Bill Belichick cited Rob Ninkovich while discussing how players’ ‘stories aren’t over’ after NFL roster cuts


Ninkovich was cut multiple times before catching on with the Patriots and playing for multiple Super Bowl winners in eight seasons.

Rob Ninkovich
Rob Ninkovich after a Patriots-49ers game in 2016. Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Bill Belichick acknowledged that the annual day when NFL rosters have to be trimmed down to 53 players is “difficult for everyone,” though he offered a reminder that it doesn’t always spell the end of players’ careers.

“I would, like I always do, caution about thinking things are over when they’re not necessarily over on a lot of levels,” said Belichick during a Tuesday press conference. “It may not be over here, they may not be over somewhere else. Players have certainly left here and gone on and had careers, and players have been released by other teams and come here.

“The Rob Ninkovichs of the world,” Belichick added, citing the former New England linebacker. “Tough day for him, and that’s the end of his line, [but] it definitely wasn’t. So the stories aren’t over here.”

Ninkovich was cut by the Saints in both 2007 (among the team’s final roster cuts) and in 2009. He was also released by the Dolphins in 2008 in between his stints with New Orleans.

Eventually, he caught on with the Patriots in 2009 and built himself into a starter over eight seasons. His final game was New England’s miraculous comeback in Super Bowl LI, Ninkovich’s second Super Bowl win. Former Saints head coach Sean Payton said in a 2022 interview that he regrets cutting Ninkovich.

Belichick also emphasized that players the Patriots could potentially cut aren’t precluded from quickly returning as members of the practice squad.

“Some players that we release will come back and play for us, be on the practice squad, and some won’t,” he explained. “We all knew the numbers and the math when we started.”

In the short term, Belichick admitted that the cutdown process can still be painful.

“It’s always difficult to even have to tell a player that today he’s not going to be on the roster,” he said. “He’s going to be on the practice squad, or he’s not going to be here at all. Unfortunately that’s part of the process we all signed up for, we knew that’s what it is. This is one of the days that it happens.”