Now that the 2021 offseason has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: TE Eric Ebron
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: With the retirement of Vance McDonald and the team’s willingness to restructure Eric Ebron’s contract that adds dead money to his deal in the future via void years, it shows at least some level of commitment to the player, for the 2021 season at a minimum, if not beyond.
The Steelers didn’t have a lot of breathing room with the salary cap last year. They did manage to add to the tight end position by bringing in Eric Ebron. An athletic and talented pass-catcher who wasn’t far removed from a 13-score Pro Bowl season, Ebron at that time found himself coming off a down year and rehabbing from injury.
That helped knock his price down to $6 million per season. A fair assessment of his first year in Pittsburgh would conclude that they got out of him what they paid for. What he lacks in the blocking and ball security department he made up for with impressive or timely plays as a receiving option. Ebron finished the year with 56 receptions for 558 yards and five touchdowns (tied for the second-most in his seven-year career).
Since the end of last season, Vance McDonald, the team’s number two tight end, announced his retirement, leaving the Steelers with an assortment of unpedigreed and unproven options, chief among them Zach Gentry and Kevin Rader.
In need of salary cap space with the cap dropping $15 million from a year ago, they turned to Ebron for some relief. Pittsburgh restructured the last year on his deal by converting all but the minimum of his base salary into a signing bonus and adding void years to spread out the cap hit.
Generally, teams reserve contract restructures for established players whom they anticipate will be with the team as a stable and consistent performer for the length of their deal. I’m not going to go so far as to say that this restructure is a prelude to an extension later this offseason or that they are set on re-signing him last year. But I think it at least serves as a vote of confidence that they agree he is worth what they’re paying him, and not simply because they have virtually nobody else.