Re-signed defender receives high praise from Patriots Super Bowl champion

Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots
Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots / Adam Glanzman/GettyImages

Since the Jerod Mayo began at the start of this offseason, there have been a lot of expectations placed on the new regime to do things differently than what had become the norm under Bill Belichick over the last 24 years.

Mayo and executive vice president of player personnel Eliot Wolf have seemingly done well in that regard so far, starting with how they handled free agency and the draft to contract extensions they have handed out over the last few months, many of which would likely not have happened if Belichick were still in charge.

It has been the main praise the duo has received heading into training camp, with the latest extensions being Rhamondre Stevenson, who was set to play on the final year of his rookie contract this fall, and Jahlani Tavai, an under-the-radar talent who really came alive last year.

Some were not thrilled with the idea of paying a running back decent money, as keeping a player at the position beyond their rookie contract has become a controversial debate. However, Stevenson has become the backbone of the Patriots offense, therefore earning a nice payday for his effort and continued hard work.

The decision to extend Tavai was met with equal cynicism from many analysts and fans, but a two-time Super Bowl-winning former Patriot approves of the move, which might mean more than the opinions of the average Joe.

Rob Ninkovich is a big fan of the Patriots extending Jahlani Tavai

Former defensive end turned podcast host Rob Ninkovich recently spoke to ESPN's Mike Reiss about the Patriots' latest extension news.

He had high praise for Tavai specifically, noting his familiarity with the team and working for years with some of his teammates as some of the reasons to keep him around, and he believes the contract will be well worth it for all parties in the end.

"I love his energy. He plays hard. You need a guy like that who can do multiple things, but also get everyone in the right spots. He’s been in this system long enough where he understands his role so well that he can help others. … Him and Bent (Ja’Whaun Bentley) having played together for the last three years, that’s a good thing to keep that going. I think he has a higher ceiling and that could soon become an undervalued contract."

Keeping the consistency on a defense that has already been performing at a high level is crucial for a team amidst a rebuild, so keeping Tavai makes a lot of sense, as Ninkovich stated. The linebacker thrived during his third year with the Patriots in 2023, recording the best season of his career during a career-high 16 games started.

He proved to be a valuable asset on a team that was led by its defensive efforts, which were often fueled by a big play from Tavai. He recorded 110 combined tackles, five for a loss, four quarterback hits, two interceptions, five passes defended, and two forced fumbles, all of which are career bests.

It's the basis of why Ninkovich loves Mayo and Wolf's decision to keep Tavai in Foxboro beyond the 2024 season, which he believes wouldn't have been the case if Belichick were still in town.

"It's also an appreciation thing for a player who has performed well. I like what they've done with him and David [Andrews], which is something I'm not sure would have happened prior to this year. It tells the younger guys that if you approach it the right way, like they did, this is what the reward can be."

He's probably right in his assessment, and hopefully, Mayo and Wolf will be proven to have made the right decision to keep Tavai and show he was worth the extension to any and all doubters.

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