New York Daily News
March 9, 2020
Giants veteran tight end Rhett Ellison announced his retirement from the NFL on Monday after missing the final six games of 2019 due to a concussion sustained in Week 10 against the Jets.
Ellison, 31, a consummate pro who teammates consistently called one of the most admirable veterans and examples on the roster, played eight NFL seasons: five for the Minnesota Vikings and three for the Giants. His blocking ability made him the Giants’ most useful all-around tight end.
He and his wife, Raina, have a two-year-old daughter and a son who was born last month. So it’s difficult for him to step away, but it’s what he felt he must do to prioritize his family and life.
“The past few weeks, it’s kind of been an emotional rollercoaster,” Ellison said in a statement released by the team. “But the overwhelming feeling I have is gratitude. Just thinking back to all the people in my life, even before I put pads on, that were able to nurture and grow the gifts God put into me and make this career possible. I think that was the biggest thing that was the fun part about the retirement process, which is reflecting on those people, thanking those people, reaching out and just the lessons they taught me, the tools they gave me for my life after football.”
Evan Engram on Monday called Ellison “the best teammate I ever had.” That was a common sentiment among players the past few seasons. A couple Giants said Ellison was one of the most disciplined and healthy eaters they’d ever seen.
“I was kind of weird in that I loved the physical preparation before the season,” Ellison said. “My favorite time of year was training camp. I was just a little bit off that way. But that’s what I think I will miss the most, my teammates and just the physical preparation.”
Ellison wasn’t much of a talker in open locker rooms. He was more of a doer. But I’ll never forget the topic I broached in 2018 training camp that excited Ellison most in my experience:
I asked him about his former Vikings teammate Teddy Bridgewater’s return from injury and preseason success with the Jets, which prompted a trade to the Saints and a second chance.
Ellison had seen Bridgewater tear his ACL in 2016 training camp in Minnesota. The normally reserved Giants tight end smiled.
“Teddy, I’m just so happy for him that he’s successful,” Ellison told me in Aug. 2018. “I’m just happy to see him back on the field. He’s one of my favorite guys I’ve ever played with. The bigger the game, the more pressure on the line, the calmer and better he played. He’s one of those types of guys.
“And he’s a great guy in the locker room,” Ellison added. “He’s a great guy, so I’m really happy, especially after seeing his injury in person and seeing him rehab and come back from that, it’s pretty miraculous. But for a kid with his work ethic and his drive and passion for the game, I’m not surprised that he’s come back and also been successful.”
Then there was Ellison’s sneaky good deed at the end of a Week 4 home win over Washington. For the Giants’ final two snaps in victory formation, Ellison ran to the sideline on his own and waved backup lineman Nick Gates on in his place.
Why? The NFL’s performance-based pay distribution system pays players a bonus on top of their salaries on a per-snap basis. The lower a player’s salary, the higher the per-snap amount.
Ellison had a $4.475 million base salary last season. Gates’ was only $495,000.
“It’s free money for those guys,” Ellison told the News. “It means a lot more to them than it does to a vet like me.”
Gates, a second-year undrafted free agent, was extremely grateful.
“I told him I owe him something,” he said with a laugh.
Off the field, Ellison and his wife are active in their local community in north Jersey, particularly with Project Kind, an organization that provides aid to the homeless. And on Monday he promised they would continue their work.
“First and foremost, we’re just going to take our time,” Ellison said. “It’s going to be fun just getting more quality time with my family, with my extended family, and just getting to be at holidays for the first time in probably a decade. Just enjoying my family and friends and reflecting on everything. But the number one thing for us is service. How can we find ways to serve? So we’re going to take our time figuring that out.”
Ellison had one year remaining on the four-year free agent contract he signed with the Giants in 2017. The Giants save $5 million against their 2020 salary cap due to Ellison’s retirement and incur a $2.1 million dead money charge.
Ellison played in 113 career regular season games and one playoff game. The Giants’ four remaining tight ends have played in 51 regular season games and zero playoff games combined: Evan Engram (34), Kaden Smith (nine), Garrett Dickerson (eight) and futures signee C.J. Conrad (zero).
Engram is dynamic when healthy. And the organization is very high on the 22-year-old Smith. But Ellison is a big loss, on the field and in the locker room.