Why the Lions chose to pick up Eric Ebron's fifth-year option

Lions tight end Eric Ebron set career-highs last year in receptions (61) and yards (711). Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It was the year-to-year improvement, the bumps up in production that stood out to coach Jim Caldwell. That's the reason the Lions picked up the fifth-year option for tight end Eric Ebron earlier this month.

“You take a look at it and see production, those kinds of things,” Caldwell said of Detroit's decision to extend its contract with the former No. 10 pick in the 2014 draft through the 2018 season. “...Every single year when you look at his output, he’s improved. He’s gotten better. If he improves at the same rate he’s improved the last two years, it’s going to be a pretty outstanding season for him.

“But he just keeps getting better. He keeps working at it and that’s what he has to do.”

Ebron has yet to play 16 games in a season for the Lions, playing between 13 and 14 games each year. He set career-highs last year in receptions (61) and yards (711), but struggled to get in the end zone with only one touchdown.

He has also improved as a blocker and matured as one of the players Matthew Stafford can count on. Ebron’s drop rate went from 10.1 percent in 2015 to 5.8 percent in 2016 even as he was targeted 17 more times and had a higher percentage of targets per route run and receptions per route run.

Ebron did this despite fighting through multiple injuries to his ankle and knee.

Still, the Lions waited essentially until the deadline to pick up Ebron’s option, with general manager Bob Quinn saying he made the decision a week prior to the deadline. When asked Friday why the Lions waited until so close to the deadline to decide on Ebron, Caldwell said the Lions work with the timeline they choose to.

“That’s your timeline. What we work with is the timeline we work with,” Caldwell said. “We look at the situation, we iron it out, we see what we’re going to do and we take our time. We make sure we’re thorough.”