Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. Cam Newton and Greg Olsen. 

When Zach Ertz looks at the recent history of great quarterback-tight end duos in the NFL, he can't help but notice one thing stands out. 

"Those guys have been together for a long time," Ertz said Thursday afternoon. 

Brady and Gronk have been together for seven seasons. Cam and Olsen have been together for six. And Brees and Graham were together for five. 

"And I think just having that, where you're on the same page regardless of the coverage," Ertz continued. "If they give you this coverage, you know exactly what you're going to do. If they give you that coverage, he knows exactly what I'm going to do. When to expect the ball vs. certain coverages, it might be a little earlier, it might be a little later. So it's just that constant camaraderie where we're able to know what the other person is thinking without thinking about it."

Ertz hopes that's the kind of relationship he can forge with Carson Wentz, who will enter his second NFL season in 2017. 

Ertz and Wentz spend a lot of time together in the facility and away from it. A group of Eagles went to Ertz's wedding earlier this offseason, and of course, Wentz was present. If it seems like Ertz is going to great lengths to build a rapport with his quarterback, he is. 

After going through Mike Vick and Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford, the Eagles' starting tight end finally has a quarterback that isn't going anywhere for a while.  

"It's going to be huge," Ertz said about playing with Wentz for a second straight year. "I think when Carson was drafted, from the receivers and tight ends, that was the one thing we were really excited about. That we knew for the next five, 10, 20 years, hopefully, in Philadelphia, we knew who our quarterback was going to be."

Since he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Stanford, Ertz has been an extremely productive player. But that has set up huge expectations as fans wait for a "breakout year." Zach Ertz might never be Rob Gronkowski, but the numbers are hard to argue. 

In the first four years of his career, Ertz has 247 catches for 2,840 yards and 13 touchdowns. Since 2013, here's the list of tight ends who have more catches and yards than Ertz: Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Delanie Walker, Antonio Gates. 

Ertz and Jeremy Maclin are the only two players in Eagles history to put up those numbers in their first four seasons. 

The argument often heard about Ertz's numbers is that they come in garbage time. Ertz has historically been an absolute beast in December. In the last few years, that hasn't meant much to a struggling Eagles franchise, but if they're in the playoff hunt in upcoming years, they'll probably want that trend to continue. 

The one statistic that doesn't seem to match the others: touchdowns. While Ertz has been among top tight ends in the league in receptions and yards, his 13 touchdowns rank 17th among tight ends since 2013. (It's not a stat, but for what it's worth, Ertz would likely be among the league leaders in touchdowns called back for penalties in the last few years.)

"I want to be the guy in the red zone, believe me," Ertz said. "For the first four years in my career, I think the most touchdowns I had in a year was four. So this year, we didn't have a lot of red zone touchdowns and that falls on us as players to get it down when we get down there, make plays when the ball's in the air. That's something I do pride myself on, making those tough and contested catches, whether it be in the red zone or third down. I want to be more of a go-to guy in the red zone, but I've got to earn that this spring and summer, earn that trust of the quarterback as well as Doug (Pederson). It's going to be a process, but when you look at the great tight ends in the league, the first thing that stands out is touchdowns."

Eagles will listen to what Carson Wentz says about prospects

Eagles will listen to what Carson Wentz says about prospects

This offseason, Carson Wentz spent time watching wide receiver prospects and even got a chance to work out with a few of them while in California. 

And, at the very least, the Eagles are going to listen to what the quarterback has to say about them. 

"If there's any player on our roster that has insight into a guy in free agency or the draft, it's part of our information gathering," Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said on Thursday, after his pre-draft press conference. 

"Certainly, it's no different with Carson. If he has insight because he worked out with a particular guy or knows a guy from college, then we want that information. But that's not unusual just to him." 

While Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson met with Wentz at the end of the 2016 season and talked about the offseason plan, they weren't able to talk football with their young quarterback again until earlier this week, when the offseason program began on Monday.

In the few months between, Wentz worked out in California with several draft prospects, including Cooper Kupp, Chad Hansen, Mack Hollins and JuJu Smith-Schuster. For the most part, these workouts were organized by Wentz's agency, Rep1 Sports. Wentz said that was the only reason those guys were the ones with whom he worked out, and Roseman on Thursday was quick to point out that the Eagles had no control over what Wentz did. 

But if the quarterback came back to the building with some intel, Roseman, Joe Douglas and the Eagles weren't going to turn away their franchise quarterback. 

"I don't think it hurts if any players are working with guys and giving us insight," Roseman said. "'Hey, I was training with this guy, this is how he works, this is what he looks like.' That's great insight. We get that not only from our players but our staff if they've been with guys in college or been with guys on other teams."

While Roseman said the team will listen to any player who has insight on other players, it seems more likely the Eagles would be willing to listen to their franchise quarterback. After all, they spent a great deal of their offseason surrounding him with more talent and worrying about building the team around him for the future. 

On Monday, Wentz was asked if he thought the Eagles would ask him about the guys he worked out with. He said, "We'll see." 

While the Eagles added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith this offseason, Jeffery came on a one-year deal and Smith's deal is for three years, but with just one guaranteed. The Eagles didn't necessarily lock up Wentz's weapons for the long term. 

So it would make plenty of sense for the Eagles to draft a wideout at some point next week. 

"When we talked to [Wentz] at the end of the year," Roseman said, "what we said and what I think I said publicly was, 'It would be great if you were going to some of these running back and receiver workouts and you could take your quarterback, because you could see the timing.'"

Because of league rules, the Eagles weren't able to take Wentz with them to work out certain prospects, but the franchise quarterback still spent time over the last few months thinking about draftable receivers and gaining information to deliver back to the team. 

"I think there's a lot of talented receivers that could help," Wentz said on Monday, "but I don't really know where it's going to go and I don't really have an input either."

But the Eagles are at least willing to listen. 

Forget the rebuild, at least Carson Wentz wants Eagles to win now

Forget the rebuild, at least Carson Wentz wants Eagles to win now

At least somebody in the Eagles' organization wants to win football games now.

Owner Jeff Lurie? He thinks Eagles fans -- who haven't experienced a playoff win since 2008, nine years ago -- should be patient.

"We're in the mode where we're not one player away," he said at the owners meetings last month. "As an owner, I have to be really patient."

He added, "We have to draft really well over the next few years to accomplish what we want to accomplish early in Carson (Wentz's) career."

The next few years.

Executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman was a little more vague -- Howie is always vague -- but he too spoke about the long term and building for the future as opposed to winning now.

"We want to make good decisions, we want to minimize our risk and go forward and have something to build upon," he said at the combine.

Lurie and Roseman have both spent the last few months preaching patience. Claiming that the Eagles are several years away from contending for a championship. Essentially trying to buy more time from fans who haven't experienced a postseason victory since Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Brian Dawkins played here.

We all know there are no five-year plans in the NFL anymore. If you make the right moves, you can go from 4-12 to 13-3 … like the Cowboys did last year. You can go from 4-12 to 10-6 … like the Eagles did in 2013.

In 16 of the last 18 years, at least one division winner was a team that finished last the year before.

As Lurie himself once said, "The NFL is a league of non-linear progression."

If you have an elite quarterback, you are immediately a contender, and Lurie should know that after watching the Eagles transform from a 5-11 team in 1999 to an 11-5 team that went two rounds deep in the playoffs in 2000.

Patience is a bunch of nonsense, and it was refreshing Monday to hear Carson Wentz take a completely different approach when talking about 2017.

"I have always held myself to high expectations and last year at the end of the day we finished 7-9 and that's not good enough," Wentz said.

"That's never going to be good enough for me or anybody in this building. So I fully expect us to all make strides and hopefully be playing into January."

The Eagles have missed the playoffs three years in a row for the first time since 1997 through 1999. If they fall short in 2017, it will be their first four-year absence from the postseason since 1982 through 1987.

That's 30 years ago.

This is unacceptable.

By preaching patience and talking about their long-range plan, Lurie and Roseman are creating a franchise-wide philosophy that losing -- that failing to reach the playoffs and win in the playoffs -- is acceptable.

They may be doing it unconsciously, but they're doing it.

Thankfully, the quarterback -- the one guy whose voice carries the most weight in the locker room and throughout the NovaCare Complex -- is setting the bar far higher.

And he is dead right when he says there is absolutely no reason the Eagles shouldn't be a playoff team.

Now.

Do they have holes? Yes, they have holes. But every team has holes.

They also have five of the first 139 picks in the draft, which gives them a terrific opportunity to address those holes.

And they have a 24-year-old quarterback who should make a huge jump in Year 2, and anybody who saw the jump Donovan McNabb made in Year 2 -- from a wide-eyed mistake-prone rookie to an experienced Pro Bowl veteran -- knows what that can mean to a team.

When I asked Wentz Monday what he wants to improve on the most in 2017, he said this:

"Just consistency. Just being consistent with accuracy, just everything. Just being more comfortable with that. But I want to win. Like I said, 7-9 is not going to make the cut so that's where we've got to improve."

I like this. Asked about his goals, he just talked about winning.

It's a really encouraging sign that the most important player on the team -- really, the most important player the Eagles have acquired since McNabb 18 years ago -- has set the bar high for himself and his teammates.

Someone around here had to.

What are his expectations for 2017?

"Making the playoffs," he said. "Wining the division and then seeing what happens. The No. 1 goal is obviously winning the East. That's what we have our sights set on.

"We truly believe we have the pieces in place. We've got a lot of work ahead of us here, it's early, it's April still.

"But we truly believe that and we're going to put the work in and get it done."