Cardinals’ waiving of Zach Ertz a product of Trey McBride’s emergence, outside interest

Dec 1, 2023, 1:33 PM

TEMPE — Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz’s time in the desert came to an abrupt end Wednesday with the two sides mutually parting ways.

While the timing — and J.J. Watt of all people breaking the news — came out of left field, the writing was on the wall for general manager Monti Ossenfort.

“Unfortunately, one of the bad parts of football is injuries. I think during (Ertz’s latest injured reserve stint), we had a few things happen,” Ossenfort told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Friday. “Trey McBride really came on, asserted himself and really became a focal point of our offense. It’s been fun to watch his development both as a blocker and a receiver and really been a big part of what we’ve been doing here these last six weeks.

“When it came down to it, Zach had interest in going to seek other opportunities. … We had conversations over the last couple weeks and this ended up being the best for both parties to go a different direction at this time.”

Even before Ertz’s release, it was clear McBride was getting more comfortable as the team’s primary tight end.

Bigger role, same Trey McBride

Not only did the second-year pro take a big step in the blocking department, McBride got more of a chance to show off his pass-catching prowess, which was a big reason why Arizona pulled the trigger on the Colorado State Ram in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

With Ertz sidelined the past five weeks, McBride has come into his own behind 33 catches on 44 targets for 351 yards and a touchdown. He also became the first tight end since Rob Awalt in 1989 to reach and surpass the 100-yard mark, doing so in a win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 10.

The added work — in addition to the absence of rookie wide receiver Michael Wilson of late due to injury — has McBride second on the team in receptions (48), targets (65), yards (521) and plays of at least 20 yards (six).

And as Ossenfort mentioned earlier, his blocking has taken a noticeable step forward and has opened doors for other Cardinals to make plays.

“He’s come a long ways,” tight ends coach Ben Steele said last Friday. “Since (Ertz got hurt), I’ve been proud of the way he’s taken on that role and has really done some huge things, some unbelievable plays in key moments. He’s right where we want him to be and I know he’s going to continue to grow in all facets.

“Without question … He has the ability to be a complete tight end, not just a one-dimensional guy that’s only going to run routes and catch the ball,” the TE coach added. “He’s similar to a George Kittle-type guy that can be in on every down.”

It’s not just McBride or any outside interest that played into the release of Ertz, either, as the tight ends room as a whole has filled up with hungry rookies and a trusted vet.

“Given where our team was at and where we’re at in that tight end room, not only with Trey’s development but also how Elijah Higgins has developed … Geoff Swaim has a steady, veteran presence that he’s had the whole season,” Ossenfort told Wolf & Luke. “Another rookie player that hasn’t had many opportunities is Blake Whiteheart and we’re pleased with his progress as well. That room filled up.”

Nothing but respect

With Ertz no longer in the picture, McBride’s path as Arizona’s cemented TE1 is clearer than ever.

The second-year pro isn’t letting the moment overtake him, however, as he remains focused on doing what he’s done to get to this point.

“My job and responsibilities stay the same,” McBride said. “Just trying to get better each and every week, trying to do the right thing, trying to stay consistent and keep proving to these coaches that I can do what they want me to do.”

Their time together may have spanned less than two full seasons, but McBride was able to pick up a lot from a player he watched growing up.

“Zach’s been great. He’s been a great role model, a great guy that I looked up to, a guy that I watched playing since I was a little kid,” McBride said Friday. “To be in this room, to play with him for however I did was very special.

“I’m very grateful for my time with Zach. I have a lot of respect for him, I love the way he plays and I’m super excited to watch where he continues to play his career. He’s a great guy. I plan on staying in touch with him and looking forward to the future.”

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Cardinals’ waiving of Zach Ertz a product of Trey McBride’s emergence, outside interest