RB Jerry Ellison spent four productive years (1995-98) in a Buccaneer uniform
NFL free agency, as a lot of teams are finding out, is often about the loss of well-known players. Sometimes, however, it's also about the return of familiar faces.
The Bucs experienced both on Tuesday. On the same day that LB Hardy Nickerson signed a free agent contract with Jacksonville, the Bucs signed former Tampa Bay RB Jerry Ellison in an unrelated deal. Ellison agreed to a one-year contract with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent most recently of the New England Patriots.
Ellison, who first signed with the team as an undrafted free agent in 1994, was an early example of the prowess of the Buccaneers' player personnel department under General Manager Rich McKay. A little-known player out of Tennessee-Chattanooga, Ellison spent most of his rookie season on the Bucs' practice squad, then developed into one of the team's most valuable special teams players from 1995-98. He was also a competent substitute runner out of the backfield, amassing 358 yards and five touchdowns on just 72 totes, a fine 5.0 yards-per-carry average.
Ellison continued to excel in a variety of roles for four seasons in Tampa before leaving after the 1998 campaign and joining the New England Patriots last year. Ellison's departure following the '98 campaign was not an indication of any team dissatisfaction – he was, in fact, a favorite of Head Coach Tony Dungy – but a salary cap consideration. He was always valued for his wide range of skills, which also resulted in 26 receptions for 260 yards, 18 kickoff returns for 341 yards (18.9 avg.) and 33 special teams tackles. That same versatility will give him a shot to make the Bucs' roster again in 2000.
Last year in New England, Ellison saw limited action on offense, carrying twice for 10 yards (that familiar 5.0-yard average) and caught four passes for 50 yards.