I was wrong. The Detroit Lions were wrong. Heck, all of Detroit was wrong.
And for that, I offer this apology to former Lions tight end Eric Ebron.
We all got it wrong about you.
We thought you were drop prone and not worth the salary the Lions were paying you. We thought you were all talk and no walk.
We. Were. Wrong.
The Lions dropped Ebron like a bad habit in March and now he’s playing like a Pro Bowler for the Indianapolis Colts. He has 10 total touchdowns. His nine TD catches lead NFL tight ends and he trails only Antonio Brown for total TD catches. His 463 receiving yards are sixth most among tight ends.
So, from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of Lions fans, the team’s decision-makers and all the fine citizens of Detroit, I apologize to Ebron. Mea culpa. We a culpa.
Sunday was the capper. It was almost too much to bear. As the Lions were getting their teeth kicked in against the Chicago Bears and losing their third straight, Ebron was busy flashing his toothy grin. He scored three touchdowns in the Colts’ 29-26 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was their third straight victory and kept them in the hunt for the AFC South title.
“They don’t call me ‘7-11’ for nothing,” Ebron boasted afterward to reporters about being open 24 hours a day.
Ebron has become Andrew Luck’s favorite target. It must be a nice change for a player who was the favorite target of criticism from Lions fans for four years. Some of that wasn’t his fault. Some of it was.
But this much is clear now. Ebron clearly had the ability to be a significant offensive weapon. While we’re all guilty for underestimating Ebron’s talent and value, it makes the Lions look especially bad for not being able to utilize him better.
That’s the fault of fired coach Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and quarterback Matthew Stafford.
I’m not too proud to admit a mistake when I make one. In October 2017, I wrote that the Lions should trade Ebron for as little as a seventh-round draft pick. I wrote that both he and the Lions needed a change of scenery.
The Lions had just lost to the Carolina Panthers and Ebron had been booed lustily at Ford Field when he issued his infamous “#StayWoke” tweet. He didn’t blame Cooter specifically, but he did suggest he wasn’t being used correctly and that something wasn’t right with the offense in general.
On Tuesday, I asked Cooter in a conference call if he regretted not having Ebron this year and why he couldn’t coax such stellar play out of Ebron. But Cooter would have none of it and offered only a cop-out answer.
“I really focus on our roster this year,” he said. “I’m not really tuned in to everybody’s stats out there in the league outside of this building. So we’re working to get our guys better, working to get ready for the Carolina Panthers and are trying to go win a ball game.”
Let’s not forget that in a season in which the Lions are struggling to get production out of their own tight ends — Michael Roberts leads the position group with 84 receiving yards and three touchdowns — cutting Ebron seems like an especially egregious error.
And that’s the fault of general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia. They’re the highly paid brain trust that’s supposed to be smarter than all of us in the media and in the stands. They are supposed to know better. They are supposed to make the wise, if unpopular, choice.
So I asked Patricia in a conference call Tuesday if it was a mistake releasing Ebron, or if the Colts are finding success with Ebron because of their offensive scheme that wouldn’t necessarily work with the Lions.
“Again, I’m not really sure what he’s doing with the Colts or what the Colts are doing with him right now,” Patricia said. “I’m just worried about our team and where we’re going, going forward.
“Certainly, when decisions are made in the offseason to change the game or do things for the team that are different or have different effects, we certainly look at it as opportunities for us to try to do, or build, or add pieces to the team that we think are necessary at that particular time.”
To be fair to Patricia and Quinn, they tried to trade for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in the spring. So they obviously didn’t cut Ebron without a plan in mind.
But that doesn’t excuse their mistake. That doesn’t ease the pain of watching one team turn the Lions’ trash into treasure.
If you’re a Lions fan, it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself as you sit powerless and watch your team struggle through yet another season. Maybe that helps you empathize with Ebron’s experience in Detroit. Maybe you think you owe him an apology. Maybe you don’t.
As for me, I hope Ebron continues to have a great season and forgives us in Detroit for how harshly we treated him.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.