Why the Lions gave up on former 1st-round pick Eric Ebron

Ebron’s inability to live up to his potential led to his ouster in Detroit.

Eric Ebron was occasionally brilliant in his four seasons with the Detroit Lions. But the Lions decided “occasionally” wasn’t enough to merit a $ 8.25 million salary for 2018.

Detroit released its starting tight end on Wednesday, casting him off to the free agent market in search of his next contract.

It’s a disappointing end for the player the franchise drafted with the 10th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. Ebron had all the raw talent to be one of the league’s most talented targets, but his inability to provide a consistent threat was ultimately too frustrating for the team to bear. He had a career year with 711 receiving yards in 2016 but regressed last season with 574 yards, leading to his newfound unemployment.

What does this mean for the Lions?

Cutting Ebron takes an occasionally impressive target from quarterback Matthew Stafford’s arsenal, but releasing the 24-year-old creates $ 8.25 million in salary cap space that can be used to either sign his replacement or address the team’s defensive needs. The latter could be in store for a significant overhaul after luring former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to Michigan to serve as head coach.

The Lions still have three tight ends under contract for 2018, though only one — rookie Michael Roberts — caught a pass in 2017. Roberts is more of a blocker than a receiver, even though his 270-pound frame cleared the way for 16 touchdown receptions as a senior at Toledo, and while the team could re-sign veteran Darren Fells, it seems like Detroit will look to restock the position in the draft or free agency. Potential fits from the latter category include Trey Burton, Tyler Eifert, and Jimmy Graham.

What does this mean for Eric Ebron?

Ebron never quite lived up to his billing as a top-10 draft pick in Detroit, but he’s still a young player who can torch linebackers with his speed and size. While he struggled to live up to a solid 2016, the 6’4, 250-pound target will be a reclamation project several teams will court this offseason.

At his best, Ebron brings 1,000-yard potential to the position. The former Lion will have to round out his game to get there. The biggest knock on Ebron has been his limited contributions in the blocking game. That, combined with the drops that knocked his catch rate down from 71.8 to 61.6 percent last fall, are two areas he’ll need to shore up if he’s going to fulfill his Pro Bowl destiny.

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