Roster Outlook: TE

Free agent addition James Casey brings versatility and speed to the tight end group.

Free agent addition James Casey brings versatility and speed to the tight end group.

Chip Kelly is all about creating mismatches and mathematical advantages for his offense. It’s no surprise, then, that he is stockpiling tight ends in Philadelphia. Tight ends force defenses to think about what personnel grouping to send onto the field, especially when a tight end can split out wide and torch linebackers in coverage. Kelly wants to force the defense into tough decisions, and will make tight ends a major part of the offense in Philadelphia. Nobody can be sure how he plans to use all the talent at tight end, but one thing is clear: he wants a bunch of tight ends, and he wants to use them. Since his arrival, the Eagles have paid James Casey starter money in free agency and spent a high second round pick on Zach Ertz. Will those two additions keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night?

Who makes the team:

James Casey, Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, and Clay Harbor

Rarely will an NFL team carry four tight ends on the roster, but the Eagles very well might do just that. They will have enough space on the roster because Kelly won’t carry a fullback. Casey and Ertz are Chip Kelly’s guys, so they are locks to make the final 53. Brent Celek is still a starting caliber player, and the only way he gets cut is if the Eagles want to take his salary off the books. He’s due $18 million over the next four seasons and won’t cost the Eagles much dead money if they decide to cut ties. Clay Harbor won’t have much of a role in the offense, but wasn’t a bad backup and has enough strength and athleticism to provide good depth. He’s a toss-up for the final roster, but if he makes an impact on special teams, Kelly won’t have a problem keeping him in the fold.

Who starts week 1:

James Casey and Brent Celek

I expect the Eagles to employ base 12 personnel in 2013 (1 running back and 2 tight ends), using an in-line tight end in Brent Celek and a move tight end in James Casey. Celek is by far the best blocker of the bunch, and although he’s not the athlete that Casey or Ertz are, he should be a valuable asset in a run-first offense. Casey is the favorite to start at the move or flex spot simply because the Eagles paid him the big bucks. Ertz has the size and athleticism to play either spot, although he’s a better fit at the move spot because he has a long way to go as a blocker. He’s the wild card here and could beat out either Casey or Celek. However, he’s already behind the eight ball because he’s not allowed to participate in minicamp until his class at Stanford graduates.

How the position stacks up:

The Eagles don’t have a dominant tight end in the mold of Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, but they have three legitimate starters. That’s unheard of, and it won’t be the last strange move that Chip Kelly makes. The depth the Eagles have at the tight end position will give them great flexibility in their play calling and will allow Kelly to use his weapons more creatively. Definitely mark tight end down as a position of strength.

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