Ninkovich retirement could be coming

Getty Images

During a recent visit to PFT Live, 33-year-old Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich said he has no specific plan for playing to a certain age and would take it one year at a time. As it turns out, this year could be the year when he retires.

Not after it, but before. Mike Reiss of ESPN.com notes that Ninkovich has been absent from training-camp practices for what head coach Bill Belichick calls “personal reasons,” and that Ninkovich is not expected to practice on Sunday.

Reiss says Ninkovich has been considering retirement, and that “[i]t would be a surprise” if more clarity regarding his situation didn’t come “within the next 24 hours or so.”

Here’s one thing we know: Ninkovich won’t be playing elsewhere. He said during his PFT Live visit that he couldn’t see himself playing for any team other than the one for which he has played since 2009, a move that happened after bouncing around from New Orleans to Miami and back to New Orleans early in his career.

Ninkovich signed a one-year extension during the 2016 season, putting him under contract through 2017. If he retires, he’d potentially be required to refund a portion of his $1.5 million signing bonus.

Every year is a potential farewell tour for Ben Roethlisberger

Getty Images

Some (i.e., me) think that Tom Brady continues to suggest he’ll be playing for years into the future so that he’ll never have a farewell tour. For Ben Roethlisberger, every year officially will now be a potential farewell tour.

In an interview with Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roethlisberger made it clear that he’s now on a year-to-year arrangement.

“It’s just, it’s 14 years; that’s a long time,” Roethlisberger said. “I think the average life expectancy in the NFL is three years, maybe three-and-a-half now. . . . I’ve been blessed to do this a long time. I think it’s just seeing my kids growing up, and in the offseason I love getting to spend time with them, and then I come here and football season just has to take up so much of your time. Even when you get home, I try my best to turn it off when I walk in the front door. I think I do a pretty good job of that, but it still consumes you in a way.”

Roethlisberger also mentioned concerns about head injuries, adding that his wife “would be OK if I hung it up, too.” But he said he still loves his teammates, making it right for him to return for another year.

He won’t commit beyond this year. And there’s a chance, in theory, that he’ll decide at some point during the coming season that he doesn’t want to play another one. At that point, the farewell tour officially would begin.

Followed by the retirement. Followed by, possibly, the First Annual Unretirement.

Friday morning one-liners

Getty Images

Preston Brown worked at middle linebacker with the Bills starters on Thursday.

The Dolphins have competition for one of their linebacker jobs.

It wasn’t always certain it would work out that way, but CB Malcolm Butler was on the field for the Patriots as camp opened.

The Jets start camp with low expectations.

RB Bobby Rainey is back for a second run with the Ravens.

Said Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap, “I feel like I’ve got a lot of ball left and I look forward to making these next few years my best. I’ve had some good ball up to this point, but I still feel like I have a lot of room for growth.”

Facing off with T Joe Thomas will help Browns DE Myles Garrett learn about life in the NFL.

Steelers WR Antonio Brown arrived at training camp in a Rolls-Royce.

Texans CB Kevin Johnson is feeling good after last year’s foot injury.

Colts CB Vontae Davis is heading into a contract year.

CB A.J. Bouye had a good day in his first day at Jaguars training camp.

The Titans secondary looks significantly different from last year.

The Broncos have their first padded practice on Sunday.

Chiefs FB Anthony Sherman reported to training camp in costume.

Ten questions for the Raiders to answer during training camp.

The Chargers waived QB Eli Jenkins with Cardale Jones joining the team.

CB Anthony Brown picked off Dak Prescott during Cowboys practice.

The Giants are banking on improvement from holdover offensive linemen.

Eagles LB Nigel Bradham is waiting to hear if he’ll be suspended.

QB Kirk Cousins reiterated that he’s in a “good place” after failing to strike a long-term deal with the Redskins.

Bears LB Danny Trevathan is practicing in limited fashion after tearing his patellar tendon last season.

Lions QB Matthew Stafford picked up a new house in Georgia.

P Justin Vogel got off to a good start at Packers camp.

Vikings WR Michael Floyd is trying to keep the focus on football.

CB Desmond Trufant thinks the Falcons can have one of the best defenses in the league.

CB Captain Munnerlyn is happy to be back with the Panthers.

Is the 2017 season a crossroads one for the Saints?

Buccaneers WR DeSean Jackson went with a Ferrari for his entry to training camp.

The Cardinals are looking for different results from the same names on their offensive line.

Rams TE Gerald Everett doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind.

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan wants the offense playing fast.

Which Seahawks are next up for contract extensions?

Rob Gronkowski is back, and being Gronk on the field

AP

There are always players a little extra excited for the first day of training camp, usually rookies or guys on new teams.

But in Patriots camp, it was tight end Rob Gronkowski bouncing around, spiking footballs and generally looking like a much younger Gronk.

Part of that comes with health, as the 28-year-old Gronkowski has recovered from back surgery and has been given the green light by coach Bill Belichick.

“I’ve definitely had a longer vacation than a lot of guys,” Gronkowski said, via Mike Giardi of CSNNE.com. “I’d probably say I was the most eager to get going, to get rolling.”

So when he got to the end zone in practice, he punctuated each of the three with celebrations, perhaps getting ready for this year’s more relaxed rules.

“It’s football,” he said. “Just when you’re feeling good out there and making plays you just want to have fun. That’s the whole game of football. Have fun out there, enjoy it and have competition. Competition is huge. That’s what gets you better. That’s what makes you better as a player. That’s what makes the team better — competition. . . .

“I don’t even notice know what I did. It wasn’t like a real spike, it was just like tossing it to the ground. Juiced up, just trying to make plays out there.”

Of course, Gronk’s sense of Gronk being Gronk may not be like what the rest of us see, but the Patriots are relieved to see their star tight end healthy and feeling good.

Crowds keep getting bigger at Patriots practices

AP

With Tom Brady now reaching G.O.A.T status, it’s critical to see him play before his career ends. It’s also critical, apparently, to see him practice.

Via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, more than 15,000 fans showed up for Thursday’s Patriots practice. The team opened Gillette Stadium ramps overlooking the practice fields to accommodate the sea of humanity hoping to see the Patriots play.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski understands the magnitude of the interest, and he acknowledges who it’s for.

“Every single year it gets louder and louder,” Gronkowski said, via Reiss. “It’s Tom. If I was in the stands, too, I’d be up on my feet cheering for him. What he’s done for this organization, for all the fans, all the football he keeps playing, it’s just unbelievable. I think every time he gets out on the field, he deserves a standing ovation. I would be one of them in the crowd doing it too.”

And that’s one of the only times that Gronk has ever used the phrase “doing it” without it referring to oh never mind.

Patriots sign two with training camp underway

Getty Images

The Patriots have added a couple of players to their 90-man roster with training camp underway in Foxborough.

The team announced that they have signed wide receiver Tony Washington and defensive end Caleb Kidder. They had open roster spots so did not need to make any corresponding moves to create space for the new arrivals.

Washington arrives after veteran wideout Andrew Hawkins announced his retirement this week. Washington played in six games for the Jaguars over the last two seasons and caught one pass for nine yards. The path to the final roster for Washington is an uphill one, but he’ll get a chance to put some play on film in the preseason if the Patriots don’t churn the roster again before games get underway.

Kidder signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in May, but was dropped by the team in June. He had 14 sacks during his college career at the University of Montana.

Aaron Rodgers has rekindled “love affair” with football

Getty Images

There was a time when Aaron Rodgers thought he’d be finished as a football player in his mid-30s.

But now, the Packers quarterback says he’s back to his “love affair” with the game, and that has made him want to continue on much longer than he previously thought.

“[That feeling] has kind of given me the idea that this is what I want to do. I love football, and I want to keep playing as long as possible,” Rodgers said during an interview on Wilde & Tausch on ESPN Wisconsin. “And when you have that kind of slight shift in your thinking, then you start going to, ‘How can I do that?’ And the way you can do that, in my opinion, is taking care of yourself at a hyper-sensitive level to all the areas that that entails — the rehab area, the eating area, the workout/focus area. And all those combined have kind of given me the idea that I’d like to keep playing at a high level, as fun as it is right now.”

If that sounds a little Tom Brady, it’s probably not accidental, as the two have become friends and Rodgers has taken his own steps (which don’t involve avocado ice cream) to keep himself going into his 40s.

So as the 33-year-old Rodgers enters his 13th NFL season, he’s thinking more long-term, and appreciating the game more than he has before.

“I think it’s a change, a slight change that happened the last few years, where it really has become just a love affair,” Rodgers said. “From [being] a game I always enjoyed playing and enjoyed competing and am hyper-competitive [in] to just really loving the process even more — the practice, the preparation, just enjoying those moments even more.”

Of course, this love story might not include the kind of paparazzi treatment previous relationships have led Rodgers into, but it will certainly make Packers fans swoon, as they imagine a long and happy marriage.

No limits on Rob Gronkowski in training camp practices

Getty Images

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski had season-ending back surgery last year, which marked the third time that he had an operation on his back and offered a reminder that Gronkowski’s health has been about the only thing to slow him down over the course of his NFL career.

As a result, the Patriots have taken it easy with him at times in past training camps in hopes of getting as much as possible out of their star tight end come the regular season. It doesn’t sound like the Patriots plan to dial things back for him on the practice field this summer, however.

Coach Bill Belichick said Thursday, via CSNNE.com, that Gronkowski “doesn’t have any limits that I know of” when it comes to his participation. Gronkowski went through the offseason program as a full participant as well, but the addition of pads and hitting at some practices could have led the team to take a different approach.

Gronkowski has not sees action in preseason games since 2012, so the team may still opt for precaution in games that don’t count in the standings and that they don’t need in order to know what Gronkowski does on the field. From a practice standpoint, however, it sounds like things are moving at full speed.

Rob Ninkovich: Every team has the Patriots circled on their schedule

Getty Images

Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich said he and his teammates don’t give anyone any bulletin board material, because their mere presence on the schedule is all that’s needed on the next opponent’s bulletin board.

Ninkovich said on PFT Live that he thinks every team in the NFL looks ahead to facing the Patriots, which means they’re never going to get a team on an off day.

“The Patriots — our logo is bulletin board material. Anyone that’s playing the Patriots, they have us circled on their schedule,” Ninkovich said. “So every week we’re getting everyone’s best shot.”

One player who hasn’t made any secret of the fact that he already has those games against the Patriots circled on his schedule is Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry, who said this offseason that he’s expecting to sweep the Patriots this year.

“We’ll see what happens when we play,” Ninkovich said.

That’s about as much of a bulletin-board comment as a Patriot will make.

Patriots looking for running back “to play power football for us”

Getty Images

The Patriots have long mixed and matched running backs with situations in order to keep their offense rolling and this year promises to be no different.

New arrivals Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead have joined holdovers Dion Lewis, James White and Brandon Bolden in a deep backfield, albeit one that doesn’t have a clear choice to fill the big back role that LeGarrette Blount rode to 18 touchdowns last season. Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears said the search for which player is the best fit for that job will be one of the things on tap during training camp.

“Somebody’s got to play big for us,” Fears said, via the team’s website. “We have enough guys who can play finesse football. Somebody’s got to play power football for us so we have to find out who’s going to do that. I think a lot of those guys are capable of that. Freakin’ James White ran the power offense when he was at Wisconsin so, what are we talking about? But he’s got to do it for us here. Not just him, but whether it’s Mike, whether it’s Rex or Brandon Bolden … somebody’s got to step up and be the big back when we need one and all those roles that come up in the game we have to find somebody to fit those roles, and I think we will.”

None of the backs have Blount’s size, but they will be working behind a good offensive line and in an offense with enough threats that defenses will have a hard time selling out against any one option. That should help in all situations, including the ones where New England needs a back to lower the shoulder and pick up two yards to keep the chains moving.

What was the most embarrassing snafu in NFL history?

Getty Images

With former Cowboys receiver Lucky Whitehead landing in New York, and given that several other teams were interested in him, the end result of the Oxnard ready-fire-aim approach is that it was a major embarrassment for the franchise.

And that gives us an idea for the PFT Live question of the day: Which was the most embarrassing snafu in NFL history?

Throw an idea or two in the comments and then tune in for Thursday’s edition of the show. It starts at 6:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Radio, and then it moves to NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET.

Guests include Qadry Ismail of WBAL in Baltimore and Vic Lombardi of Altitude Sports Network in Denver. We’ll also play a portion of a recent Rob Ninkovich interview.

Wednesday morning one-liners

Getty Images

Veteran players on the Jets insist there will be no tanking.

Should the Bills cut DT Adolphus Washington for his recent weapons arrest?

The Dolphins are beefing up security at training camp.

Did last year’s suspension actually work in favor of Tom Brady?

The Ravens are a team under construction heading into camp.

Ex-Bengals WR Andrew Hawkins wrote a letter to Cincinnati after announcing his retirement.

And as an ex-Brown, Hawkins wrote to Cleveland as well.

Here’s what to do if you’re heading to Steelers camp.

NFL Network will have a setup at Texans camp.

Colts WR Chester Rogers is a player to keep an eye on in training camp.

Jaguars C Brandon Linder said he wanted to get his contract extension done so he could focus on training camp.

Titans QB Marcus Mariota is feeling great heading into camp.

The Broncos have announced that former head coach Gary Kubiak is returning to the team in a front office role.

Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt says he’s trying to adjust to a new playbook.

As the Chargers work out Robert Griffin III, many in Los Angeles are asking why they’re not considering Colin Kaepernick.

The Raiders hope TE Jared Cook gives them an option over the middle they didn’t have last year.

Cowboys WR Dez Bryant is feeling good heading into camp.

One columnist has some tough talk for Giants WR Odell Beckham.

It’s still unclear whether Eagles WR Jordan Matthews will be on the field on Thursday.

Washington CB Josh Norman says everyone believes in QB Kirk Cousins, regardless of his contract status.

Here’s a look at the Bears’ training camp schedule.

Lions RB Theo Riddick hopes to be back soon after a wrist injury.

The Packers’ Family Night usually fills Lambeau Field for a practice.

Said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer after watching the first couple practices of training camp, “They are working hard and we have got a lot of stuff in. I think practice was pretty good yesterday.”

How much should the Falcons pay RB Devonta Freeman?

Should the Panthers be concerned about C Ryan Kalil’s shoulder?

Here’s a look at the Saints’ likely roster.

It’s unfair to expect Bucs DT Gerald McCoy to be Warren Sapp.

Cardinals LB Scooby Wright made an impressive play in training camp.

Here’s what the Rams hope to accomplish in training camp.

The 49ers’ top pick, Solomon Thomas, remains unsigned.

Seahawks DE Michael Bennett’s forthcoming book is titled, “How to Make White People Uncomfortable.”

PFT preseason power rankings No. 1: New England Patriots

Getty Images

Two weeks. 16 days. 31 individual snapshots of the various NFL franchises. One to go.

You already knew which team it would be after we unveiled No. 2 (hell, you probably knew who it was before we unveiled No. 32). The Patriots. Five-time Super Bowl winners. Two in the last three years. And, most importantly, the only defending champions to ever mash the gas in an effort to get even better.

Yes, the new G.O.A.T. has an improved roster on both sides of the ball as he tries to get his record-extending sixth Super Bowl win for a quarterback, which also would catch the Steelers for the most by any franchise. They’ll be the overwhelming pick to get there, and to win it. Which, of course, will only make it harder to do.

But do it they can. With an obsessive focus on the here and now, the Patriots never get flustered by the big picture or expectations or anything else that has caused many a contender to slip from contention. And while it would be foolish to hand the Lombardi to the Patriots without playing the 267 games that come before it officially happens, it’s hard to recall a preseason favorite who was more of a postseason favorite than the Patriots.

Biggest positive change: In an offseason with plenty of positive changes, perhaps the biggest addition for 2017 and beyond comes from Buffalo, where the Bills weren’t interested in keeping cornerback Stephon Gilmore — but the Pats were willing to pounce. And since the Patriots have seen Gilmore twice per year for five years, they’ve surely seen something they like. And now they have insurance against the eventual departure of Malcolm Butler, who is sticking around for one more year, and probably only one more year. However they use Gilmore, coach Bill Belichick knows everything Gilmore can and can’t do.

Biggest negative change: For a defending Super Bowl winner, there weren’t nearly as many as usual. The biggest name to leave was a guy no one ever expected to stay — tight end Martellus Bennett. Enter former Colts tight end Dwayne Allen, who potentially will help fill the role, if he’s not overwhelmed by the Patriot Way. The addition of other receivers and running backs will help, too, as the Patriots assemble perhaps the best array of offensive weapons they’ve ever had.

Coaching thermometer: 459 below Fahrenheit. Negative 253 Celsius. Absolute zero. Belichick has the job for as long as he wants it. Not even an 0-16 disaster would get him fired, not that an 0-16 disaster would ever happen to him. The real question is whether they go 16-0 for the second time in 10 years. And indeed they could.

We’d like to have a beer with . . . Belichick. Everyone who knows him swears that when he gets away from football he’s not the cold, flat, monotonous, day-to-day bad ventriloquist whose mouth moves just enough to confirm that he’s the one who’s talking and/or breathing. So let’s get him away from football and get him a beer and talk about boats or Bon Jovi or the history of the single wing or whatever tickles his fancy and gets him to act like something other than a cyborg whose only sign of humanity is the fact that he’s gaining wrinkles and losing hair.

How they could prove us wrong: It won’t take much to prove us wrong, because any deviation from wire-to-wire No. 1 seed would prove us wrong. The only potential vulnerability may be man-to-man coverage, which seemed to work (relatively speaking) when deployed by the Houston and Atlanta defenses in the postseason. The Steelers are hoping to use it more in an effort to match up better with the Patriots, who can’t be covered effectively in zone because Tom Brady can spot and dismantle any collection of defenders aimed at covering spots and not players.

Andrew Hawkins announces his retirement

AP

In a surprise move just before the start of training camp, Patriots receiver Andrew Hawkins has announced his retirement.

Hawkins never played for the Patriots, having just signed with them in free agency this offseason. In a video he posted on social media, he explained that he simply didn’t think he could handle another season at age 31.

“I just got off the phone with the New England Patriots and coach Belichick and I just had to inform them of my decision to retire,” he said. “After OTAs this summer, my body just didn’t respond and didn’t feel the way it should going into camp.”

Hawkins said he wanted to play for the Patriots and they wanted him, but it just wasn’t going to work out.

“They were disappointed,” he said. “I told them I was appreciative of the opportunity to work with an organization as storied as they are.”

Hawkins played three seasons with the Browns and three with the Bengals. He recently got a master’s degree from Columbia and said the next step in his life will be working on a Ph.D. in business and economics.

Matthew Slater: Patriots don’t talk about a 19-0 season

.

The Patriots have had such a good offseason following their Super Bowl LI victory that talk is already surfacing about New England going 19-0.

But that talk is not coming from the Patriots’ locker room.

Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater says he and his teammates laugh when reporters or fans broach the idea that they could win every game from Week One through Super Bowl LII.

“When it comes to a perfect season, when you hear something like that, I guess all you can do is chuckle,” Slater told Bostonsportsjournal.com. “I mean, it’s just so hard to even go out and just being competitive in this league. It’s so difficult. Any talk of us doing something like that, it’s not something I’d align myself with or something our team would think or talk about. Right now, we’re just thinking about going out there and stringing some good practices together. It’s tough — I would say it’s something we don’t really talk about or focus any of our energy on, because we understand that at this time of the year, it’s about getting prepared to play. We’re a long way away from even competing in a game.”

Patriots receiver Julian Edelman made similar comments, calling talk of the Patriots going 19-0 “stupid.” But that talk will probably continue until the Patriots lose a game.