Ninkovich outdoes himself

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Ninkovich outdoes himself

EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey -- Rob Ninkovich has said he strives never to be outdone.

But what if he shows himself up?

Ninkovich had five tackles and an assist Sunday night in New England's 37-16 win over the Jets. No, that's not all. The linebacker also snagged two interceptions -- one returned for a touchdown -- on New York's home turf.

He spoke after the game. This time, aloft in a rare podium appearance.

"I haven't seen the first interception on tape yet," he said with a smile, "but I was just dropping back in coverage and I think the receiver missed it, and then Jerod Mayo tipped it and it came my way. So it was just one of those lucky tips, it came right to me. Opportunity came and I caught it."

The Patriots could say the same about Ninkovich.

Since arriving in New England in 2009, his game has taken on new dimensions. Last season he started in 10 of 16 contests, finishing with 62 combined tackles, four sacks, four passes defensed and two interceptions. He can double those totals this year. Ninkovich doesn't come off the bench anymore; from special teamer, to Patriots linebacker, to guaranteed weekly starter, he's carved out an important place in the Patriots defense.

People who've worked with him in the past, like Purdue defensive coach Mark Hagen, aren't surprised by the linebacker's contributions. Ive been in college football for 15 years and I can probably only put one other guy in his category in terms of how hard he works and how hard he plays," Hagen once reflected.

The work ethic has translated well to the NFL. Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised Sunday's effort but without a hint of humor. Of course Ninkovich can create heads-up plays, "being the player that he is," said Belichick.

The second interception developed halfway into the fourth quarter. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez took the snap at his own 10. Ninkovich flattened tight end Dustin Keller at the line. Seeing Keller wasn't a threat to get back in the play, Ninkovich floated toward the middle of the field and trained his eyes on New York's signal caller. Sanchez acquired LaDanian Tomlinson as his target. Ninkovich read the route.

Pass picked.

The linebacker ran 12 yards for the touchdown. Jets fans ran for the exits.

"There's so much pressure that we put into this week with jamming their receivers, jamming tight ends and being able to take away reads. I think he stepped up big for us," defensive captain Vince Wilfork said. "Just knowing the right situation and he was there. That was his job, he knew where he had to be. That's just playing good situational football."

That's the kind of football Rob Ninkovich plays.

It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

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It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

The Patriots received a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 from the Browns in return for Jamie Collins. That's how the trade was described on the league's transaction wire. 

The "condition" of that fourth-rounder? Well, if the Browns received a third-round compensatory pick in 2017, the Patriots would nab that pick instead. 

On Friday, the NFL announced that the Browns had in fact been awarded a third-round compensatory pick, which meant that almost three full weeks after Super Bowl LI, everything was still coming up Patriots.

In actuality, the odds were pretty good all along that the Patriots would get what they got

Cleveland lost Pro Bowl center Alex Mack in free agency last offseason when he opted to sign with the Falcons. Because compensatory picks are based on free agents lost and free agents acquired, and because the Browns did not sign any similarly-impactful free agents, there was a good chance Mack's departure would render a third-round comp pick that would be shipped to New England.

Had Mack suffered a significant injury that forced his play to drop off or limited his time on the field, a third-rounder may have been out of the question, but he played well (named a Pro Bowler and a Second Team All-Pro) and stayed healthy -- lucky for the Patriots -- missing just 17 total snaps in the regular season. 

The Browns comp pick that will be sent to New England is No. 103 overall. The Patriots were also awarded a fifth-round comp pick, No. 185 overall. That was a result of the league weighing the departures of Akiem Hicks and Tavon Wilson against the arrival of Shea McClellin.

The Patriots now have nine selections in this year's draft: One first-rounder; one second-rounder; two third-rounders; one fourth-rounder*; two fifth-rounders; two seventh-rounders.

The third-round compensatory pick acquired by the Patriots carries additional value this year in that it is the first year in which compensatory picks can be traded. A near top-100 overall selection may allow the Patriots to move up the draft board or build assets in the middle rounds should they be inclined to deal. And we know they oftentimes are. 

* The Patriots forfeited their highest fourth-round selection in this year's draft as part of their Deflategate punishment. They acquired a fourth-round pick from the Seahawks last year. Because that would have been the higher of their two selections, that's the one they'll lose. They will make their own fourth-round pick at No. 137 overall.

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

When it comes to projecting Rob Gronkowski's health, it's been best to steer clear of absolutes. There have been too many injuries, too many surgeries, to predict exactly how he'll feel months in advance. 

Still, in speaking with ESPN's Cari Champion recently, he said he had "no doubt" he'll be ready for Week 1 of the 2017 regular season. 

"Yes, for sure," he replied when asked if he expected to be good to go. 

Gronkowski also fielded a question about his long-term future in the sit-down. Lately it's been his coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback Tom  Brady who receiver all the life-after-football queries, but Gronkowski, 27, was asked how much longer he'd like to play. 

"I’m not really sure," he said. "I mean, I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I possibly could play. My mindset is to keep on going."

Gronkowski landed on season-ending injured reserve in December after undergoing a procedure on his back -- his third back surgery since 2009. He's had nine reported surgeries -- including procedures on his knee, forearm and ankle -- since his final year at the University of Arizona.