New England Patriots: Rob Ninkovich hangs up cleats after 11 years

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Rob Ninkovich
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Rob Ninkovich /

New England Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich has announced his NFL retirement following eight years spent in Foxborough.

At Purdue, Rob Ninkovich was scouted by the New England Patriots, but at the time, they didn’t draft him. The New Orleans Saints picked him in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft, and he served as a reserve defensive end before moving to Miami for a short period.

Ninkovich played in only four regular season games for Miami in 2007 and was signed off of the Dolphins’ practice squad by the Saints, heading back to New Orleans for a second stint. But the Saints released him quickly after trying to utilize him as a long snapper.

Then, according to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio noted that Ninkovich was available, and the Pats signed him in the summer of 2009. Here’s what the Pats coach said, via NESN:

"“Nick (Caserio) said ‘There’s a guy, Rob, he should be on a roster, he should be in a camp and he’s available so let’s get him.’ Really it’s just history after that.”"

From 2011-15, Ninkovich didn’t miss a regular-season start and freely moved around in multiple defensive schemes, displaying the sort of dependability and consistency that Belichick loves out of his blue-collar players. From 2012-14, Ninkovich recorded 24 sacks in the regular season. He ended the 2013 regular season with 91 combined tackles, a career-high tally.

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That was the peak of Ninkovich’s productiveness, which dropped off in 2016 and last season. He could tell his body was no longer fully capable of handling the NFL grind. Here’s what he said talking about the decision, via NESN:

"“I was honest with myself. You have to be honest with yourself. I feel like athletes, unfortunately, sometimes they get away from that because they want to believe what they’re telling themselves. But I knew that my time was probably close, and this training made it clear for me that when you go squat and you’re sore for a week, it’s not a good thing. Just that, basically.”"

Now, at defensive end, the Patriots have younger guys like Trey Flowers and Kony Ealy who are primed to step up. Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin have experience off the edge, so pass rushing duties may swing their way as well. Perhaps, Belichick seeks out a low-wage vet to add more firepower to the defensive end/outside linebacker spot.

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No matter the outcome for how they replace Ninkovich, he’s a player who won’t soon — if ever — be forgotten in Foxborough.