The Pittsburgh Steelers gave Ben Roethlisberger another pass-catching weapon for 2020, announcing the signing of tight end Eric Ebron to a two-year deal on Monday. The deal is now official. Ebron, a former first-round pick of the Detroit Lions, has 3,195 yards and 27 touchdowns in six NFL seasons.
Ebron had his best season in 2018, catching 66 passes for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns with the Indianapolis Colts and earning a Pro Bowl nod. Sharing tight end duties with Jack Doyle, Ebron was a force in the red zone as the Colts won the AFC South that year.
An ankle injury limited Ebron in 2019, as he finished with just 31 catches for 375 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games. Inconsistency plagued Ebron, which is why he only started two games last season. Ebron fell out of favor with the Colts after shutting it down for the year with his ankle injury, weeks after meeting with Colts head coach Frank Reich regarding his role in the offense.
Ebron will compete with Vance McDonald for the starting job at tight end, as the Steelers picked up the 2020 option ($5.5 million option) in his contract. McDonald caught just 38 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns last season (7.2 yards per catch), one year after finishing with 50 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns (12.2 yards per catch).
McDonald's numbers should improve with Roethlisberger back at quarterback as the Steelers will benefit with a "12" personnel of McDonald and Ebron. Pittsburgh can use Ebron's strength in the red zone, looking to improve a red zone offense that ranked dead last in the NFL last season (35% touchdown conversion rate). The Steelers never had a tight end that had double-dight touchdowns in a season (Heath Miller's eight in 2012 is the franchise record). Ebron has an opportunity to be the first if the Steelers use him wisely.
Along with Ebron, Pittsburgh has also signed former Eagles/Chiefs OL Stefen Wisniewski, a starter on Kansas City's 2019 Super Bowl championship team, to a two-year dea. Pittsburgh sent a 2021 fifth-round pick to the Ravens in exchange for veteran DT Chris Wormley and a 2021 seventh-round pick. Pittsburgh has also signed veteran fullback Derek Watt -- the younger brother of T.J. Watt -- two a two-year contract.
The Steelers were able to make these moves after QB Ben Roethlisberger, kicker Chris Boswell, cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, and TE Vance McDonald cleared about $35 million in cap space after they restructured their contracts just before the start of the new league year.
While they currently have about $10 million in cap space, Steelers general manager Colbert doesn't anticipate the team making any more free agent signings anytime soon. And while the Steelers were able to address some of their needs on the outside linebacker, defensive line and at tight end, they still have several positions to replenish this off-season via the draft, specifically at inside linebacker after releasing Mark Barron (a cap casualty) and losing Tyler Matakevich (who signed a two-year deal with the Bills) in free agency.
"I think we're up against it pretty good," Colbert said of the Steelers' salary cap situation, via the team's website. "We've made a lot of anticipated moves that we wanted to make. Unfortunately, we've had to make some subtractions from the roster. Can we still do some things further down the road? Sure. But in the short term, I would say that we're temporarily … I don't want to say out of business, but we're satisfied with where we are at this point. We'll continue to address it as this continues to unwind."