Eric Ebron Could Fix Vikings Roster Need
Another former Pro-Bowl tight end remains on the open market, and the Minnesota Vikings have been floated as a possible destination. There hasn’t been nearly the speculation surrounding Eric Ebron as there had been around homegrown Kyle Rudolph before Rudy signed with Tampa Bay, but the former Lions first-round pick should get a long, hard look from the purple and gold.
Success in the National Football League often comes down to two things: depth and health. A team can have all the talent and coaching in the world, but if injuries pile up and there aren’t adequate backups to step in, things can quickly get ugly. Just ask Patrick Mahomes — which is why, with $10.9M in cap space remaining and training camp less than a week away, the Vikings cannot stand pat with their current roster.
The Vikings can definitely not tout health and depth when it comes to their tight end room. Irv Smith Jr., the de facto starter, missed all of 2021 with injury. We assume Smith will continue where he left off in 2020, but there are no guarantees for such an inexperienced player. After Smith, things get bleak. Ben Ellefson, Johnny Mundt, Zach Davidson, and Nick Muse have a combined 11 catches for 103 yards in their careers.
The importance of having pass-catching tight ends for this Vikings team should not be overlooked. Kirk Cousins has always had a preference for TEs: in each of his four years in Minnesota, he has targeted a tight end more than a third receiver. Kevin O’Connell’s Rams offense leaned heavily on the likes of Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee. As the league continues to trend toward athletic, pass-catching tight ends, the Vikings have a need that could be met by Ebron.
With Ebron, Minnesota would be getting a sub-30 veteran player who has produced at a high level – his 13 touchdowns in 2018 were tops at his position – and could help the youngster Smith continue to hone his craft. For an offense that already has big playmakers in Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson, having targets that can simply move the chains and make positive plays will be invaluable. In five of his eight NFL seasons, Ebron has amassed 27 or more first downs and at least 537 yards . For reference, Tyler Conklin, Cousins’ favorite TE last season, had 26 first downs and 593 yards.
When a player who was once near the top of his position class is still a free agent this close to training camp, it raises some eyebrows. Ebron has had stickiness problems throughout his career, ranking 5th and 2nd in drop percentage among TEs in 2018 and 2020, respectively. His career 62.8% catch percentage leaves much to be desired.
Of bigger concern with Ebron is his health. Over his eight NFL seasons, he’s dealt with three nagging injury areas that have sidelined him for a combined 23 games. In 2021 he didn’t play after Week 11 following injuries to his hamstring and knee. Along with the risk of reaggravating an old injury, there are always concerns about whether a player will be able to bounce back at the same level after a major injury.
Despite the injury history and troubles with drops, Eric Ebron would be a good get for this Vikings roster. He earned $6M on average in his latest stop in Pittsburgh, and considering how long he has remained unsigned, Ebron would likely be willing to sign at a lower amount. If Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could strike such a bargain, this would leave a few million left over to bring in one more free agent if he so desired.
Ebron would be an ideal option to back-up Smith or even play alongside him in certain sets. Even with his questionable health, he fits the bill for what the Vikings would need to bolster their tight end depth.
Will is a husband, father of two, and lifelong Minnesotan. He earned an undergraduate degree in Economics (just like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah). He became a Vikings fan in 2009 when Brett Favre stole his heart. Will’s favorite pastimes are water skiing, Minnesota sports, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Follow him on Twitter (@willbadlose) and find his other sports content at Twins Daily and his very own Bad Loser Blog.