Orlando, Fla. — The decision to release Eric Ebron was strictly a financial decision, according to Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn.
The Lions let Ebron go earlier this month, hours before the start of the new league year, when the tight end’s $8.25 million contract would become guaranteed.
“You know, the salary that came along with the fifth-year option was something that we weighed, you know, really up until the last minute,” Quinn said. “It was just one of those things that we knew was coming down the pike. We obviously had some trade conversations with a few teams that didn’t work out, and so it came down to about the last hour or so before that 4 o’clock deadline.”
Quinn acknowledged Ebron’s salary was prohibitive when talking trades.
“Yeah, it was,” Quinn said. “We talked to a lot of teams, but I think, I guess the general response that I got was, ‘The number’s too big.’”
Following his release, Ebron signed a two-year contract, $13 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts, with performance escalators that could push it to $15 million. He’ll carry a $6.75 million cap hit this year and next.
Another way the Lions could have lessened Ebron’s financial burden in 2018 would have been working out a long-term extension, but it wasn’t discussed.
“We never even got that far down the road,” Quinn.
A first-round pick in 2014, Ebron caught 186 passes for 2,070 yards and 11 touchdowns in his four seasons with the Lions.
Although the Lions will look to add more competition at the position, they effectively filled Ebron’s roster spot by signing Luke Willson. An Ontario native who spent his first five seasons in Seattle, he’s had limited production as a pass-catcher in the NFL, but the Lions like his versatility.
“Luke’s a guy that we did a lot of work on,” Quinn said. “Think he’s got versatility to catch the ball, I think he has versatility to block on the line of scrimmage, off the line of scrimmage as a move blocker.
“In Seattle, he’s had a bunch of tight ends kind of above him on the totem pole out there, including Jimmy Graham this year, so he’s a guy that we went back and watched film a couple years ago when he had more production,” Quinn said. “I think he’s more than capable of catching the ball, I think that’s one of his strengths, and he can run. So we’ll add him to the mix and kind of see how that goes.”
Willson has caught 15 passes each of the past two seasons. His best year as a receiver was 2014, when he hauled in 22 balls for 362 yards and three scores.
Another guy in the mix will be Michael Roberts, who returns for his second season. A prolific scoring option at the University of Toledo, he was primarily used as a blocker in Detroit last season. The team is expecting more in 2019.
“Mike’s a very unique talent in terms of his size,” Quinn said. “He’s got versatility to contribute in the passing game as a receiver, in protection, as well as his role last year was really probably one of our better blockers on the line of scrimmage.
“Mike has a lot of work to do in the offseason,” Quinn continued. “We talked when the season was over. He knows kind of the things that he needed to work on. So, we’re excited about his future, but I think it’s really up to him to kind of take the next step because the talent’s there. He’s just going to kind of work to kind of take that next step.”