That’s a wrap for Ninkovich

Long­time LB for Pa­tri­ots re­tires af­ter 11 sea­sons

Woonsocket Call - - Sports - By MAU­REEN MULLEN See NINKOVICH, page B3

FOXBORO — New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots de­fen­sive stal­wart Rob Ninkovich capped his 11-year NFL ca­reer by an­nounc­ing his re­tire­ment Sun­day af­ter the team's morn­ing prac­tice at Gil­lette Sta­dium.

Since join­ing the Pa­tri­ots in 2009, Ninkovich had proven to be one of the team's most durable and de­pend­able play­ers.

Ade­fen­sive end and line­backer, he was a two-time co-cap­tain and won two Su­per Bowls with New Eng­land. But he didn't take the eas­i­est route to get there.

A fifth-round pick by the New Or­leans Saints in 2006, he was waived four times by the Saints and Mi­ami Dol­phins be­fore join­ing the Pa­tri­ots just be­fore the start of the 2009 sea­son — af­ter spend­ing that off­sea­son try­ing to make the Saints as a long snap­per.

Be­fore join­ing New Eng­land, he had ap­peared in just eight games over three sea­sons.

With New Eng­land he missed just one game, in 2009, be­fore last sea­son, when he started the sea­son with a four-game sus­pen­sion for vi­o­lat­ing the NFL's pol­icy on the use of per­for­manceen­hanc­ing sub­stances. From 2011-2015, he started every reg­u­lar-sea­son game.

He played in 131 games with 101 starts, with 425 tack­les, 46 sacks, and five in­ter­cep­tions, in­clud­ing one he re­turned for a touch­down in 2011. He also ap­peared in 17 play­off games, all with New Eng­land, mak­ing 16 starts, with 64 to­tal tack­les and six sacks.

Ninkovich had been ab­sent since train­ing camp started on Thurs­day, for what the team called per­sonal rea­sons.

"I wanted to make sure I made the right choice," Ninkovich said. "That was talk­ing with my fam­ily, and look­ing at the pros and cons. And com­ing in as a guy that had been cut a bunch, I've had in­juries, I've had knee in­juries that were close to be­ing ca­reer-end­ing.

"It's lasted me 11 years so I'm happy I've had that dura­bil­ity there. There's a time where that dura­bil­ity doesn't last as long. I'm just happy that I was able to play for this or­ga­ni­za­tion as long as I have.

"It wasn't an easy de­ci­sion. Af­ter 11 sea­sons, and 19 sea­sons to­tal play­ing foot­ball, it's time for me to walk away. I look for­ward to the next phase of my life."

Ninkovich made the an­nounce­ment sur­rounded by Pa­tri­ots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and the coach­ing staff, and many team­mates in­clud­ing quar­ter­back Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski, cap­tain Matthew Slater, safety Devin McCourty, de­fen­sive tackle Alan Branch, line­backer Dont'a Hightower and receivers Ju­lian Edel­man and Danny Amen­dola.

Belichick and Kraft spoke be­fore Ninkovich made his an­nounce­ment.

"He's a re­ally spe­cial guy," Belichick said. "I've never coached a more un­selfish player, and I've coached a lot of them.

"There's so many big plays that he made through the course of his ca­reer."

Ninkovich be­gan his ca­reer in New Eng­land as an un­her­alded ad­di­tion. He de­vel­oped into a highly re­spected team­mate and men­tor to younger play­ers. Ninkovich choked up sev­eral times dur­ing his de­liv­ery, in­clud­ing when he spoke di­rectly to Belichick.

"Coach, I gave you ev­ery­thing I had. I hope it was enough," Ninkovich said. "I love this game. Thank you."

Ninkovich had been ex­pected to be a valu­able part of the Pa­tri­ots' de­fense again this sea­son.

New Eng­land's depth chart in­cludes Trey Flow­ers, who led the team with seven sacks last sea­son, new­comer Kony Ealy, ac­quired in a trade with Carolina, Ge­neo Gris­som and rook­ies Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise Jr.

"Got to love a guy like Ninko, you know, cause maybe half the guys here might not know who he is but he has had a great ca­reer," Giants line­backer Jonathan Casil­las said.

"He won two Su­per Bowls in New Eng­land. If I am not mis­taken early in his ca­reer he bounced around a lit­tle bit and been cut a cou­ple of times. But when he was on New Eng­land he was un­cut­table.

"He is a great team­mate to have. He is a pro of all pros. I was with him for half a year in New Eng­land, but I have known him for years. Con­grat­u­la­tions to him and his ca­reer."

File photo

Rob Ninkovich an­nounced his re­tire­ment from the Pa­tri­ots on Sun­day.

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