Player: Eric Ebron
Position: Tight End
Experience: 8 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2021 Salary Cap Hit: $4,596,000 ($3,904,000 in 2022 from void-year accrual)
2021 Season Breakdown:
Things could have gone better for Eric Ebron during the 2021 season. It immediately went downhill when the Pittsburgh Steelers used a second-round draft pick on tight end Pat Freiermuth, who fairly quickly supplanted the veteran as the number one at the position.
Before that, in order to free up some cap space, the front office restructured Ebron’s contract, which had only the one year remaining, adding four void years and converting $4.88 of his scheduled $6 million base salary into a signing bonus, which allowed them to spread out his cap hit over five years, reducing it to the number you see above (it was going to be $8.5 million [his original deal was two years, $12 million, with a $5 million signing bonus and a $1 million year-one base salary]).
Then the actual games were played, and it became clear, essentially, that Ebron was not as big a part of their plans as he was a year ago. Not only was Freiermuth an immediate contributor, they also had third-year Zach Gentry participating right away, first as a blocker but gradually also as a receiver.
The veteran was still playing a comfortable number of snaps, typically around 45 percent, but he only got 18 targets in eight games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. In all, he caught 13 passes for 84 yards and one touchdown. He also had one carry for a one-yard touchdown, which is the play on which he was injured.
Free Agency Outlook:
It’s probably a foregone conclusion that the Steelers will not be looking to re-sign Ebron after employing him for the past two seasons. Not necessarily because they don’t think he can be a contributor if healthy, but primarily because they’ve simply moved on and found an upgrade in the young Freiermuth, who caught 60 passes for nearly 500 yards with seven touchdowns as a rookie.
Couple that with the growth of Gentry, and the fact that they still have Kevin Rader as an option for the number three tight end, and there’s really no compelling reason to offer Ebron anything more than a minimum contract.
A former first-round pick, Ebron has made over $37 million in his career. If he were willing to accept a small role—which he kind of admitted he had to wrestle with last year—with a corresponding salary, I wouldn’t mind having him back. He was well-liked in the locker room, and by Freiermuth in particular. But expect this to be a clean break; and it wouldn’t be shocking if Ebron doesn’t get any attractive offers on the open market at this point in his career, even if he is still 29.