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After their tight ends finished with the NFL’s fewest receiving yards in 2019, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed veteran Eric Ebron Jersey in free agency to help fix the problem.

The production improved this season as Ebron finished in the top half at his position in most receiving categories. Trouble was, he also was among the league leaders in drops and penalties.

Ebron and fellow veteran Vance McDonald Jersey also never developed into a formidable tandem that some envisioned entering the season. McDonald became an afterthought in the passing game and was targeted just 19 times. After the wild-card playoff loss to Cleveland, McDonald ended his eight-year career by announcing his retirement.

That decision left Ebron as the only viable tight end on the roster. The four others under contract have combined for two catches and 9 yards in the NFL.

Ebron also returns at a high cost. The two-year, $12 million contract he signed last March was backloaded in terms of base salary. It rises from $1 million last year to $5.5 million in 2021, and his contract will count $8.5 million against the salary cap.

While the Steelers might need to trim high-cost veteran players from the roster to comply with the salary cap this year, they would be left with a position room devoid of NFL experience by cutting Ebron.

Helping Ebron’s cause is his production increased as he got more familiar with the Steelers’ system. He had all three of his seven-reception games in the second half of the season and postseason, finishing with seven catches for 62 yards and a touchdown in the 48-37 wild-card playoff loss to the Browns.

For the regular season, Ebron totaled 56 catches for 558 yards and five touchdowns. Among all NFL tight ends, he ranked No. 10 in receptions, No. 15 in yards and tied for No. 13 in touchdowns. He also finished No. 11 in yards per catch and No. 12 in yards after the catch.

Ebron also was prone to drops: His seven were tied for the third-most among all tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus. His seven penalties were tied for most at his position, and the website’s subjective grading system ranked Ebron No. 41 out of 49 qualifiers who were targeted at least 25 times.

Unless the Steelers sign a low-cost veteran in free agency or use a draft pick on a tight end, they will enter the offseason workout program with former fifth-round pick Zach Gentry as the backup. Gentry was inactive for the first eight games of the season, then appeared in two before he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Gentry’s lone NFL reception came in 2019, the same year Charles Jones made his only catch while playing for Jacksonville. Jones is one of several tight ends the Steelers signed to futures contracts a week after the season ended. Dax Raymond, who also spent time on the practice squad last year, was given a futures contract, too.

Pine-Richland’s Kevin Rader Jersey opened the coaching staff’s eyes when he made his NFL debut in the season finale and contributed three tackles on special teams. He played 20 snaps on special teams in the playoff loss. His blocking ability could earn Rader a role in 2021.

Offseason outlook: TEs


Eric Ebron, 1 year left on contract, $8.5 million cap hit for 2021

Zach Gentry Jersey, 2 years left on contract, $936,115 cap hit for 2021

Kevin Rader, 1 year left on contract, $780,000 cap hit for 2021

Others under contract

Charles Jones, 1 year left on contract, $780,000 cap hit for 2021

Dax Raymond, 1 year left on contract, $780,000 cap hit for 2021

Free agents

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Spending big has finally caught up to the Steelers. Here are four players who could be cap casualties after the 2020 season.
How can anyone fault the way the Pittsburgh Steelers do business? Though I’m guilty of complaining from time to time about some of the decisions they make, the Rooney family has a terrific thing going as the Steelers haven’t had a losing season since 2003. They know as well as anyone that in order to have a routinely competitive team, you need to spend money – and lots of it.

Nearly every year, the Steelers spend close to the top of the salary cap ceiling, and it’s not hard to see why. By doing so, they are almost always able to retain their best players while still managing to bring in free agents who can come in and help them succeed. Unfortunately, it looks like all of the contract back-loading has finally caught up to them.

Nobody could have predicted that a pandemic was going to sweep through in 2020, but as a result, the NFL cap stands to be much lower in 2021. As a result, the Steelers will have to cut some players in order to get under the cap. Here are four players who could be cap[ casualties this coming offseason:

TE Cheap Vance McDonald Jersey
This one seems like an obvious candidate. Despite playing sparingly for the Steelers in 2020, McDonald’s cap hit is among the top ten on the team for 2021 and he is scheduled to make roughly $8 million next season. By cutting him lose in the coming offseason, Pittsburgh would save $5.2 million while absorbing just $2.7 million in dead cap space, according to Over the Cap.

McDonald had his time in the spotlight with the Steelers in 2018. However, he will be 31 years old next season and his value to the team has become increasingly small. Don’t be surprised if he gets the ax when the season is over.

Tomlin earned his 140th regular-season victory, breaking a tie with Cheap Tony Dungy Jersey for the most wins by a Black head coach in NFL history, per ESPN Stats & Information research. Tomlin was hired as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive backs coach in 2001 during what would be Dungy’s last season in Tampa Bay.

After an all-around uninspiring first half in which the Steelers, with one of the league’s best run-stopping defenses, gave up 179 rushing yards, and their veteran signal-caller completed just 4 of 10 passes for 24 yards, quarterback Cheap Ben Roethlisberger Jersey and the defense worked in sync to overcome a 17-7 halftime deficit.

“You’re going to be up against it if you don’t play good,” Tomlin said. “We can’t allow the emotions of the moment for us to miss that fact. I am proud of these guys. I am proud of the fight. I am proud of how they supported one another. It’s important that we don’t lie to ourselves. Boy, we did not function well in a lot of ways today.”

Roethlisberger’s first drive of the third quarter looked like the stagnant offense of the first half, but he shook off his slow start after that. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter. Then, in the fourth, he orchestrated a scoring drive in which the Steelers didn’t run the ball once, and he completed 7 of 9 passes for 80 yards. He finished it off with his second touchdown throw of the day, this one to Cheap Chase Claypool Jersey, to go ahead 28-24.

“This is a really, really good football team,” Roethlisberger said of the Ravens (5-2). “They’re ranked really high on defense for a reason. They got after us, and it wasn’t pretty. I don’t think at any point in this game, offensively, was it a pretty game. The first half wasn’t pretty, second half wasn’t pretty. Nothing about this game was pretty from our perspective until the game was over and we looked at the scoreboard and saw that we had won. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”

The victory was especially sweet for Roethlisberger, who relishes the rivalry and missed both meetings last season because of his elbow injury. He was spotted on the sideline getting that elbow massaged by the team doctor after taking a hard sack in the first half.

“Just a funny bone, I’m good,” Roethlisberger said of his elbow afterward.

While Roethlisberger bounced back in the second half, so, too, did the run defense.

The Steelers came into Sunday’s game boasting the league’s second-best rushing defense, holding opponents to an average of 68.8 rushing yards per game. The Ravens and their NFL-best rushing attack more than doubled that in the first half with 179 rushing yards. The Steelers lost nose tackle Cheap Tyson Alualu Jersey early in the first quarter, and with the Pittsburgh defense already down Devin Bush and Cheap Mike Hilton Jersey, losing another defender in the run game allowed the Ravens to run roughshod — even without two starting offensive linemen.

“We went in the game minus some significant run defenders like Mike Hilton,” Tomlin said. “The loss of Tyson Alualu really stretched us, in terms of matching their power in that area. They’re a strong, strong run team, coupled with the fact that their quarterback is a legitimate runner. We had to do what we had to do to settle it down.”

That meant getting contributions from under-the-radar players such as Cheap Isaiah Buggs Jersey, who replaced Alualu. He came up with the crucial fourth-down stop of Jackson that kept the Ravens from regaining the lead late in the fourth quarter. Other low-key Steelers also came up big, including Cheap Robert Spillane Jersey and rookie Cheap Alex Highsmith Jersey, who each intercepted Jackson. Spillane picked off Jackson on the first drive and returned it for a 33-yard touchdown, the first pick-six of Jackson’s career.

Highsmith’s interception came less than a minute into the third quarter and turned the momentum of the game.

With injuries piling up and the Ravens’ ground game gashing them, the Steelers had to get creative with their alignments and went to a substitution package in which they used three outside linebackers, including Highsmith.

He picked off Jackson on his first throw of the second half, and two plays later, tight end Cheap Eric Ebron Jersey was in the end zone to pull the Steelers within three.

“I think when you go against unique offenses, you have to do unique things on defense,” Pittsburgh linebacker Cheap T.J. Watt Jersey said. “It was just another way to get a mobile player that can play the run and the pass and have more guys on their feet to protect the quarterback scrambles and be able to play in coverage and help in the run game, as well.”

The Ravens finished with 265 rush yards, the most allowed by the Steelers in a game since 1993, when the Seahawks rushed for 267, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

But in the third quarter, Baltimore had just 16 rushing yards and just 27 total yards of offense. The next quarter, the Ravens got back to what worked and started pounding the ball with seven minutes left, taking time off the clock as they moved methodically down the field. They ran nine straight run plays, including a 20-yard gain by running back Gus Edwards after the Steelers went up by four points.

But the Steelers stopped the Ravens on fourth down when Jackson attempted to go for it just yards from the end zone. The offense couldn’t sustain the next drive, though, and had to hold off the Ravens one more time with just 52 seconds left.

“Day in and day out … a lot of people say, ‘You all beat the Ravens, you all really are legit,'” Ebron said. “I’m like, ‘But we went 6-0, how are we not a legit unit?’ So, now that we beat the Ravens, more people understood that we’re legit, and we’re coming with our A-game every single time. That’s the players we have in this locker room. That’s the kind of team we have. That’s the kind of coaching staff we have, and we’re just going to come out here and continue to bring our A-game.

“We look adversity in the face and we attack it, and that’s why we came out victorious.”