A Closer Look at the Eagles Contract with Zach Ertz

The Philadelphia Eagles locked up tight end Zach Ertz today on a 5 year contract extension worth over $42 million that will make him the 4th highest paid tight end behind Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, and Rob Gronkowski. Thanks to the great Joel Corry of CBS Sports we have the details on many of the important parts of the contract which allows us to look a little bit more critically at the deal to where it really ranks and in what ways the two sides comes out a winner.

The Eagles Advantages

When we look at Ertz I think the fairest comp players are Clay and Thomas, both of whom signed as free agents last season. Here are the two year average statistics going into negotiations for the three players

Charles Clay13.554.5566.53
Julius Thomas1354638.512
Zach Ertz15.566.5777.52.5

I think you look at those numbers and say that Ertz is more durable and a bit more productive than the other two unless the touchdowns are a major factor. Ertz has the distinction of being a higher draft pick while Thomas had the distinction of two Pro Bowls.  I think it’s fair to state he would slot somewhere close to these two players.

We generally rank contracts on a basis of annual value but that is a metric that can often be misleading. Teams are more than happy to throw big money on the end of a contract to bump that APY, knowing it will either never be earned or be considered a bargain by the time it comes around if the player is actually good enough to earn it.  By APY Ertz’ $8.5 million contract slots right in between the other two players which sounds fair enough, but a closer look shows some areas where its lacking.

In terms of cash flows, Ertz’ contract is really a notch below. Ertz will trail Thomas and Clay by a pretty decent margin over those first three years of the contract. He’ll really needs to get to year 4 and 5 to hit those high end marks.

PlayerYear 0Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5
Julius Thomas$0$15,100,000$21,200,000$28,300,000$36,900,000$46,000,000
Charles Clay$0$13,000,000$24,500,000$29,000,000$33,500,000$38,000,000
Zach Ertz$8,000,000$12,000,000$20,000,000$27,500,000$34,750,000$42,500,000

When we move further into guarantees it seems as if Ertz received a total of $20 million in guarantees or about 47% of the total contract value. That’s a distant third. His full guarantee of $13 million and change also is well under the other two players’.  If we pull out the fact that his current salary was virtually guaranteed it only falls further.

PlayerYearsTotal Guarantee% GuaranteedFull Guarantee% Full GuaranteeNew GuaranteeTotal Guar/YearFull Guar/Year
Julius Thomas5$24,000,00052.2%$21,000,00045.7%$24,000,000$4,800,000$4,200,000
Charles Clay5$24,500,00064.5%$24,500,00064.5%$24,500,000$4,900,000$4,900,000
Zach Ertz5$20,000,00047.1%$13,318,52731.3%$18,861,473$4,000,000$2,663,705

The other two also receive for more effective guarantees on that third year payout based on the cap structure. Cutting Clay in his third year only nets the Bills about $500,000 in cap savings. Thomas has a few million in guarantees that kick in right after the Super Bowl to help push those savings down from $4.7M to $1.7M. Ertz’ cap hit will be the largest of the group with nearly $6 million in cap room to be gained by cutting him. The Eagles have used similar structures with players such as DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy which put them in a position to be moved off the team. Bryce’s ECV should capture this more fully when he has a chance to look at the numbers.

The Eagles also get the benefit of jumping the gun on the contracts for the next wave of tight ends. Generally( but not always) the team that strikes first and is the most proactive gets the best deal. The next agent works off that contract and the next works off that one and so on…Ertz’ contract becomes the building block rather than the market ceiling by signing him now.

With contracts due soon for Jordan Reed, Tyler Eifert, and Travis Kelce this was an important one to get done. While the Bengals are often very stern with their contracts both the Chiefs and, more specifically, Redskins will go that extra mile to sign a player they want. Getting in before them is a smart move.

On a side note when it comes to Fletcher Cox this is a reason that there is less urgency to get the deal done. That market is more or less saturated and even though Muhammad Wilkerson will push the prices  there should not be a rush of exploding contracts potentially on the horizon.

How Ertz Wins As Well

For Ertz he has now eliminated the risk associated with the Eagles organization. Currently the Eagles top quarterback on the roster is Mark Sanchez who is not someone you want to risk your financial future on.   The team has huge money invested in running back and a new head coach that may favor the running game. There is also the possibility that as some of the young receivers develop Ertz won’t see the same looks if they find a decent quarterback for next year.  You don’t want to stumble into free agency and he won’t have to worry about that now.

While I would not characterize Ertz’ deal as better than Clay’s, despite the higher APY, it is a much stronger contract than the next tier of Greg Olsen, Kyle Rudolph, and Dennis Pitta. If the sides can agree that the Bills contract with Clay was a bad one and an outlier than clearly Ertz’ deal is as close as you ca get to the top tier.

My guess is when coming to an agreement it was important to get his annual value over Clay’s but they were willing to concede that they could not match those cash flows because few, if any, teams in the NFL would have done what the Bills did.

So  in that respect Ertz gets some big value out of the contract too. While free agency in 2017 may have given him a chance to reach $10 million per year if he had a good season, there are also many other possibilities that could have driven that number into the ground.