Ninkovich grateful for opportunity, new deal

Ninkovich grateful for opportunity, new deal
September 23, 2013, 7:30 pm
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FOXBORO -- Rob Ninkovich's NFL rags-to-riches story is a classic bit of New England folklore by now.

The sometimes-long snapper who became a starting defensive end. The Dolphins castoff who became a Patriots playmaker. The former reserve who ended up winning a great big payday.

"I knew that I could play in the NFL, I knew I could be what I am now," he reflected this week, "I just had to go a different route. I just had to be persistent and strive to be what I am now."

What he is now, is the owner of a three-year deal worth more than $15 million. Ninkovich inked the extension before New England's 23-3 win over Tampa Bay this past Sunday.

It was an easy decision.

"I wanted to be here. I knew that this was the team that gave me my opportunity to even play, so it worked great for both sides.

"Some guys don't have the opportunity to stick around with the team they wanted to stick around with. Again, I think that's both sides coming to an agreement and realizing my value is best here and not anywhere else. I love the Boston area. I want to be here, so I'm happy to be here three more years."

The Buccaneers tilt was the Patriots' third game of 2013 and the third start for Ninkovich. You'd figure he's used to being a mainstay by now, seeing as he's started 45 of the team's last 51 games.

Not so. Ninkovich remembers the lean years.

"Coming in, I was living out of a Rubbermaid bin with all my clothes," he ruefully recalled. "I'd just throw it in the back of my car and go from city to city. It's nice to actually have a home for longer than a year."

It wasn't that long ago he was released then re-signed to Miami's practice squad. The Saints signed Ninkovich as a possible long snapper in December of 2008. When New Orleans cut him some seven months later, it felt like glimpsing the end of the road.

"I thought [my career] was over, almost, in 2009. I had one chance to stick around and play in the NFL. That was five years ago, which is kind of surreal now."

New England's return on investing in the unproven player has been huge; Ninkovich just keeps getting better. Last season's team-high eight sacks and five forced fumbles were part of his best season by far.

It's no surprise the Patriots wanted to lock him up. They're lucky he wanted to stay.

"Some people want to chase other things besides being in a good spot and winning games. For me, I've been in a situation where I wasn't expecting to get hurt, have a knee injury, or get cut as many times as I have in my career, so with the things I've done here and the success I've had here, I wanted to continue that."

So what now? Ninkovich has won a starting role with a perennial playoff team, he's earned a career contract, and is a new dad, to boot.

What brass ring is left to reach for?

"Super Bowl."