The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday June 12th

Tar Heels in the pros: the impact of NFL free agency on former UNC players

<p>Former UNC tight end Eric Ebron attempts to shake off a Boston College defender in 2013.</p>
Buy Photos

Former UNC tight end Eric Ebron attempts to shake off a Boston College defender in 2013.

With the world starving for sports news, all eyes have turned to the multimillion dollar contracts NFL free agents have been inking this offseason.

While moves made by players like Tom Brady and DeAndre Hopkins have dominated the media, a few players who once called Kenan Memorial Stadium home have also been on the move.

Here is how the hustle and bustle of NFL free agency has impacted some of the former Tar Heels playing in the pros.

Mitch Trubisky (and Nick Foles)

After a rocky first season in the league and a second season that qualified him for the 2018 Pro Bowl, Trubisky's 2019 was decidedly weaker. He completed just 63.2 percent of his passes, threw 17 touchdowns to 10 interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 83, a 12-point drop from the previous season. The Bears went 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

Now Trubisky’s starting job is in danger, with the Bears bringing in Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Foles only started four games last year, sitting out over half of the season with a broken collarbone.

With Jacksonville choosing to start Gardner Minshew at QB after Foles’ return, Foles was never really able to prove himself, and he will surely come to the Bears ready to fight for the starting role. Trubisky will have to prove his worth if he is to remain the Bears’ starter next season.

Eric Ebron

Ebron left the Indianapolis Colts to sign a two-year, $12 million contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The tight end struggled in 2019. A season-ending ankle injury in November coupled with the shocking retirement of then-29-year-old quarterback Andrew Luck saw Ebron’s numbers dwindle to a fraction of his 2018 stats. In 11 games, he caught just 31 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns. 

However, there is hope for the former Tar Heel. His average yards per reception last season was 12.1, the highest of his career. If he can stave off injury and get more targets in Pittsburgh, he may rediscover the form that led him to being named to the 2018 Pro Bowl.

With star receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger coming back healthy, Ebron could become a significant downfield threat for the Steelers next season.

Tre Boston

One former Tar Heel secured a role closer to home. Boston was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2014, and his three-year stint featured both strong performances — including an appearance in Super Bowl 50 — and frequent injuries.

A knee injury ended his third season with the team in December 2016, and he was waived by the Panthers the following May. He then had season-long contracts with the Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals, leading the latter in interceptions with three in 2018. 

Boston made his return to the Panthers last season, and after starting all 16 games and recording a career-high 11 pass deflections at safety, he secured a three-year, $18 million extension with the team.

Now, with veteran safeties Eric Reid and Colin Jones released, he will be one of the leaders of the Panthers’ secondary. If he can stay healthy and keep last season’s solid performances coming, Boston's future with Carolina looks bright.

Robert Quinn

The Bears also landed a former Tar Heel this offseason at defensive end.

Quinn, the 14th overall pick in the 2011 draft, came to the Bears off the heels of a solid season with the Dallas Cowboys. The two-time Pro Bowler registered 11.5 sacks and 13 total tackles for loss in 14 games for arguably his best season since 2013.

Quinn’s arrival could be key for the Bears’ playoff hopes. They underperformed defensively last season, despite having one of the best pass-rushers in the league in five-time Pro Bowler Khalil Mack.

With Quinn giving the Bears another defensive threat and allowing Mack the ability to operate more freely, Chicago could now have one of the most feared pass-rushing units in the 2020 season.


@DTHSports |

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.


The Daily Tar Heel for April 2, 2021

Special Print Edition

Games & Horoscopes

Print Edition Games Archive