New England Patriots: Rob Ninkovich cherishing his ‘bonus time’ in NFL

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: New England Patriots player Rob Ninkovich during the Super Bowl LI Pregame Show at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: New England Patriots player Rob Ninkovich during the Super Bowl LI Pregame Show at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images) /

New England Patriots veteran defensive end/linebacker Rob Ninkovich is entering his 12th season in the NFL and enjoying every minute of it.

When you go from battling for a roster spot to becoming a captain on a Super bowl winning team, you’ve done more than proved your worth in the NFL.  For New England Patriots hybrid defensive end/linebacker Rob Ninkovich, the accomplishments have surpassed his own expectations.

But, with all the success Ninkovich has experienced as a member of the Patriots, he knows more than anybody that he can be replaced.

At the age of 33 and entering his 12th season in the NFL, he enters training camp as a mentor.  He enters as someone who is ready and willing to pass the torch to some of the younger players on the team.

A mentor role

Prior to making an appearance last week at a charity bartender event for Leonard Hair Transplant Associates with former teammate Wes Welker, Ninkovich took some time to talk about his career and how he is approaching the upcoming season.

"“You try to help the younger guys because they remember that,” Ninkovich said, via the Providence Journal.  “When I was younger, the guys that helped you, you appreciated, as opposed to the guys worrying about you taking their job.  It’s silly.  I know my job is going to be taken.  I understand that. I don’t lose sleep over it because I’ve had such a successful career… Once you get to an age, you’re like ‘All right, I’m going to help these guys and give them everything I know to help them out to give them the best possible chance at being successful.’ It’s almost like you’re returning the favor to the football gods.”"

Some of those younger guys include Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, and talented rookies Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise.  So, in many ways, Ninkovich will take on the role as a coach on the field, which is a role he sounds like he is ready to embrace.

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

Bonus time

The more interesting part of Ninkovich’s comments is how he is approaching the latter years of his career.  Players like Ty Law, Richard Seymour and the player he has been compared to, Mike Vrabel, were already replaced at a similar age to Ninkovich.

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In understanding the nature of the business and how the New England Patriots put the team first over individual players, the veteran defensive player feels he is in the “bonus time” of his career because he has played longer than he set out to play.

With retirement approaching, it comes down to how he feels and whether or not he feels he can still produce for the team and in the league overall.

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"“I’m pretty much still in the bonus time,” Ninkovich said. “Honestly, you have to take it one year at a time. How do you feel? Do you feel OK? Did you have any injuries? Anything going on? All those things kind of factor into how you progress in your career. For me, it’s you go into the offseason — you see how you feel. You start running around, lifting weights — see how you feel. Training camp is the same thing. You see how you’re feeling. If you’re going out there and you’re looking like a peg leg or can’t run anymore, it’s kind of clear cut.”"

Rob Ninkovich missed the four first games of the season last year after he was suspended for taking an illegal substance.  He did come back and produce on a Super Bowl-winning team, but he did show signs of slowing down.

In that respect, along with some of the youth infused at the position, it wouldn’t be a surprise if 2017 was the last season Ninkovich played in a New England Patriots uniform or in the NFL period.

Next: 2017 Patriots Training Camp Position Battles: Outside Linebacker

If so, it has been quite a career for a player who started his career as a special teams player who barely made the 53-man roster.