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Patriots 2018 free agency profile: Nate Ebner enters the open market off injured reserve

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The core special teamer will likely return to New England.

Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The New England Patriots came up just short of their ultimate goal in 2017 as the team lost Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles. In order to get back onto the top of the NFL mountain, the team – on and off the field personnel – will have to quickly turn the page to get into a position to field the best possible team in 2018; one that will be able to once again compete for the world championship.

A big part of creating such a team is mastering the upcoming free agency. And if judged by the list of free agents to be, New England's front office will be busy over the next few weeks. Also over the next few weeks, we will take a look at those free agents to find out who might or might not get re-signed; and who should be a part of the 2018 Patriots. Today, we'll continue the series with special teamer Nate Ebner.

#43 SS Nate Ebner

2018 opening day age: 29

2017 playing time: 9 games (9 regular season); 31.5% special teams snaps

2017 statistics: 8 special teams tackles; 1 carry, 14 yards

2017 cap number: $1.2 million

Nate Ebner entered the 2017 season in his usual role as a core member of the Patriots' kicking game units. And early on during the year, the two-time Super Bowl champion and one-time Olympian proved why he is among the best special teamers in the business. Playing almost 90% of snaps over the first half of the season, he registered eight tackles – a team-high at the time.

In game number nine, however, his season found an abrupt end: On a fake punt that Ryan Allen's personal protector carried for 14 yards and a first down, Ebner tore his ACL and was lost for the season. New England's special teams units still continued to play solid football but Ebner's injury certainly was a big one – and the latest suffered by one of the Patriots' starting-caliber players.

Because of the late-November knee injury, Ebner will now enter unrestricted free agency coming off injured reserve. But despite his medical status there is little doubt that the veteran will return to New England on a deal similar to the last one he signed prior to the 2016 season. After all, the 29-year old is a leader on the team and a damn good special teamer.

Projection: Ebner re-signs with the Patriots on a two-year contract worth around $2.0-$2.5 million. Due to the injury, it could include several playing time-based bonus escalators.