A year ago, the Giants signed Will Johnson, a free agent they thought could help them as both a fullback and a tight end. Johnson injured his neck in training camp, though, and never played in 2016.
On Thursday, the Giants tried again. They agreed to terms with tight end/fullback Rhett Ellison, formerly of the Vikings, at the start of free agency, a source confirmed.
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It is a move they hope will improve their running and passing games. According to ESPN, the deal is for four years and $18 million, with $8 million guaranteed.
Ellison, 28, is the son of Riki Ellison, who helped the 49ers win two Super Bowls in the 1980s. He was a fourth-round pick by the Vikings in 2012 and missed only seven games in five seasons.
Ellison has 51 receptions, never more than 19 in any season, and three receiving touchdowns. He also carried the ball out of the backfield once — for a 1-yard touchdown last season.
The Giants played 2016 without a fullback on the roster after Johnson and Nikita Whitlock landed on injured reserve before the start of the season. They tried to piece together the responsibilities of the position by using tight ends, but the lack of a lead blocker hampered the running game. The lack of a strong blocking tight end also hurt. Ellison theoretically could help in both areas.
The Giants had shown interest in Anthony Fasano, a blocking tight end who signed with the Dolphins. Johnson remains on the Giants’ roster, though it is unclear if he has been medically cleared to play in 2017.
Ben McAdoo was asked at the NFL Scouting Combine last week if the Giants would pursue a fullback.
“Well, it just really depends how things shake out, whether it’s the free-agent market, whether it’s the draft class, it depends on what you have to choose from,” he said. “Going into the season, we had two players [Johnson and Whitlock] that we felt pretty good about playing fullback for us, and neither of them stayed healthy. So we had to go in another direction and we used what we had. We’ll continue to evaluate. If we feel there’s someone out there that can help us, we’ll use him.”
Apparently, they believe Ellison is that someone.
Notes & quotes: The Giants will have a new kicker in 2017. Robbie Gould, who took over the job after they parted ways with Josh Brown, signed a two-year contract with the 49ers on Thursday as a free agent. The Giants signed highly regarded but unproven Aldrick Rosas in January and likely will add a veteran to compete with him . . . Running back Orleans Darkwa agreed to a one-year deal to remain a Giant. The team did not offer a tender to the restricted free agent . . . The details of Brandon Marshall’s two-year, $12-million contract include a $2-million signing bonus and a possible $1 million in incentives. All $5 million of the guaranteed money comes in the first year, giving the Giants an out in 2018 if things don’t work . . . The Giants remain far from completing a long-term deal with Jason Pierre-Paul, whose franchise-tagged salary of nearly $17 million leaves them with little maneuverability under the salary cap.