With the Philadelphia Eagles reportedly preparing to trade or release tight end Zach Ertz, the Baltimore Ravens have an opportunity to give Lamar Jackson another quality pass-catching target for a fraction of what it would cost to acquire a top-tier wide receiver.
The Ravens need to address the passing game this offseason. Eric DeCosta knows it. John Harbaugh knows it. And they have plans to do something about it, especially concerning the offensive line. But Lamar Jackson also needs more talent around him to throw the ball to.
With receivers like Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, and Kenny Golladay possibly set to become free agents, it’s easy to point to any one of them and say “there’s your guy,” but DeCosta has seemed to suggest that signing a star receiver probably isn’t in the cards.
And unless Orlando Brown Jr. can net a high enough pick to bring someone like Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith to Baltimore (or land a receiver like Jacksonville’s DJ Chark), it seems like any additions to the receiving core will be supplementary pieces, either in the form of a veteran signing or a mid-round draft choice.
But if the Ravens want to get Jackson back to the MVP level he was at in 2019, when he led the league in touchdowns and quarterback rating, a top-level receiver would be nice, but isn’t necessary. In 2019, tight ends made the Baltimore offense run, with Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, and Hayden Hurst all catching at least 30 passes for at least 300 yards.
In 2020, with Hurst in Atlanta and Boyle missing much of the year with an injury, tight ends other than Andrews (including Patrick Ricard) combined for a total of 24 catches for 170 yards.
Top receivers Marquise Brown and Willie Snead had a collective 12 more catches for 278 more yards in 2020, but the tight end group combined for 871 total receiving yards, 651 fewer than in 2019. It is also just 19 more yards than Andrews alone had in Jackson’s MVP season.
Boyle should be back and healthy for the 2021 season, which should be a boon to the offense. But even when he was healthy in 2020, the Ravens very clearly missed what Hayden Hurst brought to the table as a second quick, receiver-first tight end.
Replacing him may seem easy, with options like Kyle Pitts, Pat Freiermuth, and Brevin Jordan available in this year’s draft, but even if Baltimore does manage to secure a high pick in a Brown trade, there are several other pressing needs that they will have to address with their high draft capital, and also want the freedom to stick to their “best player available” philosophy.
So while any of that bunch would look good in purple and black, it doesn’t seem prudent for the Ravens to box themselves into a corner of needing to hit on a big tight end on draft night. So where should they look instead?
Luckily, the Philadelphia Eagles are reportedly preparing to either trade or release three-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz, who is a year removed from five straight seasons of at least 74 catches and 816 yards.
Ertz was second among all pass-catchers with 116 receptions in 2018, finishing second among tight ends with 1163 yards through the air. But the Eagles saw Dallas Goedert seize the reigns from the former Pro Bowler in 2020, and with the team currently projected to be over $40-million over the salary cap limit for next season, they are looking to gain the ~$4.7-million in savings they would receive by dealing the Stanford product.
With Mark Andrews due for an extension, and Nick Boyle also good for a 5.8-million cap hit in 2021 (via OverTheCap), adding Ertz’s $8.5-million cap charge for 2021 to the tight end room might seem a little much.
But the Ravens offense zigs where the rest of the league zags and Jackson was among the league’s most efficient passers the last time he had three reliable tight ends to throw to.
In a year where Baltimore has more needs than it does cap space, Ertz is a far more cap-efficient acquisition than breaking the bank for someone like Allen Robinson, and still checks the box of giving Jackson another much-needed big target to throw to, standing at 6″5, 250 pounds.
And if there’s any question about the viability of such a deal, the Eagles would likely prefer nothing more than to send Ertz to the Ravens. He would not only be out of the division, but out of the conference altogether, and with the two clubs already having met in 2020, the only scenario would they would be facing Ertz would be if both clubs met in the Super Bowl next February.
The Bottom Line:
For Eric DeCosta, a prospective deal also profiles as one of his classic buy-low moves. Ertz’s cap hit, his short-term contract (his current deal will expire after the 2021 season), and the vast array of tight ends set to be available in free agency and the draft give DeCosta all the leverage in the world, and he should stand to have no problem sacrificing minimal assets to give his quarterback another talented target.
Clubs like the Colts and Seahawks have already reportedly kicked the tires on an Ertz deal, but the Ravens tend to keep their cards close to the chest until a deal is made, so that’s no reason to believe a deal can’t happen.