Earlier today, the Cardinals continued to build their 2017 Pro Bowl squad by adding three-time Pro Bowler Zach Ertz to their roster. A.J. Green, J.J. Watt, and now Ertz? My goodness! Imagine if Larry Fitzgerald wanted to keep playing, 20-year-old me would be going absolutely nuts right now.
In 2021 though, Ertz, 30, has been more or less of an afterthought with a few shining moments in Philadelphia’s offense. He’s definitely shown that he’s still got some gas left in the tank though. Despite playing behind former second-round draft pick Dallas Goedert on the Eagles’ depth chart, through six games, Ertz was tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions and was second in targets behind only first-round rookie DeVonta Smith.
If Ertz can put up those types of volume numbers for Arizona, that should be an improvement, right? I mean it’s not like Maxx Williams was doing any serious damage in the passing game. Maybe Zach Ertz could emerge as potentially the teams’ third-best option. I could see him overtaking Green and Rondale Moore. Christian Kirk will always be the team’s number two because of his presence as a deep threat, but Ertz could certainly sneak into that number three spot, right?
Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Ertz, who had 116 catches in 2018, will likely just become a depth player on this Cardinals roster with potential to become a threat in the red zone. While Kyler Murray has never had a tight end as talented as Ertz, Kyler also never looks toward his tight ends. Since Kyler joined the Cardinals in 2019, the most targets per game any of his tight ends have ever seen in a single season is 2021 Maxx Williams with 3.4, and we’re only five games into the season. Outside of Williams, it was 2020 Dan Arnold with 2.8 targets per game, and 2019 Arnold with 2.3. Ever since Kliff Kingsbury took over as head coach for the Cardinals, only the New England Patriots (135 TE targets) have targeted their tight ends less than Arizona (144).
It’s not like Ertz would see the field very often either. In 2021, Williams ranks 21st in snaps played per game (44). That’s actually not too shabby. It ranks Williams ahead of players like David Njoku, Jack Doyle, and Mike Gesicki, but it’s likely that those snaps would end up getting split between Ertz and Williams. Even if Ertz took say three-quarters of those snaps away from Williams, that new number (33) would put Ertz in a tie for 43rd with Ricky Seals-Jones — not the best company to be in.
However, it’s unlikely Ertz will steal that many snaps away from Williams in the first place, because Williams isn’t used primarily as a pass-catcher, but rather as a pass-blocker. Despite being one of the poorer route runners at the tight end position, Williams still holds a total PFF grade of 78.7 this season (far above the average mark for NFL tight ends). With how often the Cardinals run deep route patterns, it makes sense that using a blocking tight end as an artificial sixth lineman would give Murray enough time to wait for his receivers’ routes to develop downfield before letting loose.
Williams’ skill set fits the Cardinals system well. Ertz does not provide the same skills. While Ertz used to be a dominant run blocker back in his hayday, he has since taken a step back in that department, often finding himself flat-footed and defeated on his blocking attempts.
I honestly don’t think this move makes much sense for Arizona. Sure, they didn’t have to give up much to acquire Ertz, but it seems unlikely that Ertz will have any sort of noticeable impact on the Cardinals’ offense. Perhaps he could serve as a mentor to Maxx Williams, who has shown the potential to become a serious threat at tight end should he sharpen his route-running skills, or maybe Ertz could be a great locker room presence. We saw in Philly the effect that he had on some of his teammates. He got Jason Kelce to dye his hair after all. He’s also notoriously been a good husband to World Cup champion Julie Ertz and all-around swell dude, so I’m sure any team would be glad to have him around for the right price.
I hope he succeeds in Arizona. I truly do, but unlike Cinderella’s glass slipper, the fit just doesn’t seem right here. Ertz is not eligible to play for the Cardinals in Cleveland this Sunday, so his first action wearing his new bright red jersey will be against the Houston Texans on October 24.