On Monday Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron was asked point-blank whether he is “disappointed” about not being more involved in the team’s offense this season.
“I can’t answer that one. You have to ask one of the coaches,” he said, while meeting with the media.
Ebron, who is 28 and now in his eighth year in the league, had to know such a question was coming. According to Pro Football Reference, he has been targeted just 13 times this season, with seven receptions for 47 yards. (He also has one rushing attempt, a one-yard carry that went for a touchdown.) This as compared to 2020—prior to the arrival of 2021 second-round pick Pat Freiermuth—when he was targeted 91 times and had 56 catches for 558 yards and five touchdown receptions.
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Not surprisingly, the subject came up again before the end of Ebron’s session, when he was asked if he might lobby quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to look his way more often.
“Ben is a veteran and you just hope that what you put on tape people see. I’ve been putting a lot of good stuff on tape and you just hope they recognize it. There’s no need for me to say anything,” Ebron added, before alluding to how his younger self might have complained and stirred up controversy. “My reputation is I’ve always said something, so for me this time I’m not going to say anything and I’m just going to let my tape and my coaches work for me.”
That’s a sharp contrast to how Ebron handled adversity in both Detroit (2014-17) and Indianapolis (2018-19), where he ended up at odds with management. Even after he joined the Steelers in 2020, he couldn’t resist tweeting a message that seemed to be a swipe at both the Lions and Colts, the former of which selected him No. 10 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft out of North Carolina.
Ebron ‘Loves’ Pittsburgh’s Tight End Room
But in Pittsburgh Ebron has had nothing but glowing things to say about the organization and the other tight ends on the team, who he has collectively referred to as “badasses.”
“I love our tight end room,” he began. “I think we are all so talented and we all bring so much to the table. I think Pat (Freiermuth)—to be a rookie I think he’s phenomenal. I didn’t have the mental mindset that Pat does (when I was a rookie),” he said about his teammate, who turned 23 on October 25.
“Pat asks me more questions than anybody. He’s like my third child,” said Ebron to a round of laughter from the assembled reporters. “He’s a student of the game and you rarely use that term with a lot of people,” he added.
Ebron was also very complimentary about third-string tight end Zach Gentry, who has “put so much work into getting better,” as has practice squad tight end Kevin Rader, who “busts his tail” and—in Ebron’s mind—“can literally be on the 53-man roster somewhere else.”
Eric Ebron the Mentor?
It seems that Ebron has already come to the realization that he has no future in Pittsburgh, in part because Freiermuth is clearly going to be the team’s first-string tight end in 2022 and beyond, if he isn’t already.
Heck, if the Steelers knew how quickly Freiermuth was going to develop (he has 18 receptions for 158 yards and one touchdown in six games), it’s possible that they might have released Ebron this past spring. This as opposed to re-working his contract, which all but assured him a place on the team this year, having converting most of the $6 million he was due to earn in salary to a signing bonus.
But the former first-round pick can help make himself more attractive to a next NFL team by showing he’s a good citizen and emphasizing his willingness to mentor younger players.
“To be the veteran guy in the room—the older guy—it’s an honor to watch these guys grow and eventually keep track of their careers and hopefully they flourish,” he concluded. That’s a sentence that Ebron probably wouldn’t have uttered as recently as a year ago.
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