Rob Ninkovich, a Patriots captain and one of the most popular players in the locker room, will serve a four-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.
The NFL announced the suspension of the defensive end Friday.
The 11-year veteran said he was crushed because he would never knowingly take an illegal substance.
“Fewer things are more important to me than my name and reputation,” Ninkovich told ESPN. “This might call that into question for some, which has me heartbroken.
“I don’t want to cut any corner. I want to do things the right way, with high integrity, and that’s what I have always wanted to stand for.’’
Ninkovich said he took an over-the-counter product without realizing it contained a banned ingredient.
“Any supplement I’ve ever used was bought at a store,’’ he said. “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.
“This is a hard lesson for me to learn at this stage of 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 has been behind the scenes lately after tearing a triceps muscle during an Aug. 9 joint practice with the Saints, the team that originally drafted him in 2006.
Although he had returned to practice, there was a good chance he was going to miss some regular-season time because of the injury. Now, because of this twist, there is no urgency to rush his rehab.
The suspension will cost Ninkovich $352,941 of his $1.5 million base salary and he will not count against the 53-man roster until Week 5.
Ninkovich has been an incredibly durable player since signing with New England in 2009. His current streak of games played stands at 116, including playoffs. He has started every regular-season and playoff game for the last five seasons.
A smart and instinctive player, the 6-foot-2-inch, 260-pounder is one of the Patriots’ top pass rushers and has collected 47 sacks, 6 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, and 14 fumble recoveries during his New England tenure.
New England has been hit hard at this position this summer. Jabaal Sheard (knee) and Shea McClellin (undisclosed) have missed time with injuries.
The Patriots have gotten excellent play from veteran Chris Long and emerging second-year player Trey Flowers, who could be the starters for the Sept. 11 opener in Arizona.
The news means that a player on the bubble will earn a spot on the New England’s initial 53-man roster, which is due Saturday at 4 p.m. Among the players battling for jobs are second-year players Geneo Grissom and Rufus Johnson.
Grissom has the flexibility to play on the edge and in the interior, while Johnson can play on the line or as an off-the-line linebacker. Both are pretty good in pursuit, and Grissom is a solid special teams contributor.
Additionally, newcomer Barkevious Mingo could absorb some of Ninkovich’s snaps. He was used at inside linebacker and as an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid against the Giants on Thursday night.
While the Patriots work on how to fill the gap, Ninkovich will work on rehabbing his triceps, though he won’t be able to do it at the team facilities.
“My focus is on getting back to 100 percent and being the best teammate and Patriot I can be upon my return,’’ he said.
Jim McBride can be reached at email@example.com.