Longtime safety and special teams pro Nate Ebner has reportedly agreed to leave the New England Patriots for the New York Giants in NFL free agency.
The mass exodus coming out of Foxborough continues.
The move reunites Ebner with his former special teams coach Joe Judge, who left New England to become the new head coach of New York following the Patriots’ loss to the Tennessee Titans last January. Judge was a special teams assistant for the Pats from 2012-2014 and was Bill Belichick’s special teams coordinator from 2015-2019.
Ebner joins fellow ex-Patriots Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming on the Giants’ active roster heading into the 2020 season.
A former sixth-round pick out of Ohio State, Ebner spent the entirety of his first eight seasons in the NFL with the Patriots. While it’s still somewhat surprising to see a special teams ace leave New England in free agency — Belichick is notorious for prioritizing the third phase of the game and the players who excel at it — there’s a chance that Ebner’s usefulness perhaps was nearing its end for the Pats.
For starters, he’ll turn 32 this season. That’s obviously old in NFL terms, even if it’s nothing compared to his fellow special teamer Matthew Slater, who will be 35 this season — and who just signed a contract extension with the Patriots this past weekend.
Still, Ebner has had his fair share of injuries in recent years. His body has also taken a beating from his participation with the United States’ national men’s rugby team, too.
More than anything though, there’s a chance that Ebner’s role could have been diminished thanks to last season’s addition of the 29-year-old Justin Bethel.
Bethel technically plays a different position than Ebner, but his return to New England for his first full offseason of activities and training camp might mean that Belichick views the tandem of Slater/Bethel above that of Slater/Ebner when it comes to running down punt and kick returns in 2020 for the Patriots.