Eric Ebron

Steelers Notes: Harrison, Tomlin, Ebron

Notorious cheap-shot artist and Steelers icon James Harrison last set foot on the field in 2017, but he is back in the headlines today. In an interview on Barstool Sports’ “Going Deep” podcast, Harrison said that Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin handed him an envelope after Harrison laid a brutal hit on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi in October 2010 (story via TMZ).

“And, I ain’t gonna lie to you, when that happened, right? [T]he G-est thing Mike Tomlin ever did, he handed me an envelope after that,” Harrison said. “I ain’t gonna say what, but he handed me an envelope after that.”

The clear implication, of course, is that the alleged envelope contained money, either as a “reward” for the hit or to help Harrison pay the ensuing $75K fine from the league. One way or another, it could spell trouble for Tomlin if the league chooses to investigate (though since the alleged incident took place prior to sanctions being levied in the Saints’ Bountygate scandal, that may not happen).

Team president Art Rooney II, of course, denies the allegation (via Mike Florio of PFT), and so does Harrison’s agent, Bill Parise (via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). After the public tied Harrison’s comments to Bountygate, Harrison himself took to social media to deny that Tomlin gave him a “bounty,” but he notably did not deny that the envelope helped offset his fine. Most likely, this will all be forgotten in short order, but it will be interesting to see if the NFL does decide to launch some sort of investigation.

Now for more from the Steel City:

  • New Steelers tight end Eric Ebron has passed his physical, as Ebron himself announced (via Twitter). An ankle injury wiped out his 2019 season almost completely, but he still managed to land a two-year, $12MM pact with Pittsburgh, thanks in large part to his Pro Bowl performance in 2018. He will join fellow tight end Vance McDonald as a seam-stretching target and red zone threat for Ben Roethlisberger.
  • After a promising 2018 campaign, Steelers RB James Conner was limited by injuries in 2019, and he averaged a full five fewer runs per game last season than he did the year before. But Tomlin prefers having a bell-cow in his backfield, and he hopes Conner can return to that role in 2020. “James is a featured guy and proven runner when healthy,” Tomlin said (via Rutter). “We’re excited about him getting back to health and displaying that in 2020.” Conner is entering a contract year, so a return to form as the Steelers’ RB1 could also land him a nice payday.
  • The Steelers may be in the market for a nose tackle after losing Javon Hargrave to the Eagles in free agency, as Mark Kaboly of The Athletic writes. While pure nose tackles are going the way of the dodo, Hargrave was so valuable because of his ability to generate pass rush from the interior while also serving as a traditional NT against power-running teams, but those players are tough to find on the open market. If the club makes a move to add a veteran via free agency or trade, Kaboly believes it will not happen until after training camp. Until then, Daniel McCullers and seventh-round rookie Carlos Davis will attempt to fill the void left by Hargrave.

AFC North Notes: Steelers, Ebron, Browns

Let’s take a quick spin around the AFC North:

  • New Steelers tight end Eric Ebron said he still isn’t fully recovered from the ankle injury that forced him to injured reserve as a member of the Colts in 2019, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Ebron hasn’t been able to meet with the Steelers’ medical staff, but an independent doctor did examine his ankle, and Pittsburgh has officially announced its two-year, $12MM deal with the 26-year-old. Ebron, who says he decided to sign with the Steelers largely due to the presence of Ben Roethlisberger, had a public spat with the Colts when he decided to shut things down last November. Now, he’s expected to serve as one of Roethlisberger’s top offensive weapons while splitting time with fellow tight end Vance McDonald.
  • After releasing veteran Mark Barron last month, the Steelers now need to find another inside linebacker to play opposite 2019 first-rounder Devin Bush, as Mark Kaboly of The Athletic writes. Vince Williams remains on Pittsburgh’s roster, and general manager Kevin Colbert says he’s “comfortable” with Williams as a starter (as he was in 2017-18 before losing snaps to Barron last season). Sources tell Kaboly the Steelers aren’t interested in Deone Bucannon, who remains on the free agent market, but the club could spend a draft pick on another ‘backer.
  • Free agent addition Jack Conklin is the Browns‘ best offensive tackle by a wide margin, but that doesn’t mean they’ll try to play him on Baker Mayfield‘s blindside in 2020, head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters, including Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, via conference call on Thursday. Conklin, who inked a three-year $42MM deal with Cleveland after spending four seasons in Tennessee, has played right tackle for nearly all of his career (he’s lined up at left tackle just 68 times since entering the NFL). The Browns are reportedly open to considering Trent Williams (via trade) or free agent Jason Peters at left tackle, but the club could also target the position in the draft, where it holds the 10th overall pick.

Steelers To Sign Eric Ebron

The Steelers are signing tight end Eric Ebron to a two-year deal worth $12MM, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). It’s a relatively low-risk pickup that could pay big dividends for Ben Roethlisberger & Co.

Ebron, a former first-round pick, struggled early on in his career with the Lions. In 2018, he caught his second wind with the Colts. However, the team decided against re-signing him this offseason.

In ’18, Ebron got the drops under control and managed a 13-touchdown season with 66 catches for 750 yards. But, without quarterback Andrew Luck, Ebron was far less productive in 2019. The soon-to-be 27-year-old had just 31 grabs for 375 yards and three scores before landing on IR in late November with an ankle injury.

Then, there was drama. The Colts said they were not aware of Ebron having a serious ankle problem. Ebron fired back and issued a statement saying that the team knew about his severe pain since the start of the season.

The fences weren’t mended, and Ebron is moving on to Pittsburgh.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Colts Won’t Re-Sign Eric Ebron

Eric Ebron won’t be back with the Colts in 2020. When asked about the tight end, GM Chris Ballard told reporters that the team will “probably move on” from Ebron. 

Ebron, a former first-round pick, struggled early on in his career with the Lions. But, when he joined the Colts in 2018, things were looking up. The tight end had fewer drops en route to a 14-touchdown season with 66 catches for 750 yards and a whopping 13 TDs.

This year, without quarterback Andrew Luck, Ebron was far less productive. The 26-year-old (27 in April) had just 31 grabs for 375 yards and three scores before landing on IR in late November with an ankle injury.

Then, the two sides clashed. The Colts said they were not aware of Ebron having any sort of serious ankle issue. Ebron fired back and issued a statement saying that the team was aware of his severe pain since the beginning of the season.

The Colts, apparently, aren’t interested in mending fences. Ebron will look for work elsewhere when he hits the open market in March.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Ebron, Lions, Renfrow

The Eric Ebron story took another twist this week, as his camp responded to the recent reports of disconnect between the tight end and the Colts. Soon after Ebron was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury, we heard that the Colts weren’t too happy with how everything played out. Indy’s head coach Frank Reich seemed to dispute Ebron’s account that the team was well-aware of his ankle issue, and said he had no idea anything was wrong. Ebron’s camp is now pushing back, with a source close to the UNC product telling Ian Rapoport of NFL Network that Reich “should not have been surprised” (Twitter link).

The source added that Ebron informed the Colts of his ankle issue prior to the season, and that he “took toradol shots for the injury before almost every game he played.” The implication from Indianapolis seemed to be that Ebron was essentially choosing to save himself for his impending free agency, and his camp obviously isn’t pleased with that narrative. As Stephen Holder of The Athletic summarizes in a tweet, this means that Reich is either “blatantly lying when he said he was blind sided,” or Ebron “was able to practice most of the season on a terribly painful ankle.” It’ll be interesting to see if this under the radar controversy impacts Ebron’s market this spring. The tenth overall pick of the 2014 draft had a huge first year in Indy, but had been a bit of a disappointment this season before going on IR. Given the sudden animosity between the two sides, it seems likely that he isn’t back with the Colts in 2020.

Here’s more from around the league on a quiet Saturday night:

  • It doesn’t look like Matthew Stafford is going to play for the Lions again in 2019, so his back injury is obviously legitimate. However, the league has taken issue with how Detroit went about reporting it. Stafford was a surprise scratch late in the week leading up to the team’s game against the Bears back on November 10th, and the league has determined the team was trying to gain a competitive advantage by being coy with the info. The league office has fined the organization $75K, head coach Matt Patricia $25K, and GM Bob Quinn $10K, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network (Twitter link).
  • When Raiders rookie receiver Hunter Renfrow went down with a rib injury and a punctured lung a couple of weeks ago, it initially looked like he’d miss the rest of the season. However, that might not be the case, per Scott Bair of NBC Sports. Renfrow hasn’t been placed on IR, and the team is holding out hope he’ll be able to return toward the end of the year. “We’re hopeful that he could return for the last game or two,” Oakland head coach Jon Gruden said, per Bair. Renfrow had really started to heat up before going down, so he would provide a big boost. The Raiders have gotten blown out in two straight games, but are still right in the thick of a very muddled AFC wildcard race at 6-6. Whether or not they’re still in the hunt for a playoff spot in the final week or two will likely determine whether or not they bring the Clemson product back.

Extra Points: Ebron, Packers, Guenther

Eric Ebron was recently placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury, and it apparently came as a surprise to the Colts. Ebron said in a statement at the time that he had been dealing with severe ankle pain since the beginning of the season, but Indianapolis apparently was caught off-guard. Colts coach Frank Reich said recently he was “not aware there was anything significant” with Ebron’s ankle, per Zak Keefer of The Athletic. Keefer notes that the tight end “missed only one legitimate practice due to ankle pain all season,” and that was back in Week 9.

Ebron’s statement on Twitter read, in part, “up to this point, the team and I have done everything in our power to manage the pain and get me out there each and every week.” That seems to be at odds with the Colts’ recollection. The team wasn’t happy “about how it went down,” tweets Stephen Holder of The Athletic. Keefer notes that Ebron is set to be a free agent in March, and the implication from the team seems to be that Ebron wanted to save himself for free agency, even if they aren’t saying it directly. Reich did say that Ebron had a scan on his ankle during training camp, but that “to the best of [his] knowledge, the scan was fine.” If the reports that Indy isn’t happy are true, then it’s probably safe to say Ebron will be finding a new home this spring.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Jared Veldheer is officially a member of the Packers. The offensive tackle retired with the Patriots during training camp as he battled a lingering hip injury, and was released off their reserve/retired list after expressing interest in a comeback. Green Bay claimed Veldheer, and there was apparently some concern he wouldn’t be able to pass a physical. Those fears were unwarranted, as Veldheer indeed passed his physical and practiced with the team Friday, per Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.
  • Oakland’s defense has struggled mightily at times this season, and it was terrible last year, but don’t expect Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s job to be in jeopardy anytime soon. Guenther’s seat is “ice cold” writes Vic Tafur of the Athletic, who notes that head coach Jon Gruden “loves him.” Gruden himself has been given a seemingly endless leash from owner Mark Davis, and that apparently extends to his assistants as well. Interestingly, Tafur writes that “everything has always been directed toward Las Vegas with this staff” and that nobodies jobs will be in danger “until they are all sitting in a meeting room in the desert.”
  • In case you missed it, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett won’t be fired during the season.

Colts To Place TE Eric Ebron On IR

The Colts suffered a damaging blow to their hopes of winning the AFC South by losing to the Texans on Thursday night, and they have also suffered a key injury. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter), Indianapolis will be placing tight end Eric Ebron on injured reserve, as Ebron needs surgery on both of his ankles.

Ebron, whom the Lions selected with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2014 draft, had something of an up-and-down tenure in Detroit, but the Colts took a gamble on his upside by giving him a two-year, $13MM deal shortly after the Lions released him in March 2018. He did not disappoint, as he developed great chemistry with Colts’ signal-caller Andrew Luck throughout the 2018 campaign and finished the season with 66 catches for 750 yards and a whopping 13 TDs. His efforts earned him the first Pro Bowl nod of his career.

But Ebron struggled to develop the same rapport with Jacoby Brissett this season, and he has battled injuries and consistency issues throughout the year. He will finish the 2019 season with 31 catches for 375 yards and three scores.

It’s bad timing for Ebron, who will be a free agent again this offseason, but assuming he makes a full recovery, he should still be able to land another multi-year pact. The Colts will lean more heavily on fellow TE Jack Doyle as they continue their playoff push, and they will also sign Ross Travis, as Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star tweets. Travis played four games for the Colts in the 2017 season, but an ACL tear wiped out his entire 2018 campaign. Indy re-signed him to a one-year pact in February, but he did not survive final cuts.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Colts’ Leonard, Ebron Undergo Surgeries

Two key Colts will not be participating in workouts for a bit. Both Darius Leonard and Eric Ebron are coming off offseason surgeries, Chris Ballard said Tuesday (via CBS4’s Mike Chappell, on Twitter).

Leonard underwent a procedure last week to repair his left ankle, which was a problem spot during his standout rookie season. Ebron had groin surgery earlier this offseason.

It is safe to say Leonard will not be taking part in Colts OTAs or minicamp, with Ballard adding this particular surgery will require approximately six weeks of rehab. But with Colts training camp around 10 weeks away, the second-year linebacker figures to be fine by the time the team reconvenes.

The ankle injury caused Leonard to miss one game last season, a Week 5 nationally televised tilt in New England, but still earned first-team All-Pro acclaim. Ebron played a 16-game slate for the second straight year, voyaging to his first Pro Bowl after a 14-touchdown season. Both were among the best players at their respective positions and are set to be cornerstone players for a 2019 Colts team with higher expectations.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Spring Practice Notes: Jets, Darby, Ebron

Now that mandatory minicamps have wrapped up around the league and players have returned home for a few weeks, the NFL will experience something of a lull until we get closer to the start of training camp in July. In the past couple of days, however, beat writers have shared some lessons learned during spring practices, offered some insight as to what OTAs and minicamp revealed about the upcoming season, and discussed some questions that remain unanswered. So let’s dive right in:

  • Terrelle Pryor‘s injury concerns have been well-documented, but as Darryl Slater of NJ.com observes, the Jets are also dealing with injuries to CB Morris Claiborne and OLB Jordan Jenkins. Both Claiborne and Jenkins are expected to be ready for the start of training camp, while the status of Pryor and starting free safety Marcus Maye is still up in the air. Slater also wonders who will start at OLB alongside Jenkins. David Bass and Josh Martin are candidates, as is Lorenzo Mauldin, though Slater suggests Mauldin is on the roster bubble.
  • Slater also indicates that Henry Anderson may have the leg up in the battle for the Jets‘ starting defensive end position opposite Leonard Williams — New York desperately needs someone to take double teams away from Williams — and that Andre Roberts appears to be leading the competition for Gang Green’s punt returner job. He adds that wideout Chad Hansen has impressed this spring after being a non-factor in his rookie campaign last year.
  • Rich Cimini of ESPN.com also likes what he sees from Hansen, and he says TE Neal Sterling and RB Elijah McGuire are other under-the-radar players to impress for the Jets this spring. Sam Darnold, meanwhile, is very much on the radar, and Cimini says Darnold has done nothing to suggest he cannot be a quality starter in the NFL.
  • The most important lesson learned during the Eagles‘ spring practices, per Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer, is that Carson Wentz is progressing in his recovery from an ACL tear and could be ready to go in Week 1. However, as Berman points out, the defending champs have plenty of injury concerns outside of Wentz, though no key players appear at risk of missing any regular season time at this point.
  • Berman also writes that Jay Ajayi is the Eagles’ unquestioned No. 1 running back — in stark contrast to the summer of 2017, when the team was emphasizing a committee approach to the offensive backfield — and he names De’vante Bausby, Nate Gerry, and Dallas Goedert as young talents who have stood out in the spring. Gerry, a 2017 fifth-rounder who converted from collegiate safety to professional linebacker, could compete for a starting LB job this year, Berman says.
  • Speaking of Bausby, Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com is also impressed with the 25-year-old’s work this spring, which may be enough to allow the Eagles to trade Ronald Darby.
  • Seahawks‘ 2018 seventh-round pick Alex McGough stood out this spring and has a legitimate chance to be Russell Wilson‘s backup this year, per Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. Condotta also notes that Seattle’s first-round choice, Rashaad Penny, has looked the part and has also shown improvement in his pass-blocking technique, which will help him see more of the field this year.
  • TE Eric Ebron has been perhaps the most impressive newcomer for the Colts this spring, per Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star, who also says 2018 fourth-rounder Nyheim Hines was the most exciting rookie to watch. Hines, a running back from NC State, has the explosiveness and versatility to thrive in new head coach Frank Reich‘s scheme.
  • Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com says Harold Landry, the Titans‘ second-round draft choice this year, is living up to his draft pedigree and that, while he may have a hard time unseating veterans Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo as a starting OLB, he should see plenty of action as a situational pass rusher to begin his career. Wyatt also says Tennessee’s cornerbacks have been the most impressive position group of the spring.

NFC North Rumors: Packers, Ebron, Vikings

Bryan Bulaga has now seen two of his past five seasons either wiped out or largely nullified by severe injuries, and the Packers‘ starting right tackle is now entering the seasons of his contract where a cap-casualty cut is not incredibly prohibitive. Yet, the ninth-year blocker is expected to return for the fourth season of said deal.

Whenever players are injured it’s tough as personnel guys who are not 100 percent sure of when they’re coming back,” Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst said, via Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “But I know that he’s been working exceptionally hard. We’ve got a lot of faith that he’s going to come back sooner rather than later, and obviously when Bryan is in there, Bryan is a good player.”

Mike McCarthy also wants Bulaga to be part of the 2018 Packers, indicating he’s heard the 29-year-old edge protector is on schedule following an ACL tear. It would only save the Packers $4.2MM to release Bulaga while tagging them with a $3.2MM dead-money penalty. That savings figure spikes to nearly $7MM in 2019, so Bulaga staying healthy will likely be paramount to him seeing the final year of that contract.

Here’s the more out of Green Bay as well as some of the Packers’ top rivals.

  • Jahri Evans remains in the picture, to some degree, for a second season with the Packers. Although, the former perennial All-Pro is going to turn 35 next season. “Jahri is definitely part of the conversation,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know exactly where he is as far as what his goals are, but we’re open (to him returning.” On the strength of his pass-blocking, Evans graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 30 guard last season. While his 71.7 grade was slightly down from his Seahawks season, Evans showed in 14 games he’s still a viable NFL starter. He didn’t sign with the Packers initially until late April of last year, so the door may still be open on that front.
  • The Lions dangled Eric Ebron up until the deadline for his fifth-year option to vest before ultimately releasing him. Bob Quinn elaborated about why the former first-round pick ended up as a free agent instead of netting the Lions a draft pick in a deal. “I guess the general response that I got was, ‘The number’s too big,'” Quinn said, via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com, of Ebron’s then-$8.25MM cap figure attached to the 2018 option. “The salary that came along with the fifth-year option was something that we weighed, you know, really up until the last minute, to be honest. 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.” Ebron ended up with the Colts on a two-year, $13MM pact.
  • Not receiving any compensation for Ebron, the Lions are targeting picks via trades prior to this draft. Detroit holds just six picks. “That’s something that’ll definitely be in the talks I’d say, a week or two leading up to the draft — try to get more picks,” Quinn said, via Meinke. The Lions have a basic draft allotment, holding all their own picks save for the sixth-rounder they surrendered for Greg Robinson last year.
  • With Joe Berger and Jeremiah Sirles now out of the picture, the Vikings‘ top remaining need is on their offensive line, Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes. Although the team signed swing blocker Tom Compton, draft help is likely en route. Rick Spielman recently attended Billy Price‘s pro day at Ohio State, and Goessling notes the team could be on the lookout for another veteran. The Vikings still have $19MM-plus in cap space.