Lions release tight end Eric Ebron

The Detroit Lions have released tight end Eric Ebron, the club announced Wednesday, less than an hour before free agency was set to begin.

Ebron was due $8.25 million -- not guaranteed -- against the cap in 2018.

Ebron, who turns 25 in April, was criticized throughout his time with the Lions, starting when he was selected with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2014 draft ahead of future Pro Bowlers Aaron Donald, Taylor Lewan, Odell Beckham Jr. and C.J. Mosley.

Ebron was often compared to those players -- particularly by fans -- because at the time, taking a tight end was viewed as more of a luxury pick by a Detroit team that had more substantial needs.

Despite all the criticism, Ebron tweeted out his love for Detroit on Wednesday.

Ebron also struggled to produce early in his career with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown as a rookie, with an 8.3 percent drop rate. Drops have been an issue for him his entire career; he has a career drop rate of 7.3 percent, although he's improved on it over the past two seasons as he's worked into Detroit's offense more.

In 2016, Ebron posted career highs in receptions (61) and yards (711). It was thought that 2017 would finally be a breakout year, but that didn't turn out to be the case in the first half.

Ebron had 18 catches for 195 yards over the first eight games, leading to him being thought of as a potential trade candidate around the deadline. The nadir for him came in Week 8 against Pittsburgh, when fans booed Ebron every time Matthew Stafford threw him the ball or his picture was shown on the Ford Field big screen during a nationally televised night game.

Ebron started to have a turnaround in that game, though, catching a 44-yard pass in the fourth quarter that gave Detroit a shot to win the game in an eventual 20-15 loss. Afterward, Ebron talked openly about not knowing what would happen with his future.

The Lions didn't move Ebron then, and he responded with the best stretch of his career. Over the final eight games, Ebron had 35 catches for 379 yards and three touchdowns, including a 10-catch, 94-yard game in a win over Tampa Bay that Detroit needed to stay in the playoff race.

"Eric had a good year. I think Eric really, the last seven, eight weeks of the season really, kind of turned it on," Lions general manager Bob Quinn said of Ebron in January. "When you look at his play time over the course of the season, it actually went down over the course of the season, but his production went up. So, I think he was really used effectively. He gained some confidence over the course of the season, and he performed better."

But whenever Quinn was asked about Ebron being on the roster in 2018 during his meetings with the media, he would say variations of "he's here" or that Ebron is under contract without committing to him for the long term. Detroit had picked up Ebron's nonguaranteed $8.25 million option last May but had given no indications it had been working on a long-term deal with the tight end.

Ebron told ESPN in January that he wished he had a better feeling of what his future would be with the Lions but added: "I don't know. I honestly don't know." Ebron said that uncertainty about his future wasn't frustrating, but that the beginning of his 2017 season, when he had issues on the field, was the actual frustrating part of it because he believed the player he showed at the end of the season was closer to the player he believed he could be.