There isn’t much else to do while we sit here and wait for news about whether or not there will even be training camp, so it seems as good a time as any to bring back this series, in which we look to introduce some of the new players that the Pittsburgh Steelers have added to the mix since the end of the 2019 season.
The team added some notable pieces in free agency, which was important, because they didn’t have much to work with in terms of draft capital due to previous trades. They also made liberal use of the XFL’s closure, signing about as many players from there as the rest of the league combined. Even while claiming that they didn’t have a lot of roster room, they still signed a good number of rookie college free agents as well, enough that they had to release three players just to make room for them.
We should start at the top of the free agency class, I think, and that begins with Eric Ebron, the former first-round tight end whom the Steelers signed to a two-year, $12 million contract. The $6 million per-year average is tied for the second-largest per-year signing in team history for an unrestricted outside free agent.
His deal included a $5 million signing bonus, a pretty large percentage by their standards. He has a 2020 cap hit of just $3.5 million this year because of his $1 million base salary. He has a base salary of $5.5 million for 2021, with a roster bonus of $500,000, due March 22.
The New Jersey-born Ebron was a star receiving threat for the North Carolina Tarheels between 2011 and 2013, culminating in a junior season in which he caught 62 passes for 973 yards. The Detroit Lions made him the 10th-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft at the age of 21.
His career has, by and large, been disappointing, however. He played out his rookie contract in Detroit but did not have his fifth-year option picked up. He did catch 61 passes for 711 yards there in 2016, with 11 total touchdowns through his four years.
After that, he signed a two-year contract with the Indianapolis Colts, where he found a rapport with Andrew Luck. In his one season working with the former first-overall pick, he took off, setting career highs across the board with 66 receptions for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns, making the Pro Bowl.
Last season, however, was arguably more typical for him, missing time due to injuries and dropping passes. Some characterize him as the type of player who will make the spectacular catch but struggle with the routine.
The hope is that working with Ben Roethlisberger, whom he has praised at earlier times in his career, will spark a similar sort of rapport to that of his with Luck, who retired prior to the start of the 2019 season. He joins Vance McDonald as a potential dual receiving threat from the tight end position, something the Steelers have never had before.
Of note is the fact that Ebron ended the 2019 season on injured reserve following elective ankle surgery. He has received some criticism for the way his year ended. He has spent much of this offseason recovering from his injury and subsequent surgery, but has extensively featured videos of him training hard, and has looked good.
At still just 27 years old, there is still plenty of life left in Ebron, who if things work out could be a semi-longterm presence in Pittsburgh. He had the talent to be a special receiving threat at the position.