Why Rob Ninkovich praised Patriots for re-signing veteran LB


“It tells the younger guys that if you approach it the right way, like they did, this is what the reward can be.”

Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich smiles as he sees someone in the stands and blows them a kiss as he leaves the field following the New England victory. The New England Patriots hosted the Chicago Bears in a regular season NFL game at Gillette Stadium.
Rob Ninkovich was happy to see New England re-sign one key contributor from the 2023 season. (Globe Staff Photo/Jim Davis)

The Patriots reportedly re-upped one of the emerging leaders of their defense last week, with New England signing linebacker Jahlani Tavai to a three-year contract extension worth up to $21 million, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss.

Tavai has established himself as a stalwart in the heart of New England’s defense over the last few years, recording 110 tackles during the 2023 season to go along with two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.

New England’s decision to commit to a player who has made major strides in Tavai earned high marks from former linebacker Rob Ninkovich — with the two-time Super Bowl champion focusing on the change in direction for the Patriots organization when it comes to contract negotiations.

Tavai stands as just the latest veteran contributor in New England who was handed a new contract extension before hitting free agency.

The Patriots signed wideout Kendrick Bourne to a three-year deal in March before he hit the open market, handed Christian Barmore a four-year, $92 million contract, and then inked center David Andrews to a one-year extension in May.

“It’s also an appreciation for a player who has performed well,” Ninkovich said in Reiss’ latest Patriots notebook. “I like what they’ve done with him and David, which is something I’m not sure would have happened prior to this year. It tells the younger guys that if you approach it the right way, like they did, this is what the reward can be.”

Tavai, 27, has been on an upward trajectory since first arriving in New England just before the 2021 season.

After only appearing in seven percent of New England’s defensive snaps during that 2021 campaign, Tavai logged 74 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in 2023, to go along with 78 percent of the team’s special-teams snaps.

“I love his energy. He plays hard,” Ninkovich said of Tavai. “You need a guy like that who can do multiple things, but also get everyone in the right spots.

“He’s been in this system long enough where he understands his role so well that he can help others. … Him and Bent (Ja’Whaun Bentley) having played together for the last three years, that’s a good thing to keep that going. I think he has a higher ceiling and that could soon become an undervalued contract.”

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