Eric Ebron has steadily been seeing his role in the Pittsburgh offense decrease the last few weeks with rookie Pat Freiermuth acclimating well with increased usage. Freiermuth led the TE position with 32 snaps (49%) with Eric Ebron following him with 25 (38%). However, Zach Gentry was not far off Ebron, logging 22 offensive snaps (39%) along with 11 special teams snaps compared to Ebron not logging a single snap on special teams. As fellow Steelers Depot contributor Clayton Eckert reported in his Week 5 recap article, Gentry made himself useful both as a blocker as well as a receiver, spring Harris on a few successful runs during the game while also hauling in his lone reception on a screen pass for a 13-yard gain.
Gentry and Freiermuth played together a lot in Pittsburgh’s heavy personnel, aiding in rookie RB Najee Harris’s effort to eclipse the century mark for the first time this season to the tune of 122 rushing yards. While Gentry may not be the stud blocker former Steelers backup TE Matt Spaeth was known to be during his time in Pittsburgh, his blocking has noticeably improved as well as his ability as a receiver as reported by Steelers Depot’s very own Alex Kozora during his summer training camp recaps. He has slimmed down this offseason, standing at 6’8″, 265 pounds, serving as a big body over the middle that can make possession-style catches as well as aid in the run blocking department.
The same cannot be said for Eric Ebron, who has been known for his lack of contribution as a run blocker as well as his inconsistencies as a pass catcher due to drop issues that have followed him his entire NFL career. With the emergence of Freiermuth as the Steelers #1 TE in terms of snap share and role in the passing game as well as Gentry taking a step forward with his contribution as a run blocker and on special teams, can it be possible that Ebron could see himself shipped out of Pittsburgh before the trade deadline? He only has recorded five receptions for 37 yards on 11 targets this season while playing 47% of the snaps compared to 70% last season.
With the diminished role in the passing game and virtually no impact as a run blocker or special teams’ contributor, it would make sense to some degree to see if Pittsburgh could trade Ebron for a late-round pick in 2022 or in a pick swap to jump up from say a seventh-round selection to a sixth-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Before JuJu Smith-Schuster suffered his season-ending shoulder injury, many were calling for him to get dealt before the deadline to recoup some draft capital the team has dealt away. If fans were clamoring for JuJu to get shipped out of town, the proposal of trading Ebron to a TE-needy contender should be just as appealing, if not more.
The key here is Ebron’s contact situation. According to Over the Cap, trading Ebron before the trade deadline would create a 2022 dead cap hit of $3,904,000 while saving Pittsburgh only less than $1 million in immediate salary cap space prior to roster displacement. Dead cap is never a good thing to acquire, but Pittsburgh has added a bunch of it to their books this offseason with all the voidable year deals they have signed this offseason to account for the salary cap decrease. Ebron was one of those restructures this offseason, agreeing to turn his 2021 roster bonus and a large chunk of his $5.5 million salary into signing bonus to free up nearly $4 million in salary cap space for the 2021 season.
Given the state of the team, the lack of sufficient draft capital in 2022, and the current role Ebron plays on the roster, I would personally entertain the idea of shopping him around. He could figuratively help fill the void left by JuJu’s injury by lining up more in the slot detached from the LOS, but Freiermuth has proved more than capable of playing the same role as well as the team giving more snaps to Chase Claypool inside in the slot.
What are your thoughts on the TE position in Pittsburgh? Should the team look to try and trade Eric Ebron before the deadline? Do you think that Zach Gentry has done enough to earn the #2 TE role next to Pat Freiermuth moving forward? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!