The Lions dropped their third straight to fall to 3-4 after failing to convert any of their five red zone trips into a touchdown.
Detroit — Eric Ebron was hoping for a “Victory Monday,” both for the obvious professional reasons as well as the personal ones.
A win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night could have jump-started the Lions’ playoff push coming out of the bye week. And a day off as a reward for the players on Monday would’ve given Ebron an opportunity to make a quick trip to Houston to see his fiancée and his newborn son — Oliver Dash Ebron is barely a week old — before returning to work Tuesday.
Of course, just where he’ll be working is one of the lingering questions after Sunday night’s frustrating, 20-15 loss at Ford Field. The NFL trade deadline is looming Tuesday, and the Lions have been fielding calls from teams inquiring about Ebron’s availability as a former first-round draft pick who has fallen out of favor in Detroit.
After Sunday’s game, it was a question Ebron stood and answered repeatedly, with smiles and shrugs and a fair bit of candor. The kind that certainly suggests — though he wouldn’t say it directly — that he’s thinking what so many of the fans are thinking: It’s time to go.
“I mean, it is what it is,” Ebron said. “They got till Tuesday. It’s a business. If they feel like they want to cut ties with me, then they cut ties. If they feel like they can continue to use me and my skills and my abilities, then, (expletive), let’s do it.”
Asked if he had a gut feeling about which way the Lions were leaning, Ebron laughed, “What’s my gut tell me? My gut tells me to go home and get somethin’ to eat. I’m starving.”
As for what his head tells him, though, his answer was a bit more revealing. Change is a fact of life in the NFL, where players swap jerseys after games and teams discard players all the time.
“I mean, you look at Joe Haden out there,” Ebron said, referring to the former Pro Bowl cornerback who was released by Cleveland in late August — after attempts to trade him failed — and was quickly signed by Pittsburgh. “He did his thing in Cleveland and he’s doing even better out here now. So there’s a lot of people that just need a change of scenery.”
Heading for Splitsville
And it sure sounds like he’s one of them, doesn’t it? Ebron stopped short of saying that directly, too, Sunday night. But reading between the lines, it’s as audible as the fans’ reaction to his play. There are irreconcilable differences here, and a divorce seems like it’d be in everyone’s best interest.
“Look, if the front office thinks that, then we’ll see Tuesday,” Ebron said. “If not, I’m gonna come here and strap my Lions helmet on and go to work next week like everyone else.”
He’ll have no other choice, of course. And just what kind of choice the Lions have, perhaps only general manager Bob Quinn knows right now. But if there’s an out route in the playbook, it’s time to dial it up.
Ebron probably was destined to be a disappointment in Detroit given his draft slot, 10th overall by the Lions in 2013, ahead of the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Aaron Donald, both of whom became immediate stars in the league.
The 6-foot-4, 253-pounder has seen his production grow each season since, from 25 catches as a rookie to a 61 receptions last season. And ideally, he’s an athletic mismatch the Lions and Matthew Stafford can exploit. But after talking about becoming a Pro Bowler before this season, the 24-year-old has struggled again with dropped passes this fall — most notably in the home loss to Carolina a few weeks ago — and has just 15 catches for 160 yards in seven games.
And he’s so frequently booed by the crowd at Ford Field now that it feels to him as if he plays 16 road games a season, though he no longer bothers to bark back at all the negativity.
“I love ’em, I love those guys,” he said Sunday night. “Continue to boo me, I don’t care. I still got nothin’ but love for everyone. ...
“They can (boo) all they want to. There’s nothing I can do about it. And like I’ve said, they don’t know my story, so I’m gonna always be positive.”
But he’s not going to always be a Lion, I think everyone can probably agree on that. The Lions picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract last spring, but that option — worth $8 million-plus for 2018 — is only guaranteed for injury, so the team could release him in March without any real cost.
As for what the trade market is, that’s harder to say. But Quinn hasn’t been shy about making deals — he traded linebacker Kyle Van Noy to New England at the deadline last year — and Ebron’s prorated 2017 base salary ($1.6 million) is hardly a hindrance.
When I asked Ebron on Sunday night if he’d ever talked to Quinn about his status, he said no, “because that’s not my job to talk to him — that’s my agent’s job.”
And while he hadn’t heard any updates from his agent Sunday, “I’ll look forward to hearing from him tomorrow and see what happens,” he added.
Yet what happened Sunday sure felt like a parting shot, as well as a pretty good synopsis of Ebron’s time in Detroit, full of missed opportunities and flashes of promise.
He couldn’t snare a low throw from Stafford on the Lions’ opening drive. He couldn’t haul in another ball on a deep seam route at the end of the first quarter, either. Each time, the crowd let him hear about it — loudly.
“In my mind, I should’ve dove for it,” he said of the latter miss. “I just couldn’t catch up to it. I blame that on me. … I feel like that ball I should’ve made a play on.”
But he wasn’t alone in that regard Sunday, and that’s part of the problem here for Quinn, I suppose. Veteran Darren Fells also had a drop in the end zone, and rookie Michael Roberts — the player ostensibly drafted to replace Ebron at some point — had another ugly drop as well. At halftime, the Lions’ tight ends had been targeted six times — two each — and caught none of them. Yet it was only Ebron who heard the boos.
“Listen, 99.9 percent of the people in that audience cannot come out here and do that,” Ebron said, getting defensive just for a moment. “Yes, those were tough grabs. I get paid to make those grabs, yes. But too damn tough? I mean, cut a brother some slack. It’s rough, you know? But whenever I get the opportunity and can make the play, I’m gonna try to make the play and do what I can when I’ve got the football in my hands.”
And sure enough, late in the game, on the Lions’ would-be winning drive, Ebron did do something. He came up with a critical third-down catch to keep things moving with less than 4 minutes to play. Then three plays later he broke free and rumbled 44 yards down the Lions’ sideline to give the Lions a first down at Pittsburgh’s 11-yard line.
“I think I left a pretty good mark,” Ebron said. “If I get the opportunities, then I make plays. If not, it is what it is. They boo me the hell off the field anyway, so …”
So maybe it’s time to end this charade.