Not everyone can be Larry Fitzgerald and play his whole career with one NFL team, but Zach Ertz certainly thought he might in Philadelphia.
He loved the city and the Eagles fans, and they loved him. He did catch the winning touchdown in a Super Bowl, after all, and set an NFL record for catches for a tight end in a season.
But by the time 2021 arrived, Ertz understood that wouldn't happen. As hard as it was to accept, he then considered what was to come next.
"When I came to grips it wasn't a real possibility (to stay), it was 'OK let's figure out what situation would be great for me' and Arizona was at the top of the list," Ertz said Thursday, just about a year since the Eagles traded him to the Cardinals. "And that was even before the start of (2021).
"For me I'm ecstatic I got traded here. It isn't 'Philly didn't believe in me anymore,' it was 'The Cardinals believed in me a ton.' "
Ertz will face his former team for the first time Sunday when the undefeated (4-0) Eagles visit State Farm Stadium. The emotions, he said, haven't hit him yet. At this point, he just wants to get the Cardinals and their fans a home win, something that hasn't happened in far too long. The Eagles stand in the way.
By the time he was dealt on Oct. 15 of last year, the Cardinals were undefeated themselves, trying to cope after a season-ending knee injury to tight end Maxx Williams the weekend before. The Cards dealt a fifth-round pick and rookie cornerback Tay Gowan for a tight end who had been more prolific than any tight end the Cardinals had had previous.
Ertz played in only 11 games for the Cardinals, but his 56 catches tied Jackie Smith for the most by a tight end in franchise history and was the first Cardinals tight end since Freddie Jones in 2003 to have at least 500 yards receiving (574) in a season.
With 22 catches this season (for 181 yards and two touchdowns), he isn't going to challenge the 116 balls he caught in 2018, but he should smash the team record.
"Ertz, literally most of the time, he's always open," quarterback Kyler Murray said. "Even if he's not open, he's good at being friendly to the quarterback. He's a savvy vet, a safety blanket—all those things I've never had. Playing with him is showing me that the tight end is very important for a young quarterback. Any quarterback, really."
Once it was clear the Eagles weren't going to give Ertz a long-term contract extension to stay, Arizona made sense with a passing offense and the fact Ertz's wife Julie grew up in the Valley and there was family there.
It has definitely helped of late, with the couple's first son, Madden, born last month. Ertz did a rock-the-baby celebration after his touchdown last weekend in Carolina.
But the past comes back with the Eagles visiting. Ertz downplayed the idea that it would be harder if the game was in Philadelphia. Coach Kliff Kingsbury said he isn't worried about Ertz being too hyped.
They are, not surprisingly, the only team in the NFL he has yet to play against. And the only team against whom he does not have a reception.
"He has a lot of love and pride in that organization—you can tell," Kingsbury said. "He'll want to play well. He's been fantastic since he's been here. I think he's going to have a really productive season as this thing goes on and he'll definitely be fired up Sunday."
Had Ertz stayed an Eagle, he no doubt would've gotten the 11 more receptions he needed to surpass Harold Carmichael as the franchise all-time leader.
But he's a Cardinal now, realistically set up for season records only, and trying to knock off the team that he once called his own.
"When I am done playing I can take a deep breath and can take a look back and see what we accomplished," Ertz said. "And I say we because I know I didn't do this myself."
Portraits of Arizona Cardinals safety Jalen Thompson in uniform with the new alternate helmet before the Week 5 game against the Eagles