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Rob Ninkovich Doesn’t Completely Close Door On Return To Patriots20:12
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Former Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich, shown here with the team in 2016. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/File 2016)
Former Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich, shown here with the team in 2016. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/File 2016)
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In today's episode of Season Ticket, recently retired Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich joins host Chris Gasper (@cgasper) to discuss Rob's career trajectory from "tryout guy" to team leader, why he decided to retire before the 2017 season, the Pats' season so far, and whether there's a chance he'll come out of retirement to help the team make a Super Bowl push. Rob also shares insight into what coach Bill Belichick is really like out of the public eye.

Guest

"I’ve had a little contact here or there"

Rob Ninkovich, on whether he's talked to the Patriots about coming out of retirement

Interview Highlights

On the possibility of returning to the Patriots this season

Rob Ninkovich: I’ve had a little contact here or there, but ... people say all the time you have to weigh the risks and the rewards. And, for me, I would make $500 grand if I played half the year. People say, “Wow, that’s a ton of money!” But, at the same time, you take taxes into that, you take a few shots or you risk tearing your ACL or having an Achilles injury or having a quad or having a pec, going on IR. And, [considering] all those things, I’m like, “Well, I don’t know if that’s really worth me coming back to maybe have an injury or have something happen to me that will affect me down the road.”

I think that, as a football player and an athlete and a competitor, yeah, you wanna go play football. But, as a businessman—because you have to look at things in a business sense sometimes–things don’t make sense when you look at what you’re getting in return for compensation and what risks are involved in that versus what you put on the field. If you’re compensated for what you’re doing and you’re performing at a high level, that’s one thing. But if your compensation is lower than your performance level and then you got hurt, it’s like, “alright, well it’s not worth me getting hurt.”

On how his career took off

Rob Ninkovich: My story is pretty awesome. I came in as a tryout guy. Most tryout guys are exactly that: they come in for a tryout, they are told at the end of their tryout, “Hey, we’ll give you a ring if we have any issues or something down the road pops up.” And usually nothing ever comes up for those guys and then that’s it, their career is over ... I was a very confident guy in my ability but I had just been told many times, “Hey, you’re not big enough, you’re not fast enough.”

And then, when I came to New England, I knew it was my time. So, in 2009, the team was kind of in a different state on the edge, kind of like where they’re at right now. [Mike] Vrabel was gone, they had Adalius Thomas but he wasn’t exactly what they thought he was. It was kind of the right place, right time for me. Just like everything is in life. And I capitalized on the opportunity and then I just never wanted to let it go because it meant so much to me. That’s why at the end of my career, I just had to be honest with myself. There’s a lot of things coming out in football that the longer you play, the more damage you’re taking to your body. And I wanted to jog away on my own two feet. I didn’t want to limp away.

"There’s a lot of things coming out in football that the longer you play, the more damage you’re taking to your body. And I wanted to jog away on my own two feet. I didn’t want to limp away."

Rob Ninkovich, on whether he'd consider coming out of retirement

On what Bill Belichick is really like

Rob Ninkovich: You [media members] get to see Bill after a game, after practices, and he’s taking the attention off the team and he’s putting it all on himself because he never wants to single anybody out. So ... you guys get a small portion of what he’s like. And, behind closed doors, he’s definitely all about business and his job and what he has to do to make the team better—that’s his number one. And, yeah, he’ll joke around, he’ll crack some jokes in film. Guys are laughing a lot because of things he says. You know, his “MyFace” and all that stuff that he says to everybody about social media and some of the things he says when we’re breaking down film. But if you go to talk to him, he’s always very personable and if you have any questions or issues you just go right up to him and talk to him just like a normal guy, like you’d talk to anybody.

On the poor execution around the NFL

Rob Ninkovich: Watching every game across the league, I think the execution is just down ...[Belichick] has repeatedly said that games are lost in this league more than they’re won. I think this year especially I’m seeing a lot of games that people are making mistakes and games are lost, and that’s just the way the game is. So, I think the Patriots being the smart team that they are, are going to capitalize on those mistakes.

On the Patriots' defense

Rob Ninkovich: I think they’re coming along. They have a lot of young guys. The next eight games for those young guys is going to be the toughest stretch for them because it’s going to be the longest, must dragged out season they’ve ever played ... [But] the defense has been playing well in the last three-four weeks, so hopefully continuing on they can improve and they can get better at the little things they’re having trouble with.

"I don’t have that internal pressure and stress all the time of having to always be perfect and perform at a high level in everything I do"

Rob Ninkovich, on enjoying retirement

On how retirement is treating him

Rob Ninkovich: I absolutely enjoy it. I’m not beat up, I’m not sore, I don’t have that internal pressure and stress all the time of having to always be perfect and perform at a high level in everything I do ... It’s been different, the first Fall without football. [But] I’m definitely not getting the soreness of the complete beating I’ve had in the past.

My retirement was so perfect. Having that Super Bowl and having a big role and going off into the sunset, so to speak, was a really big deal for me because I had been around the business so long. I’ve seen people go out the way that they probably wouldn’t have wanted to go out, that being injuries or being cut or having someone tell you you’re not very good. It was one of those things where I wrote a list of the pros and the cons of playing football again and the risk of injury is very high ... For me, it was just, I’m comfortable where I’m at, I have two small children, I have a beautiful wife, I played a lot of football, and now it’s time to—I don’t say retire—it’s more like I’m graduating to the next phase of life.

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