Ethan Greenidge signs with Atlanta Falcons

After suffering season-ending injuries in each of his last two NFL seasons, Ethan Greenidge continues to defy the odds. This spring, the Riverhead native signed a one-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons, and is currently prepping for his fifth NFL campaign.

In four seasons as a member of the New Orleans Saints, the 6-foot-4, 335-pound offensive lineman showed tremendous promise. Undrafted out of Villanova University, Greenidge has always faced an uphill battle — constantly needing to prove his worth in training camp just to make the final 53-man roster. To his credit, Greenidge has always succeeded. And year after year, his role and his playing time have increased.

But after tearing his meniscus in a preseason game against the Houston Texans last summer, Greenidge’s mental toughness was really put to the test.

“I felt a pop-crunch in my knee while run-blocking with my teammate Trevor Penning,” Greenidge recalled. “I fought through it a little bit, but once the adrenaline wore off, the pain took over. I couldn’t extend my knee completely anymore.”

Coming off a tricep injury that ended his season the prior year, to have another injury derail what was projected to be his best and most promising season, really damaged his psyche.

“I felt like I did so much to get back from the first injury and here I am, hurt again,” Greenidge said. “Mentally it hurt, emotionally it hurt. I spent a lot of time talking with my family and agent. My agent wanted to make sure I wasn’t contemplating walking away. It definitely crossed my mind, I’m not going to lie.”

Knowing he still had a lot to give to the sport he grew up playing, Greenidge elected to have surgery so that he could give it another go — despite a difficult rehab.

“Part of rehab is not trying to get better, but just to get back to who you were,” Greenidge said. “Spending six to nine months just trying to get to who you were all your life is so annoying, man. It’s so tedious. You have to be consistent. You can’t take any days off. And it’s not the physical part that bothers me. It’s all mental.

“The thing about the NFL is that nobody is actually playing at 100%,” Greenidge added. “Everyone is showing up on Sunday suffering with some kind of injury. Everyone is going to get hurt. It’s a brutal game. All you can do is try to put the best version of yourself out there and I feel like I’m there. My knee is the best it has felt and the best it’s going to feel. The best ability is availability.”

The average NFL career span is a mere 3.3 years, according to the latest player data, and for those who didn’t get drafted out of college, the tenure is even shorter. But there’s something in Greenidge that NFL teams continue to pursue. He started playing more guard in New Orleans to diversify his ability after playing mostly tackle to that point. He’s made himself a “plug-and-play” asset anywhere on the offensive line, a big plus for any NFL team. 

“It’s a gift from God that I’ve been able to play football for this long,” Greenidge said. “This league is tough, man. Talent isn’t enough. So many guys are very skilled in this league and I learned that very early on. For me, it was always staying close to God and knowing he has a path for me. It’s been a blessing. There’s no special algorithm too getting to the league. Just hard work — that’s about it.”

Despite the two injuries and only having played 15 regular-season games during his four year run in New Orleans, Greenidge was in talks with the New England Patriots, Las Vegas Raiders and Buffalo Bills before deciding on Atlanta to continue his career. 

“The Falcons definitely talked to me the most,” Greenidge said. “They were the most excited about me. They were real with me and kept everything completely transparent, which I appreciate.”

Greenidge ended up signing a one-year “prove it” deal with the Falcons worth $940,000. None of it, however, is guaranteed. He still needs to make the final 53-man roster and see out the contract. That’s just how the NFL works — it’s a business. 

“The problem with the money thing is I didn’t have a leg to stand on,” Greenidge said. “I’ve been injured two straight years. The Falcons were real with me. They want to see more of me to be able to give more incentives and I’m fine with that. I’m not dumb. I understand it’s a business. They can trade you, they can release you at any time. It’s just how it works. All I can do is put my head down and work as hard as I can.”

But as far as playing time and their assessment of what Greenidge can accomplish, the Falcons offered the best insight as to what that would look like going forward. 

“The Falcons talked to me about what their plan is and what they want to see out of me,” Greenidge said. “They like that I can play all four positions — left guard, left tackle, right guard and right tackle. When you’re a young lineman in the league, it really pays off to be versatile and they were big on that.”

Greenidge will now head to training camp in Atlanta after participating in organized workouts with the team in June. The Falcons will kick off the regular season Sept. 10 against the Carolina Panthers.

“I am doing everything I can to make sure my body is prepared to take the load of the season,” Greenidge said. “Every year you learn more and more and obviously your body gets more and more tired. I’m 25 now and turning 26 soon, so keeping my body in order is top of mind. The injuries have held me back without a doubt. I had a great opportunity to play a lot in New Orleans. I just couldn’t stay healthy. With the Lord willing, I will be on the field this year getting right.”

Even though Greenidge has traveled all over the country playing football, he said he’ll always keeps his hometown close to his heart.

“I think about Riverhead all the time,” said Greenidge, who still comes back to town each year to work with a local charity. “Growing up I really took it for granted what a special place I lived in. I’ve been gone for a while now, I miss it. I miss the people. I miss the love. I miss the town. I miss going to Bagel Lovers and stuff like that. It was such a loving city and I always want to show my city love and I always want to give back. I will never forget what Riverhead has done for me to get me in this position. I got nothing but love for Riverhead.”