FOXBORO -- Rob Ninkovich was never one to openly complain about the rigors of an NFL training camp. When younger players did, he told them they never knew when their last would be. That's why it came as no surprise when less than two weeks ago, inside a Boston hotel, Ninkovich seemed to be looking forward to his team's upcoming camp. Parts of it, at least. The one-on-one pass-rush drills still got him going.
But as he trained, as he prepared his body for a 12th season, it was telling him it had had enough.
"Usually there's a progression of, OK, you're working up toward the season, you get to the season, your body's getting broken down," Ninkovich said. "Then after the season you try to heal a little bit and you try to build back up for another year. When you're trying to build back up when you're younger, I feel like you can build back up, and OK, you feel OK. And for me, I was trying to build back up, and I just felt I wasn't where I needed to be to be what I am and what I feel like I should be for my teammates and fans and everyone who loves me as a football player.
"I was honest with myself. You have to be honest with yourself. I feel like athletes unfortunately sometimes they get away from that because they don't want to believe what their [bodies] are telling themselves. I knew that my time was probably close. Training kind of made it clear for me . . . When you go squat and you're sore for a week, it's not a good thing."
Ninkovich announced his retirement during a press conference on Sunday that was attended by a multitude of Patriots players and coaches, many of whom were sitting on the ground or on tables in the media work room in order to squeeze as many bodies as possible inside to show support.
The decision to stop was not made in haste, Ninkovich explained. And he waited until the start of camp to make his announcement in order to be sure it was final.
"I wanted to make sure I made the right choice," Ninkovich said. "That was talking with my family, and looking at the pros and cons. And coming in as a guy that had been cut a bunch, I've had injuries, I've had knee injuries that were close to being career-ending . . . It's lasted me 11 years so I'm happy I've had that durability there. There's a time where that durability doesn't last as long. I'm just happy that I was able to play for this organization as long as I have."
With the Patriots, Ninkovich started all 16 games for five straight seasons (2011-15), and he made 101 total starts between 2010 and 2016. He recorded 46 career sacks, forced 12 fumbles and recovered 14 others.