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