BOSTON (CBS) — With Rob Ninkovich announcing his retirement on Sunday, the Patriots now have a pretty big hole to fill — both on the field and in the locker room.
They’ll feel Nikovich’s absence on the field, with a current lack of established pass rushers on the roster. So who will the Patriots ask to get after the quarterback now that Ninkovich will likely be enjoying most of his Sundays tailgating with fans? ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss joined Steve Burton on WBZ-TV’s Sports Final on Sunday night and said the Pats will probably have to look outside of the organization to fill the void.
“You could have made the point that even with Ninkovich there that they would have needed help [in the pass rush],” said Reiss. “You had Ninkovich and Trey Flowers, who led the team with seven sacks last year, then you have a lot of questions. Kony Ealy, who they traded for from Carolina, is he going to be able to produce? Then you have a couple of rookies in Derek Rivers, your third-round pick, and Deatrich Wise, your fourth-round pick, with Geneo Grissom, who is a third-year player.
“I think there is time for them to make a move, similar to Ninkovich back in 2009 when he signed with them a couple of days into training camp. I believe they’ll look externally, because internally I have doubts that the answer is there,” said Reiss. “They may be able to move some parts around at the linebacker level, but to me you don’t want to be moving parts around, you want to find a solution right off the bat.”
Reiss wrote on Monday morning that free agent Dwight Freeney, who played against the Pats in Super Bowl LI, could be brought in to take over Ninkovich’s on-field production. But the Patriots will certainly miss Ninkovich in the locker room after eight seasons as one of their true leaders.
“They’ll miss his leadership. They’ll miss him as a guy, and that’s what stood out; that was a great scene at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon when they had that news conference and all of a sudden players start to walk through the door,” Reiss said of Ninkovich’s retirement press conference at Gillette. “Stephen Gostkowski, Matthew Slater, Tom Brady — you’re watching Ninkovich retire in front of Tom Brady. [There was] great emotion. Bill Belicick was sitting on the floor because there was no seats. Matt Patricia’s eyes were welling up with tears.
“It was a really cool moment because it was sort of unscripted. To be a party of that, it was unusual,” added Reiss. “I can’t think of a moment like that in my time around the team.”
Reiss also discussed some early standouts at Patriots training camp, with Brandin Cooks’ speed on full display and Mike Gillislee showing that he can take over for LeGarrette Blount as the team’s power running back:
Tune in to Sports Final every Sunday night at 11:35pm on WBZ-TV!