Allen Park – Fan frustration with Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron reached a crescendo on Sunday as boos rained down from the stands at Ford Field.
The definition of a dropped pass is subjective, but it’s difficult to argue Ebron didn’t put two catchable passes on the ground in the 27-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers, including one in the end zone. He let two others slip through his fingers during the team’s last home game, a loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
According to Pro Football Focus, 14 passes thrown to Ebron have been catchable. That means he’s squandered more than a quarter of his opportunities. Even the most lenient of critics can tell you his performance hasn’t been good enough.
As Ebron works through his struggles, the immediate option is to reduce his playing time. The Lions have two other tight ends on the roster capable of handling bigger workloads – Darren Fells and rookie Michael Roberts.
But neither can match Ebron’s athleticism. When he’s at his best, he’s a matchup nightmare and difference-maker. The Lions are clearly a better team when they can rely on Ebron in the game plan.
The long-term situation is tricky. There is a growing contingent of fans who would like to see the Lions move on from Ebron. That’s not out of the question. He isn’t a Bob Quinn draft pick, so the general manager doesn’t have any loyalty to the player.
Quinn did pick up the fifth-year option on Ebron’s contract this offseason, which will pay the tight end $8.5 million in 2018, but that’s only guaranteed for injury. If the Lions decide they want to cut ties after this season, they can do so without any financial obligation.
But let’s be reasonable, even with Ebron’s struggles securing the ball, he’s a difficult talent to replace. He had 61 receptions for 711 yards in 13 games last season, both top 10 at his position.
If they opt to move on, how would they replace him?
First and foremost, you probably want to re-sign Fells, who is working on a one-year deal. Second, you count on an expanded role from Roberts, who despite less athleticism, was a proven red-zone weapon in college, catching 16 touchdowns as a senior at Toledo.
From there, you look for a matchup piece to round out the rotation, an athletic tight end who is too fast for a linebacker to cover and too big for a nickelback to handle.
In the draft, that could mean someone like Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews or UCLA’s Caleb Wilson. In free agency, someone like Virgil Green, or Tyler Eifert, if you want to roll the dice on a player who has had injury issues.
All that to say, it won’t be an easy decision. You have to decide whether to live with the drops – a known issue written in big, red letters on his scouting report coming out of college – in exchange for the 24 year old’s athleticism and potential, or do you go a different direction? That’s a decision Quinn will have to make this winter.