Former Pro Bowl TE Teases Availability, Could Open Door for Vikings

Eric Ebron

Getty Images Eric Ebron waves to fans after a 2020 win.

In the wake of Irv Smith Jr. undergoing thumb surgery, calls for the Minnesota Vikings to sign veteran tight end Eric Ebron are again surfacing across social media.

Ebron, “still a free agent,” obliged, stoking the chatter with a cryptic tweet Wednesday morning.

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‘Good Morning! Still a Free Agent’

The morning after the Vikings announced Smith would miss the remainder of training camp after undergoing thumb surgery, Ebron curiously took to social media.

Good Morning! Still a Free Agent,” Ebron tweeted on August 3.

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Ebron, who is involved in the NFT market, hasn’t campaigned for his signing often on social media. A few posts about workouts here and there, but this is his first call out since training camps opened a week ago.

Bleacher Report deemed the Vikings to be a “best fit” for Ebron in June, and with the recent shakeup at tight end in Minnesota and creeping worries surrounding Irv Smith Jr.’s health, Ebron is becoming more of a talking point among Vikings fans.


Ebron Deemed a ‘Best Fit’ for Vikings

On June 24, Bleacher Report’s Ian Wharton suggested Minnesota would be one of the “best fit” for Ebron.

“The 6’4″, 253-pounder uses his length and thick frame to box out defenders instead of relying on his once-impressive speed (4.6 40-time at the NFL Combine). He’s posted a catch rate of at least 60 percent in all but one season over the last seven years. It’s easy to see why a playoff contender could use him as a red-zone target,” Wharton wrote. “But Ebron could be more than that if healthy. He’s maintained a 10.9-yard-per-catch average during his career. Put him in an offense with several playmakers ahead of him in the pecking order, and he’ll be an excellent value.”

The former 10th overall pick in the 2014 draft by the Detroit Lions has proven to be a matchup nightmare with his combination of size and speed. After departing from the Lions in 2018, Ebron led all NFL tight ends with 13 receiving touchdowns for the  Indianapolis Colts and tied for second among all players in the league.

Ebron, 29, is coming off a knee injury that ended his season in Week 12 with the Pittsburgh Steelers but would still be a drastic upgrade over the rest of the Vikings’ tight end room.

He has worked out for the New York Giants this offseason and is only a few years removed from his prime with the Colts.


Depth a Concern at TE

For years tight end seemed to be one of the deepest positions in Minnesota. The Vikings enjoyed a decade of Kyle Rudolph as the team’s starter along with Smith and Tyler Conklin becoming rising stars at the position.

But since Rudolph signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Conklin bolted for the New York Jets, Minnesota is in dire straights at tight end.

Former Los Angeles Rams tight end Johnny Mundt has just 10 receptions in five seasons. Primarily a blocking tight end, Ben Ellefson has the only other career catch in Minnesota’s tight end room.

That spells trouble for a Vikings offense that hopes to be multiple, calling both run and passing plays out of the same look they give a defense.

While there’s been hype surrounding Kevin O’Connell installing a pass-happy offense similar to the Rams’ 2021 offense that used 11 personnel sets (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) more than any team in the NFL, the Vikings running game is too much of a foundation for the current roster and offensive line to pivot away from completely. Minnesota needs capable blockers on the ends.

In 2020, the Rams had several games where they used 12 personnel packages (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) more than any other package.

“When you’re looking at what we were doing in L.A., at one point we had Robert Woods, we had Cooper Kupp and then we kind of mixed in Odell [Beckham, Jr.] toward the end when Robert was out. So it’s really about the personnel that you have. We were more 12 personnel early in the year when we had a guy in [tight end] Johnny Mundt, who was an effective blocker in 12 personnel to go with [tight end Tyler] Higbee. Later on, that wasn’t the case,” said Vikings offensive coordinator and former Rams tight ends coach Wes Phillips, per Vikings.com. “Now we go with more 11, and it’s also about how the defense is matching you. But we want to have a lot of different tools as an offense to attack a defense, and maybe sometimes that’s getting bigger. They’ve had some success with some different personnel groups here, just watching the tape. They have a really talented fullback (C.J. Ham) here. All those things are intriguing. We’re really just trying to get the best players on the field.”

Ebron not only could be helpful in both passing and blocking but could also be a serviceable security net in case Smith misses time this season.

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