Philadelphia Eagles walk fine line in keeping Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz

PHILADELPHIA -- It's déjà vu all over again in the City of Brotherly Love.

Tell me if you've heard this one before: The Philadelphia Eagles engage their top-tier tight end in contract extension talks. The player believes he is on the path to a new deal that will tie him to the franchise long-term. Those talks abruptly break off, leaving the player and the position in a state of limbo.

First it was Zach Ertz, whose relationship with the team deteriorated following failed negotiations last offseason, to the point that he sought, and was granted, permission to seek a trade. He tearfully said his goodbyes to Philadelphia in January and was inches away from being moved this offseason on multiple occasions, only to be surprisingly retained. Ertz has since mended fences with management, he said, while restating his desire to retire as an Eagle.

Now it's Dallas Goedert who, like Ertz, is in the final year of his deal. Goedert told the media in June the Eagles had opened contract negotiations with him. But he struck a different tone Monday, one that rang familiar.

"My representation, we talked about it earlier, we thought we'd have a deal done by this time of the year, but the team decided to go a different way," said Goedert. "We haven't gotten that done yet."

The "different way" is to keep both tight ends on the roster and extend neither, for now.

Why the change of course for Philadelphia? There are factors to consider.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has been keeping his options open. A widely-held belief in league circles is a potential trade for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson influenced the Eagles' thinking. One of the tight ends -- namely Goedert -- might have to be a part of the package for Watson. Dealing the other player would leave the team empty-handed at the position. That helps explain why Philadelphia didn't follow through after being on the verge of trading Ertz on more than one occasion.

The longer Ertz stuck around, the more coach Nick Sirianni got to see his talents up close. Ertz became one of quarterback Jalen Hurts' favorite receiving options this summer. Ertz and Goedert led the way in targets, catches and catch rate during training camp, helping Hurts settle into his fourth offensive system in as many years.

"Everything is a joint effort in what we're doing with Howie and his staff and my staff," said Sirianni, on how influential he was in keeping Ertz in the fold. "Of course, the better players you have, the better coach you are. Zach is a great football player. As I've gotten to know Zach, he's a great person as well. The better players we have on this team, the better we're going to be."

Keeping Goedert and Ertz essentially prevents management from extending contracts to either tight end this season. Both are considered team-first players, but it would be virtually impossible to pay one without alienating the other at this stage.

By keeping both and committing to neither, the Eagles are attempting to pull off a delicate balancing act with two players trying to cement their futures with the team.

The plus side is Hurts is equipped with two standout tight ends entering his first season as QB1. Having a pair of veteran security blankets over the middle should help offset the young receiving corps, which includes a starting group of DeVonta Smith (22 years old), Quez Watkins (23) and Jalen Reagor (22) that has 11 combined pro starts among them -- all by Reagor.

"Honestly, I feel like it gives more problems to the defense than it does to myself," Goedert said of being paired with Ertz for a fourth straight season. "All I've ever really known is playing with Zach. To have two of the top tight ends in the league I think is beneficial for both of us."

While finding proper snap distribution for Ertz, 30, and Goedert, 26, is a "good problem to have" by Sirianni's assessment, the presence of both will lead to more two tight end sets than initially planned and will make for interesting decisions as to which player gets the nod when one tight end is on the field. They are listed as co-starters on the team's unofficial depth chart entering Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons (1 p.m. Fox, Sunday).

There is something to be said for allowing the tight end situation to play out, but Goedert's price tag is only going up. A reminder of that came this week when Mark Andrews of the Baltimore Ravens signed a four-year, $56 million deal that contains $38 million in guarantees.

Goedert and Andrews are the same age, both drafted in 2018. Andrews' stats (156 catches, 2,105 yards, 20 TDs) are better than Goedert's (137 catches, 1,465 yards, 12 TDs), but Andrews has 40 more targets and hasn't been sharing snaps with a three-time Pro Bowler his entire career.

Even with the presence of Ertz, Goedert is in the top 10 among tight ends in receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns and yards after the catch (698) since entering the league. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranks seventh in receiving and first in run-blocking grades over that three-year span.

"I feel like I'm at the top," said Goedert, when asked where he thinks he ranks among tight ends. "I really don't get too worried about the numbers. I care more about winning. But I think there's things that I can do that other tight ends can't do, and there's things that other tight ends can do that I can't do. But I think I'm one of the better tight ends in the league."

Should the Eagles fail to sign Goedert to an extension, there's always the option of applying the franchise tag after the season, which is projected to cost more than $11 million for tight ends in 2022, according to Over the Cap. That would slot him behind San Francisco's George Kittle ($15 million), Kansas City's Travis Kelce ($14.3 million), Andrews ($14 million) and New England's Jonnu Smith ($12.5 million) in annual salary.

Rarely do the Eagles allow it to get to such a stage. Normally, once they identify a core player, they rush to get him under contract long term. It's more complicated than that this time around. And if history repeats, there will be a flurry of drama before this situation gets resolved.