Before the New England Patriots signed him as an unrestricted free agent in 2009, Rob Ninkovich bounced around the league – and the football field. The former fifth round pick started his career as a defensive end with the New Orleans Saints in 2006 and spent the next two seasons with the Miami Dolphins as an outside linebacker. In late 2008, Ninkovich returned to the Saints and was converted to long snapper.
The experiment was an unsuccessful one, however, as the Saints released the Purdue product in the summer of 2009. Shortly afterwards, New England brought him on board – and Ninkovich has been a core member of the team’s defense ever since. He appeared in 140 games for the Patriots over the next eight seasons, registered 52.0 sacks and six interceptions in the process and helped the franchise win two Super Bowls.
At 33, Ninkovich is now entering his ninth training camp in New England. Only three players – quarterback Tom Brady, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and special teamer Matthew Slater – have visited the team’s camp more often than the versatile defensive edge. Given his age and contract situation, however, 2017 might be the veteran’s last season in Foxboro. After all, Ninkovich is set to hit unrestricted free agency next March.
For him, there are only two realistic options as he basically told PFT Live last week: Continue his career with the Patriots or retire. He was asked whether he could envision playing for another team – and his answer was pretty clear. “No,” Ninkovich said when asked if he could see himself playing for another team after spending so much time in New England. “No, I wouldn’t do that.” Ninkovich also added that he is “just trying to take it one year at a time” and is not yet thinking about retirement.
Entering training camp, Ninkovich’s role is projected to look similar to the one he held last year: playing around 50% of defensive snaps as a member of the Patriots’ defensive edge rotation. And while Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard joined him and Trey Flowers in 2016, youngsters Kony Ealy and Derek Rivers (and potentially Deatrich Wise Jr.) have taken over this season.
Limiting his snap count has allowed the team to keep Ninkovich fresh throughout the last few seasons. And, who knows, maybe it allows him to further keep his career going after the upcoming season – only in New England, of course.