How does Nate Ebner's Olympic spot affect the Patriots' plans?

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on New England Patriots safety Nate Ebner being selected to the United States rugby team for the Rio Olympics.

Congratulations are in order. Let's start with the obvious: This is a dream come true for Ebner, whose passion for rugby came after being introduced to the sport by his late father Jeff, with whom he was very close. Dad would be proud, and surely that is a big part of the emotion Ebner must feel with Monday's announcement.

Patriots are in full support. The Patriots gave their blessing to Ebner to pursue a spot on the Olympic team after signing him to a two-year, $2.4 million contract this offseason when Ebner was a free agent. The deal included a $500,000 signing bonus to be paid in two installments of $250,000. On Monday morning, the club tweeted its support.

Ebner part of 'special' group of Patriots. Ebner's role with the Patriots is as a core special-teams player who usually appears on four of the top units during a game -- punt return, punt coverage, kickoff return and kickoff coverage. He was third on the club in special-teams tackles last season (11), which reflects how he is effective in carrying out his role. Ebner joins captain Matthew Slater and second-year player Brandon King as the Patriots' top three core special-teamers, and rookie Kamu Grugier-Hill is now a top candidate to fill a significant part of his void until his return.

Does this hurt the team? One Twitter follower asked how this development can be a good thing for the Patriots from a win-loss perspective. The thought from here is that while Ebner is a very good player in the kicking game, he fills a role that is not as challenging to replace as others on a football team. One example was the 2015 emergence of King, an undrafted free agent from Auburn who began the year on the practice squad before earning a promotion and proving to be a terror on special teams (finishing second in tackles, with 12).

Reserve list and future depth. Ebner will open training camp on a reserve list and ultimately wouldn't count against the 53-man roster for the regular season until he's ready to play. So in a sense, the Patriots are building future depth for 2016 without having to account for a roster spot.

Patriots and special-teamers. The Patriots have had some success in drafting core special-teamers over the years, most notably with Slater (fifth round, 2008). Their willingness to devote later-round picks to players who solely project to the kicking game and carve out a role for them is notable, and Ebner falls into the same category, which might explain why Ebner feels a level of gratitude to the team that is greater than the norm. He probably wouldn't have been drafted in 2012 if the Patriots didn't select him in the sixth round, in part because of a strong recommendation from Mike Vrabel, the former Patriots linebacker who was serving as an assistant coach at Ohio State during Ebner's time there.