It sure sounded like good-bye. It sure felt like good-bye.
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A tearful Zach Ertz reflected on his eight years with the Eagles Monday a day after what very well could have been his final game in an Eagles uniform.
Ertz, speaking with Philly media on a Zoom call, was asked about his legacy if Sunday's loss to Washington was indeed his Eagles swan song.
“I’m not the greatest Eagle by any means,” Ertz said. “But just handling this city I would say. … city’s tough. But they’re honest. It’s not a city that cares about how you feel you did. Whether you had a great day or a terrible day, they don’t want any excuses, and I don’t think I ever made an excuse. Whenever I didn’t play well enough I just wanted to go out there and work because that was the only thing I knew. ... I think this city is the best city you could play for and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and the city means a lot to me, it means a lot to my family. And I’m thankful.”
Ertz spoke haltingly, pausing at times to wipe tears from his eyes.
He’s an all-time great Eagle. A Super Bowl hero. An NFL record holder. A future Eagles Hall of Famer.
And he knows the reality. The only NFL team he's ever played for might not want him anymore.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do, obviously,” Ertz said. “Everybody knows the situation. I’ve loved being a Philadelphia Eagle, I love being a Philadelphia Eagle. I’m not going to be someone who’s going to be bitter. I’m just going to be honest and open and understand it.”
Ertz turned 30 in November, he’s publicly expressed unhappiness with his contract situation, he had a disappointing season on the field and the Eagles can clear nearly $5 million in cap space by trading him.
“I feel like I have a lot of good years of football left,” Ertz said. “A lot of good years of being a really good tight end in this league. And so for me, it’s just what is the plan going forward? Whether they see me as part of that plan or not, there’s a lot of things out of my control. I’ll have no angst either way.”
Ertz set an NFL record with 116 catches in 2018. His 561 career receptions are 12th-most in NFL history by a tight end. He’s a three-time Pro Bowler but after averaging 86 catches for 914 yards and 5 ½ touchdowns from 2015 through 2019, he caught just 36 passes for 335 yards and one TD this year.
In 2017, Ertz caught the crucial 4th-down pass from Nick Foles to extend the go-ahead drive in the Super Bowl and then caught the game-winning touchdown.
“My time in Philadelphia has been the best experience I’ve ever had,” he said. “I came here when I was 22, drafted second round, me and Lane (Johnson), Bennie Logan … For me, I think looking back at the past eight years it’s just been a lot of fun. There’s nothing I would change.
“When you’re a young player - and I’m not going to say I’m a perfect player by any means - but coming into this city I think the things I went through early on and the way I responded (I’m most proud of). Whether it was being behind Brent (Celek) for three years and everyone wondering when I was going to break out or responding to everything that happened in Cincinnati (in 2016) when everyone wanted me fired or benched. If you want to play in this city you’ve got to be mentally tough and you’ve got to be surrounded by great people and I think that’s what happened with me. It’s been a phenomenal eight years.”
Brandon Graham, another all-time Eagle and Super Bowl hero, went through a similar offseason of uncertainty two years ago before ultimately re-signing with the Eagles.
“I thought I was gone after that Saints (playoff) game)," he said. "There’s a bunch of uncertainty right now. I think that people just want to predict what’s going on ... but you don’t really know. I’m hoping we get a guy like Zach back. I know Zach and what it means to him, I’ve been here for a minute with him, I’ve seen him through the good and bad times. He was a guy who was all in. That’s a guy I hope we can work it out with.”
Ertz said no matter what happens, he’ll always look back fondly at his time in Philadelphia.
He even speculated that one day he might return here and finish his career. That would give him a chance to go after Harold Carmichael’s franchise record of 589 catches, which Ertz fell 28 receptions short of.
“I’m not someone to hold grudges by any means,” Ertz said. “I truly love everything this organization stands for and a lot of because Mr. (Jeff) Lurie, Howie (Roseman) and Doug (Pederson) run it a certain way. Obviously, it is a business. This has kind of been my first taste of that business. So for me I’ll never hold a grudge. Everyone’s trying to do their job to the best of their ability, just like I am each and every week, and I’m excited about the future.”
If this is it for Ertz, an Eagles career that began with an 11-yard catch from Michael Vick against Washington on opening day of 2013 ended with three catches for 16 yards from Jalen Hurts on the final day of the 2020 season.
“You never know when your time’s going to be up anywhere,” Ertz said. “I wish the fans were there, honestly. This whole year has been tough without them in the Linc, but yesterday would have been fun to have them there. Even though we lost the game. Probably would have gotten one or two boos. But I missed them last night.”
And they will miss Ertz if this indeed was his final game wearing that No. 86 jersey.