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Detroit Lions 2018 free agency preview: Replacement options for Eric Ebron are scarce

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If the Lions are looking to replace Eric Ebron, free agency may not be the best choice.

Kansas City Chiefs vs  New York Jets Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

If I would’ve written the Detroit Lions free agency preview for tight ends a week ago, it wouldn’t have been a very interesting article. I probably would’ve packaged it with the wide receivers and run down a few third and fourth tier options for depth purposes. However, with rumors that the Lions are taking trade offers for Eric Ebron right now, there’s a chance tight end could suddenly be a big need for the team.

So let’s take a look at the Lions’ current tight end situation.

Tight ends

Under contract (Final year of contract in parentheses)

  • Eric Ebron (2018)
  • Michael Roberts (2020)
  • Hakeem Valles (2018)
  • Brandon Barnes (2018)

With Eric Ebron’s status up in the air, the only tight end who is sure to be on the roster in 2018 is fourth-round pick Michael Roberts.

Hakeem Valles is the wild card here. Valles was signed to the Lions’ practice squad before the season began, and stayed on the roster for the entire season. He even got a little bit of playing time towards the end of the year. Valles is an athletic tight end who doesn’t mind blocking. So, in theory, he could eventually take over the kind of role that Darren Fells played in 2017.

Lions free agents

  • Darren Fells

Speaking of Fells, he’s a free agent after a mediocre year with the Lions. He was the only true blocker on the roster, so he had some value, but his performance as a blocker was mildly disappointing. Still, because he flashed some receiving skills early in the year, he’s a good candidate to come back on a cheap contract.

Free agents available

Jimmy Graham (age 31)

We talked about it earlier in the week, but if the Lions need an immediate replacement for Eric Ebron, they’re not going to do any better than grabbing the All-Pro tight end.

Though he’s coming off one of his worst seasons in terms of yardage, he still managed to pull in 10 touchdowns in 2017. But he’s aging and he’s going to come fairly expensive.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins (age 25)

If the Lions are feeling risky, but want to stay young at tight end, Seferian-Jenkins could be in play. The former second-round pick just did not work out with the New York Jets or the Buccaneers before them. He has never had more than 360 receiving yards, and last year was the first time he broke the 30-catch mark.

That being said, he is coming off his best season, and his size and athleticism makes him a mismatch against smaller defensive backs. He also brings much more blocking skills than Ebron ever has.

But ultimately, there are a lot of risks here. Seferian-Jenkins was cut from the Bucs in 2016 following his second DUI in three years. He’s also reportedly asking for up to $7 million a year, after turning down a two-year, $8 million offer from the Jets.

Ed Dickson (age 30)

If the Lions are looking to transition away from a purely pass-catching tight end, veteran Ed Dickson could be their guy. Dickson was the best pass blocking tight end last year according to Pro Football Focus (via the Miami Herald).

He’s also a capable pass catcher. You probably remember Dickson from his five catch, 175 yards performance against the Lions last year. In total, Dickson hauled in 30 passes for 437 yards in 2017, which was his best seasonal output since 2011.

Dickson could come cheap, and he would give the Lions a true two-way tight end that has plenty of experience. Essentially he’d be a better version of Darren Fells.

Cameron Brate (age 26)

Brate would easily be the best, youngest tight end on the market. Only one problem: He’s a restricted free agent.

The Buccaneers have yet to offer Brate an RFA tender to the young tight end, but if they—for some reason—decide to move on, or offer a low-round tender, the Lions should seriously consider making a move.

In the past two seasons, Brate has 1251 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. The undrafted tight end out of Harvard has recently exploded onto the scene as one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets. I think it’s unlikely he hits free agency, but the Lions should keep a close eye on the situation.