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2020 NFL free agency: Nate Ebner thinks returning to the Patriots ‘would be the best thing’

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Related: Two Patriots hold minority ownership stakes in New England’s new pro rugby team

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

While the Tom Brady steals most of the headlines these days, the future Hall of Fame quarterback is not the only member of the New England Patriots facing an uncertain future. A total of 19 Patriots are headed for unrestricted free agency, after all, and are therefore no safe bets to be back in New England for the 2020 season. One of the 19 men, however, thinks that re-signing with the team is the best course of action: Nate Ebner.

The special teams ace spent his entire career in the NFL with the Patriots, who selected him in the sixth round of the 2012 draft out of Ohio State. Since then, Ebner developed into one of the best and most consistent kick coverage players in all of football: a three-time world champion and one-time second-team All-Pro selection, he served a core member of the Patriots’ special teams group ever since his first arrival eight years ago.

“I mean, that would be the best thing,” Ebner therefore said unsurprisingly when asked on Wednesday about his free agency outlook (transcript via NESN’s Zack Cox). “I think, when you consider my entire career has been here. I understand how things go. I’ve got some true friendships here. I understand how things work — [returning] would be great. But right now, it’s out of my hands, so we’ll see what happens and I’ll just take it as it goes. We’ll see.”

Bringing Ebner back on a deal similar to the one he signed in 2018, when he agreed to re-join New England on a two-year contract worth a total of $5 million, would certainly make sense from the team’s perspective. After all, the veteran is as reliable a special teams presence as any in the league and has shown no signs of slowing down: in 2019, for example, Ebner ranked third on the Patriots in kicking game snaps and second in tackles.

As he noted, however, that decision is not his alone to make. Consequently, there is a chance that Ebner will play elsewhere next season — which would also put some distance between him and an investment of his: he 31-year-old holds a minority ownership stake in Boston’s newly formed professional rugby team, the New England Free Jacks, together with teammate Patrick Chung. Ebner, of course, has a long history with the sport.

He played rugby before joining Ohio State’s football team, and also participated in the 2016 Summer Olympics as a member of the United States’ national team. The sport, which was also played by his late father, is therefore one near and dear to Ebner’s heart — and one he could envision himself returning to play one day as he pointed out on Wednesday during a media event about his and Chung’s investment in the Free Jacks.

“I could definitely envision it if my body was okay with it,” said Ebner. “I’ll play rugby at some capacity, even if it’s touch rugby on weekends with a club team or whatever to playing on an MLR team. I don’t know at what capacity, but it is in my blood. I grew up with it before really anything else, and it will always be a part of me.”