With NFL training camps officially opened across the league the New England Patriots received some unexpected news last week.Eight year veteran Rob Ninkovich officially announced his retirement. With Ninkovich officially retired the next question is who will replace Ninkovich at outside linebacker? In eight years with New England Ninkovich has made three trips to the Super Bowl winning two of them. Not only has he won two of them from 2010 until 2016 Ninkovich played in all sixteen of the Patriots regular season games. That in itself is a pretty impressive milestone. Whoever does earn his position it won’t be easy replacing his durability and work ethic. One name to keep an eye on is third year man Trey Flowers. Flowers rose to the occasion last year in the playoffs and had a great Super Bowl. Aside from Flowers look for linebackers Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy and Geno Grissom to compete. Newly acquired David Harris and Kony Ealy will provide depth but may not be the solution. With just four draft picks in 2016 the Patriots selected two players on defense. Derek Rivers an outside linebacker from Youngstown State was their number three pick. With the fourth pick they selected Deatrich Wise a defensive tackle from Arkansas. Don’t expect to much from Rivers or Wise maybe with the exception of special teams. Out of the group the best bet to replace Ninkovich is Trey Flowers. The Patriots should have a good idea who can replace Ninkovich after the final preseason game. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots make some moves during the summer if Belichick isn’t satisfied with what he sees. One interesting name to keep an eye on is free agent Dwight Freeney. Freeney is thirty seven years old but still has plenty of juice in his legs. Freeney would be a perfect short term fit for two or three years. If the Patriots don’t feel happy with what they have he would certainly be an upgrade . No matter which direction the Patriots go in Rob Ninkovich certainly leaves behind an impressive resume three trips to the Super Bowl and winning two of them not to mention ninety six straight games.
It’s a scary thought that the 2016/17 Super Bowl champions got better in the off season. But the truth of the matter is they did. The Patriots pulled far ahead of the AFC pack this past off season. The only teams that were more active than the Patriots were the Browns, Raiders,Colts and Titans. Patriot nation is talking about a 19-0 season but it is what it is just talk. When the clock struck twelve this past March 1st the Patriots went right to work stockpiling in quest of super bowl number six. The Pat’s started out by signing Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore to seven years the biggest free agent signing in Patriot history. Then it was a trade with the Saints that bought 23 year old receiver Brandon Cooks to New England. On a normal season Pat’s fans hope that veterans Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola can stay healthy. But hopefully not this year Cooks joins Amendola, Edelman, Chris Hogan and Andrew Hawkins In the tight end department the Pat’s got another shot in the by signing Colts tight end Dwayne Allen and Chiefs tight end James O’Shaughnessy . If Gronkowski goes down the Pats are well stocked. On the defensive side of the ball the Pats reached at one year deal with holdout Malcom Butler. The long rumored deal had Butler going to New Orleans for it’s 11th pick in the first round but the deal never happened. Butler and Gilmore will be the toughest backfield to throw on. If the Pats stay fairly healthy they could make their second trip to the Super Bowl in two years. Make no mistake about the schedule is not as easy as people think. Any game at Pittsburgh is tough as is the Falcons and Raiders. A trip to Miami later on in the season is no easy task. Don’t forget the 10-6 Dolphins were one of the most improved teams in the AFC last year. If all goes according to plan look for the Patriots and Raiders to meet in the AFC Championship game in January. I look for the Raiders to win the AFC west in 2017.