GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Patriots and defensive end Rob Ninkovich agreed to a new contract last week that extends Ninkovich’s deal through the 2017 season, according to terms of the deal obtained by the Globe.
Ninkovich, 32, was set to become a free agent after this season. Instead, he now is playing on a two-year, $4.7 million deal that could be worth as much as $5 million based on playing time and incentives.
Notably, the Patriots helped ease the financial strains of Ninkovich’s four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy for performance-enhancing drugs, much as they did with Tom Brady and his four-game Deflategate suspension.
The contract was signed last Monday, two days after Ninkovich’s suspension began. Under his previous deal, Ninkovich’s base salary was $1.5 million, meaning he was set to lose almost $353,000 in fines (4/17ths of his salary).
His new base salary is $1 million, meaning he will now lose about $235,000, a difference of about $118,000. The Patriots saved Brady almost $2 million with a similar contract maneuver.
The Patriots also tweaked Ninkovich’s contract to allow him to earn the full $400,000 in roster bonuses from his previous contract. Ninkovich was going to make $25,000 per game active this year, but now will make $33,333 for every game.
A reliable and dependable defensive leader, Ninkovich missed just one game in seven seasons with the Patriots before his suspension knocked him out of the first four games of 2016. He has 42 sacks, five interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, and a touchdown with New England. Ninkovich had 6½ sacks and a career-high seven passes defended in 2015.
Here is the breakdown of Ninkovich’s deal:
■ $1.5 million signing bonus.
■ $1 million salary in 2016 ($764,706 after the suspension).
■ $1 million salary in 2017 (guaranteed for injury only).
■ $400,000 in roster bonuses each year ($33,333 per game in 2016, $25,000 per game in 2017).
■ $100,000 in offseason workout bonuses in 2016 and 2017.
■ $500,000 in incentives in 2017 based on playing time.
■ Salary cap numbers of $4.77 million and $2.25 million.
Also last week, the Patriots restructured the contract of safety Devin McCourty to create salary cap space. The Patriots converted $3.74 million of McCourty’s 2016 salary into a signing bonus, creating about $2.8 million in cap space.
While McCourty’s 2016 salary cap number decreases from $7.9 million to $5.1 million, his cap numbers from 2017-19 increase by $935,000 each season.
Thinking of you
Patriots president Jonathan Kraft said on his pregame radio appearance that a construction crew would be on hand at Gillette Stadium Sunday to dismantle the Brady banners that were hung the day the quarterback’s suspension started.
Kraft indicated the plan all along was to remove them before the regular season started.
“We wanted to do something to remember him for that time [he was suspended] and symbolize the fact that he’s on everybody’s mind,” said Kraft. “We wanted him to know everybody loves him and has his back.’’
Kraft also weighed in on Rob Gronkowski, and the perception that there’s a different set of rules for the All-Pro tight end when it comes to him talking about injuries.
“With any player on our team, Bill [Belichick], training staff, and docs get together,’’ said Kraft. “I don’t think anything happened differently with Rob. But because he’s Rob, an exceptional tight end and a bigger-than-life personality, a lot more attention gets paid to it.’’
Gronkowski is sidelined with what he called “a little hammy thing.”
Sunday night’s opener was the Patriots’ first against an NFC opponent since 2000, when they lost to the Buccaneers in Belichick’s debut as coach. They are 2-3 in openers vs. the NFC . . . The Patriots are 32-25 in season openers, 13-4 under Belichick . . . New England is 26-17 on “Sunday Night Football.” . . . Jimmy Garoppolo was the fifth quarterback in the last 30 years to make his first career start in a season-opening night game. The others: Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (2008), San Diego’s Philip Rivers (2006), Houston’s David Carr (2002), and Denver’s Brian Griese (1999) . . . Senator John McCain was at midfield for the coin toss, which was won by the Cardinals, who elected to receive. McCain stood with Arizona coach Bruce Arians during the national anthem. All players on both teams also stood. Patriots Martellus Bennett and McCourty held fists up at the end of the “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ . . . Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had “9-11-01” written on top of his play card to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
All systems go
Linebacker/defensive end Shea McClellin and defensive end Trey Flowers were on the field early doing a pregame test with the trainers. Both have been dealing with shoulder ailments and both must have passed their tests because they were active . . . New England’s game-day inactives were cornerback Eric Rowe, running back D.J. Foster, linebacker Elandon Roberts, and tight end Clay Harbor. Gronkowski (hamstring), Nate Solder (hamstring), and Jonathan Cooper (foot) had been downgraded to out on Friday . . . The Cardinals’ inactives were safety Marqui Christian, running back Stepfan Taylor, guard Cole Toner, defensive tackles Olsen Pierre, Ed Stinson, and Xavier Williams, and linebacker Kareem Martin . . . In addition to Cooper (who came to New England as part of the Chandler Jones deal), Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch is also a former Cardinal. Jones was the only ex-Patriot playing for Arizona . . . The Cardinals have sold out every game at University of Phoenix Stadium (a.k.a The Big Toaster) since opening the place in 2006. Sunday’s game was No. 107.
Box score: Patriots 23, Cardinals 21
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