Yesterday, New England Patriots defensive edge Rob Ninkovich announced his retirement after 11 years in the NFL. The veteran has been an integral part of two Super Bowl-winning teams in New England and has become a team leader and fan favorite since joining the team in 2009 – and now he rides off into the sunset.
Let's take a closer look at what this means for the team.
The Patriots need a starter opposite Trey Flowers.
Since New England signed him as a free agent in 2009, Ninkovich has been a core member of the team's defense. Consequently, his retirement leaves a hole in the unit. Four players are projected to try to fill it: Kony Ealy, Geneo Grissom and draft picks Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise Jr. are fighting for the starting role opposite Trey Flowers. And while they all will get their fair share of chances to earn the spot, it would not be a surprise to see the team use its usual rotation on the defensive edge as well as linebackers Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin.
New England loses its most experienced defender.
Ninkovich has been with the Patriots since 2009, a near-eternity by NFL standards. In fact, no other defender has been with the team for as long as the Purdue product. Consequently, New England loses not only a ton on of experience but, given the relatively young overall age of its edge defenders, leadership and guidance as well – a void that needs to be filled by one of the young leaders like Trey Flowers.
The defensive edge position battle might be over.
Before the start of training camp, four defensive edges were seen as roster locks: Flowers, Ninkovich, Ealy and Rivers. Grissom and Wise Jr., on the other hand, were projected to fight for one remaining spot on the team. However, with Ninkovich calling it a career, the team now has space for both players on the team and is expected to carry both Grissom's experience and special teams prowess as well as Wise Jr.'s upside on its 53-man roster.
Ninkovich's retirement creates $685,000 in cap space.
Seeing the 33-year old retire does not just leave the Patriots without one of their top defenders of the last decade, it also creates additional salary cap space for the team. Via patscap.com, New England gains an additional $685,000 to push its total space to $14.1 million.