Patriots extend Rob Ninkovich, help him avoid financial hit of suspension

New England defensive end Rob Ninkovich is suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, but the Patriots are helping him avoid the full financial hit from that suspension.

Ninkovich has agreed to a one-year contract extension through 2017, and according to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, part of that extension involves changing his 2016 pay so that he receives a $33,333 bonus for each game he plays. His old contract called for him to receive a $25,000 bonus for each game he plays.

In other words, under his old contract he had to play in all 16 games to earn the maximum roster bonus of $400,000. His suspension meant that he would make, at most, a roster bonus of $300,000. Now Ninkovich needs to play just 12 games to make the $400,000 bonus, so if he plays every game after serving his suspension, he’ll still get that $400,000 roster bonus he would have received if he hadn’t been suspended and had played 16 games.

The Patriots also lowered the portion of Ninkovich’s total pay this year that comes in the form of base salary, which will save him another $118,000 on his suspension.

The Patriots did something similar for Tom Brady when they re-did his contract this year: New England converted a $9 million base salary for 2016 into an $8 million signing bonus and a $1 million base salary. That allowed Brady to lose just $235,941.17 in base pay for his four-game Deflategate suspension, rather than the $2.11 million he would have lost if his contract hadn’t been changed.

There’s nothing against the rules about teams helping players lose as little money as possible while suspended, although it does point to an odd aspect of the NFL’s suspension policies, which dock players only their weekly pay and not a portion of all their pay, including signing bonuses, workout bonuses and other forms of compensation. Ninkovich and Brady are two longtime veterans and favorites of the Patriots’ decision-makers, and so the team is happy to help them avoid having to lose as much money as they could.