EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Rhett Ellison, a quietly consistent performer who was respected by his teammates and a mentor to his fellow tight ends, today announced his retirement after eight NFL seasons, the last three with the Giants.
"The past few weeks, it's kind of been an emotional rollercoaster," Ellison said. "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."
Ellison suffered a concussion vs. the Jets on Nov. 10 and did not play in the final six games of the 2019 season. In 10 games, he caught 18 passes for 167 yards and one touchdown, on a 28-yard throw from Daniel Jones vs. Arizona on Oct. 20.
In that game against the Jets, Ellison caught a short Jones pass and turned it into a season-long 31-yard reception and helped set up the Giants' first touchdown. It was Ellison's longest reception in his three seasons with the Giants and longest since Dec. 10, 2015, when he had a career-long 41-yard gain playing for Minnesota at Arizona.
When he took the field that day, Ellison wasn't thinking it would be his final NFL appearance. But he knew the possibility existed.
"In the back of my head, there's always that, 'I get it, this could be my last game,' just because of the nature of the sport," he said. "When I ruptured my patella tendon (in 2016), that was the first time I realized, 'Oh wait, this can end at any moment.' Since that injury, it's kind of stuck with me, like, 'Don't take these games for granted. Don't take these opportunities for granted.' I was never surprised. I know injuries are a part of the game. There's no way I could have told you that was going to be my last game, but it ended up being my last game. But my mentality, just from having multiple injuries throughout my career, was you realize how short your time is on the field and you never really know when it's going to end."
Ellison signed with the Giants as a free agent on March 10, 2017, after five seasons with the Vikings. In three seasons with the Giants, he played in 40 games with 36 starts and caught 67 passes for 674 yards (10.1-yard avg.) and four touchdowns. Ellison also made a difference off the field, particularly with Project Kind, an organization that provides aid to the homeless.
"The people I met when I was with the Giants made such an impact on me," Ellison said. "One of the coolest things I got to be a part of was made possible by the Giants and it had nothing to do with playing on the field. The Giants opened up their doors to about 100 homeless people in Newark and created this event off an idea that myself and Jenny (Schumm DePaul) at Project Kind came up with. They just rolled with it without hesitation. It was so cool to see an organization open the doors to their stadium to people in need without any kind of hesitation. When I think back to my time with the Giants and just my football career in general, that was one of the coolest things, if not the coolest thing, that I've been a part of. The Giants really valued that and they valued me that way. I would definitely say the people there made this special for me the past three years."
View photos of TE Rhett Ellison, who announced his retirement on Monday.
Ellison entered the NFL as a 2012 fourth-round draft choice (128th pick overall) by the Vikings from Southern California. He played in 13 games with 77 starts and finished with 118 receptions for 1,189 yards and seven touchdowns. He also played in one postseason game.
An outstanding run blocker, Ellison helped Adrian Peterson rush for 1,000 yards three times and win a most Valuable Player Award when they were Vikings teammates and opened holes for Saquon Barkley when he rushed for 1,307 yards and captured the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Ellison's most productive season as a receiver was in 2018, when he played in 14 games with 12 starts and had career-high totals of 25 catches for 272 yards and scored one touchdown, a 16-yarder at Houston in the Giants' first victory of the season.
In addition to his game-day production, Ellison spent many hours in the meeting rooms and on the practice field helping the Giants' younger tight ends, like Evan Engram.
"He's definitely the best teammate I ever had," Engram said. "Rhett not only helped me with so many things on the field, but helped me off the field, too. I'm going to miss him. He's definitely going to be a friend of mine for life."
Engram arrived in 2017 as a first-round draft choice with a reputation as an outstanding receiver and adequate blocker. Conversely, Ellison was viewed as strong on the block, but not quite as proficient catching the ball. That helped them form a bond to build on their strengths and help each other improve their weaknesses.
When the younger players had a question about an assignment, need a blocking tip or help running a pass route, Ellison was their answer man.
"He's like a walking teach tape," said Engram, who has led the Giants with 64 receptions as a rookie in 2017. "You can pull up any play that he's on and that's exactly how the play is supposed to be done whether it's a route, whether it's a certain blocking technique we have to execute. He's a really good professional, he's a really good technician. He's a perfect example to learn from."
Ellison is 31. He and his wife, Raina, have a two-year-old daughter and a son born last month. Other than being a devoted husband and father, he isn't certain where his next step will take him.
"From talking to former teammates that have retired, their advice is always take it slow," he said. "You're so used to going all out all the time that you just feel like you have to jump back into something, maybe before you're ready. First and foremost, we're just going to take our time. 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's dad, Riki, was a standout linebacker at USC standout from 1978-82 and helped the Trojans win the 1978 National Championship. Riki Ellison was a three-time Super Bowl champion with San Francisco and a 10-year linebacker with the 49ers (1983-89) and the L.A. Raiders (1990-92).
After being around the game his entire life, will Ellison miss football?
"Being a part of the team, being with my teammates, the locker room, the cafeteria, the camaraderie are what I'm going to miss most," Ellison said. "I think the process, too, of just the physical preparation. I was kind of weird in that I loved the physical preparation before the season. 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. Game days, I don't know. I'll know exactly how I feel when Sunday rolls around, but the immediate reaction is I'm going to miss my teammates and I'm going to miss just the physical preparation of the game."
The Giants and the game will certainly miss him.