’s in the best shape of his life.

“This is the best I’ve felt going into a season,” Ertz said. “This time off allowed me to focus on my body, becoming a better athlete overall instead of just minute details, running routes like I focus on during OTAs and early in the offseason. So, for me, in particular, I feel like it was the best offseason I’ve had with the extra time.”

Other players have echoed that sentiment, just look at Brandon Graham’s crazy physique. Most veterans don’t need all that extra “grass time” running through drills they already know like the back of their hand. However, Ertz cautioned about it hurting in another very important area: team chemistry. The Eagles have kept the defense and offense away from each other due to social distancing.

“The toughest part about this whole thing is you’re losing the camaraderie between the guys,” Ertz said. “I don’t see a lot of the defensive guys and we’re not allowed to have a lot of conversations with some of the new guys. For me, the relationship part of this business has always been the best part.”

But don’t read too much into that. No one is worried, not with Pederson running the show.

“I know Doug is going to do a great job,” Ertz said. “For us, I don’t think anything is going to change, there’s just going to be a heightened urgency all around.”

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