Impending Free Agents
Because of all the turnover, the Lions ended their season with a handful of players designated in different roles. Matthew Mulligan and Clay Harbor were on the active roster, while Tim Wright was on injured reserve. All three players contracts have expiring and will be free agents.
While all three could be brought back on team-friendly deals, none of them will be given any guaranteed money or be locked into a roster spot. Mulligan offers the best opportunity as he fulfills the Lions biggest need: a tight end who can block. Harbor and Wright are similar athletically and would be competing with others to back up Ebron’s role.
Existing Player Roles
Eric Ebron will never live down his draft slot in some fans eyes, but quite frankly that’s a shame, being drafted 10th overall was not his fault. He has his flaws for sure, but fans need to be sure they aren’t letting that cloud their view of what he can do.
One of the biggest complaints about Ebron is his drops. He had seven this past season, which was the most among all tight ends. But what gets lost in that statistic, is that he was targeted the 14th most of any tight end in the league (85 targets). To take it a step further, among tight ends who were targeted more than 25 times this season, Ebron’s catch rate per target was in the top-10 in the league at 71.8%.
So yes, Ebron has had his share of drops, but he has his share of successes too. In Detroit he averaged 54.45 snaps per game, which is second highest of the skill players behind only Marvin Jones. Not only is he seeing the field often, he’s performing well statically: his 61 catches were third on the team in 2016.
He could improve his touchdown rate, and the drops could come down, but he has a value to this team and he is one of their main weapons on offense. Ideally, Quin would add an inline/blocking tight end and thus freeing up Ebron to see more snaps in the slot (similar to the Anquan Boldin role last year). That would allow him to reach his full potential. Regardless if that happens or not, when it comes time to pick up his 2018 option (projecting around $8 million), expect Bob Quinn to pull the trigger and keep him on the Lions roster.
Cole Wick is returning from injured reserve after a knee injury. Wick started out the preseason strong but once the level of competition raised during the regular season, it became clear he still has a lot of learning to do. Even though his season was cut short, he is excited to return next year and compete for a role on the team. Dave Birkett (Free Press) recently spoke with Wick, who had this to say:
"“I’m doing everything I can to make sure that I’m ready to go, whether it be treatment, warming up better before I lift and things like that,” Wick said. “I’m just taking all the precautions and, once the season starts, I’m ready to hit the ground running.”"
Wick will have a chance to compete for a significant role in 2017. But depending on the types of players added in the offseason, Wick could just as easily end up on the practice squad. Time will tell, how much he learned during his first year in the NFL.