By Insidethe49|Published On: December 7th, 2023 at 3:50 PM|
The veteran tight end recently hit free agency after his release was granted by the Cardinals.
Ever since head coach Kyle Shanahan arrived in the Bay Area, the San Francisco 49ers have been looking for a worthy backup tight end to complement tight end George Kittle, who broke out in 2018 after Shanahan and general manager John Lynch drafted him in 2017.
The cycle started with the incumbent veteran Garrett Celek, who had a productive 2017 season with 21 catches for 336 yards and 4 touchdowns during his age-29 season.
However, Celek’s production significantly dropped in 2018 as Kittle broke out with 1,377 yards, with the veteran backup catching just five passes.
Then came undrafted free agent Ross Dwelley, who had 15 catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns in 2019 as the No. 2 option. The 49ers also drafted Kaden Smith with a sixth-round pick in 2019, and he never played a game for the team.
In 2020, with Kittle battling injuries for half the season, the 49ers entertained the Jordan Reed experiment, adding one of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s top players from his Washington days, but the veteran couldn’t remain healthy.
That same year, the 49ers drafted another tight end, taking blocking specialist Charlie Woerner with a 2020 sixth-round pick, but he wasn’t very productive as a receiver, catching just five passes in 2021, which was the most of any backup tight end during the season.
In 2022, the 49ers entertained the idea of veteran Tyler Kroft, who moved on after a year.
Fast-forward to 2023 and the backup tight ends have been especially bad for the 49ers, as they’ve accumulated just 11 (yes, 11) receiving yards combined on the season.
The case for Ertz
Even at his age-33 self, Ertz would easily be the best backup receiving tight end that the 49ers have had during the Shanahan era.
Just last season, Ertz posted 47 catches for 409 yards and four touchdowns in ten games of action.
Prior to facing an injury this season, Ertz had put up 27 catches for 187 yards and a touchdown in seven games with subpar quarterback play around him.
His ability in the open field would allow Kyle Shanahan to work with another proven option in the tight end room, adding to the already deep arsenal of weapons that San Francisco has at their disposal.
Ertz has dealt with injuries in each of the past two seasons, which have been his main deteriorating factor, but has been productive and reliable when on the field, and is just two seasons removed from a 74-catch, 763-yard, and five-touchdown 2021 campaign.
Bringing Ertz in would provide the tight end with a chance to win a ring, while keeping him away from other potential contenders in need of another playmaker.
As for logistics, the 49ers could move tight end Ross Dwelley, who is dealing with a high-ankle sprain, on Injured Reserve to pave a roster spot for Ertz, meaning they wouldn’t have to cut a player to add at the position.
Overall, despite the age and injury issues, this is a move that makes sense for the 49ers, and should be one they look into if the opportunity presents itself.