Eric Ebron

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.

Colts HC, GM Discuss Team’s Free Agent Signings

The Colts have been relatively quiet this offseason. The team did acquire a haul when they traded off the third-overall pick, but they haven’t made many big splashes via free agency.

However, the team has added four notable unrestricted free agents, and head coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard talked with Stephen Holder of IndyStar.com about the transactions. We’ve highlighted some of the notable soundbites below:

On wideout Ryan Grant, who signed a one-year, $5MM deal with the team:

Reich: “I did a little homework on him even after we signed him and talked to a couple coaches who coached him and guys who played with him. I talked to one guy who had definite inside information. He said, ‘This guy will run every inside route at full speed, no matter what. He works his butt off in practice.’ That’s the kind of player we’re looking for.”

On tight end Eric Ebron, who signed a two-year deal after being let go by the Lions:

Reich: “There is a lot of man coverage in this league — the league is going more and more man coverage — so, now you put an elite tight end on the backside, it’s like clearing it out for LeBron (James), or something, in basketball. Just get everybody on one side of the court and get this guy one-on-one. Well, that’s the analogy here. So, in football, get all the receivers on one side, get the back on the other side, and then just put the tight end back here and see what (the defense) does. And some teams will double him. And then (if) you get a linebacker, you get a safety, and if you get a tight end like Ebron — and even when they have a corner on him, you feel like it’s still a winning matchup, because of his size and catch radius.”

On veteran offensive guard Matt Slauson, who signed a one-year, $3MM deal:

Ballard: “We want our fans to know that we’re serious. Signing Matt Slauson was a good one for us. He’s a 32-year old. And his presence and what he’s going to bring to the O-line room, I don’t think you can put a price on. He’s the ultimate pro and he’s going to bring a level of toughness to that room that I think is going to be really good for everybody in it.”

On defensive lineman Denico Autry, who signed a three-year, $17.8MM deal ($6.5MM guaranteed):

Ballard: “I’d seen him (when I worked) in Kansas City. He’s a good player and he’s going to help our front. What you see is the defensive line is going to be one of the engines that drives us going forward. You need seven or eight guys that can get that done. And Autry is a good example. We think we got a good player at a fair market value for the player.”

NFC North Notes: Packers, Lions, Vikings

Allen Robinson narrowed his potential destinations to the Bears and Packers before ultimately deciding on Chicago, as the star wideout tells Mike Kaye of First Coast News. While a number of clubs — including the Redskins, Browns, Ravens, Panthers, and incumbent Jaguars — were linked to Robinson before free agency officially opened, Green Bay was never mentioned as a suitor. The revelation is interesting on a few different levels, but chief among them is that the Packers clearly feel a need to upgrade their receiving corps. So far this offseason, Green Bay cut ties with franchise icon Jordy Nelson, but hasn’t made any additions to its wideout depth chart. Robinson, 24, eventually landed a three-year, $42MM deal from the Bears.

Here’s more from the NFC North:

  • The Lions‘ decision to release Eric Ebron was strictly a financial call, general manager Bob Quinn told reporters, including Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter link). Ebron had been scheduled to earn a base salary of $8.25MM in 2018, and that figure would have become fully guaranteed on the first day of the league year. Indeed, Ebron’s high salary also warded off any potential trade suitors, per Quinn, while Detroit never discussed an extension that would have reduced Ebron’s upcoming cap charge (Twitter link via Justin Rogers of the Detroit News). Ebron, a first-round pick in 2014, has subsequently inked a two-year, $13MM pact with the Colts.
  • Given that he’s currently in Ghana, Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah has no immediate plans to sign his franchise tag, per Birkett (Twitter link). However, Ansah does eventually plan to ink the tender and has no intention of dragging out the process. When he does eventually sign, Ansah will earn a fully guaranteed $17.143MM base salary for the 2018 campaign, and will have until July to hammer out a long-term extension with Detroit. Ansah finished the 2017 season with 12 sacks, 44 total tackles, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.
  • The Vikings have indicated they’d like to re-sign cornerback Terence Newman, but it sound as though money will be the determining factor in any such agreement, according to Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter link). While Newman will be 40 years old when the 2018 season gets underway, he was able to stay healthy for all 16 games last year. Newman, who ranked as the No. 66 CB among 119 qualifiers in 2017 (per Pro Football Focus), would reinforce a Minnesota secondary that also includes Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander.
  • Despite a previous report to the contrary, the Lions are not interested in free agent defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, tweets Birkett. Detroit has already upgraded its defensive tackle rotation by signing Sylvester Williams and Ricky Jean-Francois, but Hankins isn’t in the team’s plans.

Colts Sign TE Eric Ebron

Eric Ebron has found a new home. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports (via Twitter) that the tight end has signed with the Colts. It will be a two-year deal worth a maximum of $15MM.

Ebron’s blocking skills leave a bit to be desired, but the tight end has been plenty productive in the passing game throughout his career. He finished the 2017 season with 53 catches for 574 yards and four touchdowns. The former first-rounder ultimately rated as an above-average tight end, as Pro Football Focus ranked him 13th among 71 candidates at the position.

Assuming Andrew Luck is healthy, Ebron would provide the quarterback with another talented target. The free agent would presumably displace Jack Doyle from the starting lineup in Indy, although there could be enough targets for the duo. Doyle had his best NFL season in 2017, hauling in 80 receptions for 690 yards and four scores.

The Colts will have to ultimately make some decisions at tight end. The team is now rostering seven players at the position, including Darrell Daniels, Ross Travis, and Erik Swoope.

After being released by the Lions, there was plenty of interest in the 24-year-old. Besides the Colts, the Patriots, Panthers, and Ravens were all connected to Ebron.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Bengals, Vikings, Ansah

We learned earlier today that the Steelers signed Jon Bostic to a two-year deal as a potential fill-in for Ryan Shazier, and now we’ll take a swing around a few other north division clubs:

  • Paul Dehner Jr. and Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer think the Bengals did very well for themselves during the first week of the new league year, and they believe the club is done with its major free agent additions/trades in 2018. One of the reasons the team was so successful is that it did not force itself into an expensive Russell Bodine contract. The market has not developed for Bodine, a four-year starter in Cincinnati, in the way that he thought it would, and he may have to settle for a modest deal. We heard earlier today that he will be making a visit to the Bills, and while the Bengals will have center options in the draft, they could bring back Bodine if his price falls far enough.
  • Yesterday, we heard that the Vikings were open to bringing back the recently-released Jarius Wright at a lesser rate, and Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press says that Wright himself would be open to rejoining Minnesota at a reduced salary. Wright said, “It’s not out of the question. But it’s the NFL. We’ll have to see what happens. But I love Minnesota. I would love to come back, so you just never know what will happen.”
  • The Broncos signed OL Billy Turner yesterday, but Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News tweets that the Vikings also had interest in Turner as a depth option. Tomasson tweets that the team might not have the funds to make a major O-line addition, though it will continue to monitor the market for potential bargains (like Turner). Any potential starter, though, would likely come through the draft.
  • The Lions recently retained Zach Zenner on a one-year deal and signed LeGarrette Blount to a one-year pact, which leads Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com to believe that the club will target an RB early in the draft.
  • In the same piece, Rothstein says he believes Ziggy Ansah will play out the 2018 season on the franchise tender and that he and Lions are not likely to reach a long-term agreement before the July deadline. Rothstein also said the team cut Eric Ebron and saved his significant salary cap charge for a reason, though it’s not clear what that is just yet. Rothstein says Ebron would not have been cut unless the team knew it had a better option coming in (although the Lions could have simply felt that Ebron’s role as a potential mismatch receiving tight end might not be as important to the offense in 2018).

Eric Ebron To Meet With Colts, Could Also Visit Patriots

Eric Ebron is starting to rack up the visits. We learned earlier today that the tight end was set to meet with the Panthers, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports (via Twitter) that Ebron will also meet with the Colts. The Indy meeting could “potentially” be followed by a visit to the Patriots, adds Schefter. The Ravens have also shown interest in the 24-year-old, who was released by the Lions earlier this week.

Ebron wouldn’t be confused with a blocking tight end, but he’s been plenty productive in the passing game. He finished last season with 53 catches for 574 yards and four touchdowns, and he appeared to get rid of his habit of dropping balls. The former first-rounder ultimately rated as an above-average tight end, as Pro Football Focus ranked him 13th among 71 candidates at the position.

Assuming Andrew Luck is healthy, Ebron would provide the quarterback with another talented target. The free agent would presumably displace Jack Doyle from the starting lineup in Indy, although there could be enough targets for the duo.

Meanwhile, he’d have to settle for a backup role behind Rob Gronkowski in New England, although he’d definitely be an upgrade over current backup tight end Dwayne Allen. The organization has had success fielding a pair of tight ends in recent seasons, so Ebron’s production might not necessarily take a dip if he joined the Patriots. Of course, Ebron would also be future insurance in the event that Gronkowski decided to hang up his cleats.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers To Meet With TE Eric Ebron

The Panthers will meet with free agent tight end Eric Ebron, according to Dianna Russini of ESPN.com (on Twitter). To our knowledge, this marks Ebron’s first visit, though the Ravens are also said to have interest

The Lions had Ebron under contract for $8.25MM thanks to his fifth-year option, but the option is guaranteed for injury only. Detroit released Ebron this week, without financial penalty, after being unable to find a taker for him via trade.

Ebron lacks the braun for blocking, but he’s an athletic tight end with receiving ability. A deal could quickly materialize for him now that Jimmy Graham, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Trey Burton, and Tyler Eifert are off the free agent board.

Other available free agent tight ends of note include Antonio Gates, Ed Dickson, and Levine Toilolo. All things considered, Ebron carries the most upside of the bunch. He could also be a natural fit for the Panthers since he attended both high school and college in North Carolina.

Seahawks free agent tight end Luke Willson visited with the Panthers this week, but left without signing a deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Ravens Interested In TE Eric Ebron

The Ravens have interest in tight end Eric Ebron, according to Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun (on Twitter). Ebron became a free agent this week when the Lions opted to release him

With Jimmy Graham, Trey Burton, and Tyler Eifert spoken for, Ebron stands as the best tight end remaining, at least in terms of what he can do as a receiver. Ebron’s lack of blocking ability hurts his market somewhat, but he finished last season with 53 catches for 574 yards and four touchdowns and appeared to get his habit of dropped balls under control.

The Lions cut Ebron in order to get out of paying him $8.25MM in 2018. The Ravens, in all likelihood, can sign him for less.

In theory, Austin Seferian-Jenkins could also be an option for the Ravens, but there has been no reported link between the two parties this week.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lions To Release Eric Ebron

Less than an hour before the new league year begins, the Lions are taking Eric Ebron‘s contract off their payroll.

The team attempted to find a trade partner for its longtime tight end, but after failing to do so, Ebron will be released, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

Ebron’s fifth-year option of $8.25MM would have kicked in if he was still on the Lions once the 2018 league year officially started. Detroit now has that amount to spend, with fifth-year options being guaranteed for injury only. Ebron will venture into free agency.

The former North Carolina pass-catcher did not live up to the hype that came with his top-10 selection, and the Lions were listening to offers for him. While Ebron showed intermittent promise, he could not put it together for lengthy stretches. He finished last season with 53 receptions for 574 yards and four touchdowns.

While the Lions felt his production wasn’t worth the upcoming salary, Ebron — who will turn just 25 next month — could still encounter a decent market, based on what’s been happening with pass-catchers this week. PFR’s top two UFA tight ends have been signed, but Ebron will join the likes of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Tyler Eifert as the top available players at this position.

The Lions will see their cap space jump up past $35MM as a result of this maneuver. Michael Roberts, as of now, would be in line to inherit Ebron’s old job. The second-year player, though, caught just four passes last season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Sherman, Lions, Redskins, Bucs

Richard Sherman‘s contract with the 49ers is not yet official, reports Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area (via Twitter). The reporter doesn’t anticipate any issues with the deal, but since Sherman is acting as his own agent, Maiocco expects the NFLPA “to spend a lot of time” going over the details of the contract.

Meanwhile, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com believes that details of the reported three-year, $39MM deal are a “mirage.” Most of the incentives and specifics of the contract were reported yesterday, but Florio is under the impression that the deal will ultimately come in at a much lower total. The writer notes that Sherman can only make $13MM next season if he “dresses for all 16 regular-season games, achieves the total playing-time threshold, and make it to the NFC Pro Bowl team (or, possibly, the AP All-Pro team).”

Let’s take a look at some other notes out of the NFC…

  • If a top-tier quarterback were to fall to the second round, ESPN.com’s John Keim is uncertain if the Redskins would use a pick on a future starter. The writer notes that the team is set to have Alex Smith under contract for at least three seasons, and Colt McCoy will still be around in 2018. Generally, head coach Jay Gruden has preferred to keep only two signal-callers on his roster. However, if someone like Lamar Jackson were to fall to pick number-44, Keim could see the Redskins trying to convince the quarterback to develop into a multi-purpose weapon for the time being.
  • If the Lions don’t envision tight end Eric Ebron being in their future plans, ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein believes it makes sense for the organization to get something for the player via trade. However, if the team plans to trade Ebron and replace him with someone like Jimmy Graham, Rothstein doesn’t understand the logic. The two tight ends put up similar numbers in 2017, and Graham is seven years older than Ebron. Ultimately, the writer doesn’t believe a player like Graham would provide a massive upgrade over Ebron.
  • The Lions do need an early-down running back, but Rothstein doesn’t believe veteran DeMarco Murray would be a good fit. The running back’s age and declining numbers make the writer wary, and he anticipates the Pro Bowler would earn more than his fellow free agents. Plus, Rothstein points out that there are younger, more intriguing options available via free agency.
  • With $28MM in cap space and six key contributors heading to free agency, the Lions will look the revamp their defense this offseason, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Detroit could conceivably be eyeing holes on every unit of their defense, including defensive line, linebacker, and defensive back. “From a needs standpoint, we’re going to make sure obviously we have enough competition in all the situations and you want to have good competition, the best competition you can possibly get,” head coach Matt Patricia said of his team’s offseason approach. “So you’re never going to really try to pass up an opportunity for a good player on your team, and whether that puts someone else that’s maybe a good player on your team in a hard spot or a competitive situation, then that’s probably good for you. So that’s what we’re going to do as we go through.” The Lions are apparently already looking to make some moves, as the team is set to meet with cornerback DeShawn Shead this week.
  • The Buccaneers want Brent Grimes back next season, reports Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). Of course, as the reporter notes, the veteran’s return will depend on the offer. The 34-year-old spent the past two seasons in Tampa Bay, compiling seven interceptions in 29 games.