The Patriots essentially moved down eight spots in the draft -- going from No. 64 to No. 72 -- to acquire Ealy and his contract, which expires after the 2017 season and calls for a base salary of $803,600.
Defensive end was a high-priority position for the Patriots this offseason, as starters Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich return but reserve Chris Long has already said he won't be a Patriot next year. The Patriots also lost Jabaal Sheard, who is signing with the Indianapolis Colts, sources told ESPN. In the Patriots' multiple defense, their end-of-the-line players can sometimes be in a 2-point stance in more of an outside linebacker role. The Patriots also use their ends as interior rushers in obvious passing situations, and Ealy appears to have some versatility to fit in that type of hybrid setup.
Flowers, who is entering his third year, led the Patriots with seven sacks in the 2016 regular season.
Carolina made the trade after agreeing to terms with 37-year-old defensive end Julius Peppers, who spent his first eight NFL seasons with the Panthers after being selected with the second pick of the 2002 draft.
The Panthers still have a third-round selection, acquiring a compensatory pick for losing cornerback Josh Norman in free agency a year ago. By picking up New England's second-round pick, they now have three picks in the first two rounds.
A 2014 second-round pick out of Missouri, Ealy had been plagued by inconsistency outside of his three-sack performance in a Super Bowl 50 loss to the Denver Broncos. He was moved to a backup role last season when coaches determined he was more effective as a pass-rusher coming off the bench. He had five sacks last season and has posted 14 in his career.
Ealy was taken No. 60 by the Panthers in 2014. Two picks later, the Patriots drafted quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.