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Rob Ninkovich says he’s been suspended four games

Divisional Round - Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16: Charcandrick West #35 of the Kansas City Chiefs is tackled by Rob Ninkovich #50 of the New England Patriots in the first half during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich suffered a triceps injury this summer that threatened his availability for the early part of the regular season and we learned on Friday that he won’t play the first four games of the year.

The reason has nothing to do with his injury, however. Ninkovich told Mike Reiss of ESPN.com that he has been suspended four games for a violation of the leagues performance-enhancing drug policy. Ninkovich said he he failed a test after failing to make sure that a supplement he took was free of banned substances.

“Few things are more important to me than my name and reputation. This might call that into question for some, which has me heartbroken,” Ninkovich said. “I don’t want to cut any corners. I want to do things the right way, with high integrity, and that’s what I have always wanted to stand for. ... Any supplement I’ve ever used was bought at a store. I was unaware something I bought had a substance in it that would give me a positive test because it wasn’t listed [as an ingredient] ... One thing I have learned is that if a supplement is not NSF certified there are no regulations that ensure that what is on the label is 100 percent accurate. That is a hard lesson for me to learn at this stage in my career, but I take responsibility for it. It’s a mistake I made and it hurts that I won’t be there for my teammates.”

Ninkovich won’t be allowed to be around the Patriots during his suspension -- perhaps he and Tom Brady can hang together -- and the Pats will be able to keep another player around in his absence. That wouldn’t have been the case if Ninkovich missed time because of injury.

Ninkovich has been a key part of the Patriots defense against the run and pass for the last six seasons and his absence will increase the pressure on new arrivals like Chris Long and Barkevious Mingo as well as make Jabaal Sheard’s return to health a significant development for New England.