Tue, 07 Apr 2020

Asked and Answered: March 24

The Steelers
25 Mar 2020, 05:30 GMT+10

Let's get to it:

WILLIAM PALAICH FROM CLERMONT, FL: With the pickup of Eric Ebron, most say Vance McDonald is definitely gone next season. The party line is that Ebron will get to compete for the starting tole. I don't think the cap would allow for the keeping of two $5.5 million-plus tight ends. Can you compare the careers (so far) of these guys, including injuries and games missed and share your thoughts on the situation?

ANSWER: Allow me to begin with this: being the starting tight end is not that significant a designation, because there are so many offensive personnel packages that teams use nowadays, and in fact there figure to be some games when no tight end is on the field for the Steelers' first offensive play, which would impact the games-started statistic but nothing else of significance. As for the 2020 season, I fully expect both Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron to be on the opening 53-man roster, barring injury of course, and then with the addition of Derek Watt the Steelers won't have to spend any of their draft capital on this position, because Zach Gentry could be the No. 3 tight end on the roster.

As for a McDonald vs. Ebron comparison, here goes:

McDonald is 6-foot-4, 267 pounds, and he will be 30 years old in June. Of a possible 112 regular season games, he has played in 87, but it's unclear how many of those missed games were because of injuries. McDonald did miss a combined five games in 2014 and 2016 after going on injured reserve with back and shoulder injuries, respectively, and the two games he missed in 2019 were because of a shoulder injury and a concussion He has 166 catches for 1,937 yards (11.7 average), with 15 touchdowns, 88 first downs, and a 61.7 catch percentage. In the 2018-19 seasons combined, he was charged with seven drops on 127 targets for a drop percentage of 5.5.

Ebron is 6-4, 253, and he will be 27 years old in early April. He has played in 83 of a possible 96 career regular season games, and he was placed on injured reserve last season and missed the final five games with an ankle injury that required surgery. Ebron has 283 catches for 3,195 yards (11.3 average), with 27 touchdowns, 173 first downs, and a 62.9 catch percentage. In the 2018-19 seasons, he was charged with 14 drops on 162 targets for a drop percentage of 8.6.

McDonald is the better blocker, with Ebron sometimes described as a liability in that phase of tight end play. Ebron is a better receiver, except that he has developed a reputation to drop balls in some critical situations.

With Ben Roethlisberger under contract to the Steelers for two more seasons, I could see the team keeping both of these tight ends, because during that span, wide receivers James Washington and Diontae Johnson, plus whomever they might draft at the position in late April all would be working on their rookie contracts, and the ratification of the CBA is expected to result is some potentially significant increases to each team's salary cap starting in 2021. But the bottom line is that both McDonald and Ebron will have to be durable and produce on the field if they're to be allowed to play out their current contracts with the team, or maybe be in line for an extension.

HOWIE PFEIFER FROM GILBERT, AZ: I read on ESPN.com that the Steelers had signed tight end Eric Ebron from the Colts. Is this true?

ANSWER: The Steelers have agreed on a 2-year contract worth a reported total of $12 million with tight end Eric Ebron. It will become official once Ebron passes a physical and signs the contract, but the impact of it already has been felt. Nick Vannett, an unrestricted free agent the Steelers acquired in a trade early last season and who said publicly his preference was to re-sign with the team, reportedly has agreed to a two-year contract with the Broncos worth a reported $5.7 million in response to the Steelers' agreement with Ebron.

JAKE MCCOWSKI FROM BILLINGS, MT: Was signing Eric Ebron more in response to improving the passing game, being more dynamic in short yardage, or allowing the team to now focus on other positions in the upcoming draft?

ANSWER: Yes.

JAMIE BRANDT FROM GRAND FORKS, ND: What are the chances that we see Jameis Winston or Andy Dalton in a Steelers uniform as insurance for Ben Roethlisberger this year?

ANSWER: No chance. N-O-N-E.

DWAYNE SCOTT FROM NEW IBERIA, LA: Why don't you think that Pittsburgh would sign Jameis Winston? It makes a lot of sense to get a really qualified backup for now and then a starter for the next 10 years without having to use a first-round draft pick.

ANSWER: There are a lot of reasons why I don't believe Jameis Winston will be, or should be, signed by the Steelers. In no particular order, I believe Ben Roethlisberger plays out the rest of his current contract, which runs through the 2021 season, and I see the Steelers' recent decision to restructure his contract to free up a reported $9.5 million of cap space this year as a sign they anticipate him doing that as well. Also, at various times this offseason, President Art Rooney II, General Manager Kevin Colbert, and Coach Mike Tomlin all have said publicly that they are comfortable with Mason Rudolph as Roethlisberger's backup in 2020. And lastly, I just don't see the Steelers being a team interested in having to re-make a player who already has failed in the NFL to be their long-term starting quarterback. Yes, Winston is only 26 years old, and he already has five seasons as an NFL starter on his resume, but he has one significant flaw in his game, and that is turning the ball over too much. In his five NFL seasons, Winston has thrown 88 interceptions on 2,548 attempts, for an interception percentage of 3.5. Ben Roethlisberger's interception percentage is 2.6 on 7,230 attempts, and if that comparison doesn't make my case, here's another one: Neil O'Donnell often is assigned blame for the Steelers loss in Super Bowl XXX because of the three interceptions he threw in that game, but his career interception percentage was only 2.1 on 3,229 attempts. And finally this from Michael David Smith, the managing editor of Pro Football Talk: "It's true that Jameis Winston's career passer rating is about the same as Peyton Manning's passer rating for his first five years. It's also true that the league average passer rating in Peyton's rookie year (of 1998) was 78.3. In Jameis' rookie year (of 2015) it was 90.2."

RYAN SULLIVAN FROM SOUTH WINDSOR, CT: What do you think of the Steelers signing Dion Lewis as long as it does not come at too high of a price, and by too high I mean anything over $2 million a year? I do like the running backs we have on the team, but I also like Lewis, a quality back and a veteran presence who can fill in if James Conner is injured again.

ANSWER: Dion Lewis will be 30 years old in September, and his best seasons were some years ago when he played for the Patriots. He's under 4.0 yards per carry lately, and last season in Tennessee he also was below 7 yards a reception, while playing around 37 percent of the offensive snaps. He once was a decent kickoff returner, but he hasn't done that for a few seasons now. Jaylen Samuels will be 24 in July, and I just don't see the Lewis the Steelers would be getting at this stage of his career as being an upgrade over Samuels. This suggestion seems to me to be a case of "the other man's grass isn't always greener," and I would prefer that $2 million of cap space you're willing to allocate to Lewis be spent somewhere else. If/when the Steelers add a running back, my thought is he should be something special. At his best, Lewis is nothing but a role player.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Late on Monday afternoon, Lewis agreed to a one-year contract with the New York Giants.

ANDREW WILBAR FROM ADRIAN, PA: I think that Dontari Poe still has a couple of really good years ahead of him. Putting aside our cap situation, do you think he would be a good addition to our defense?

ANSWER: There is no such thing as "putting aside our cap situation," because that's the reality that governs all decisions at this time of the NFL calendar. And to inject that reality into this discussion, Dontari Poe's most recent contract called for $28 million over three seasons, and he's an unrestricted free agent because Carolina declined to exercise a $9.8 million option for the 2020 season.

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