Sean Payton cites misstep with former Patriot among biggest regrets with Saints


Sean Payton doesn't have much to regret from his 16-year tenure as head coach of the New Orleans Saints.

From leading the franchise through its return to the Louisiana Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, to winning its lone Super Bowl title to his work with quarterback Drew Brees, Payton has been one of the most successful coaches not named Bill Belichick of the 21st century.

One thing Payton does regret, however?

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That would be his evaluation of Rob Ninkovich.

"The Ninkovich debacle," as Payton referred to it as.

Ninkovich was part of Payton's first draft class with the Saints (fifth round, 135th overall) as a linebacker out of Purdue in 2006, a haul which produced Reggie Bush, Jahri Evans, Roman Harper, Zach Strief and Marques Colston, all of whom would contribute to the team's Super Bowl XLIV title after the 2009 season and go on to play at least a decade in the NFL.

Like the others, Ninkovich would also enjoy a lengthy career in the league...but barely any of it came with the Saints. He played in three games for New Orleans as a rookie before going on to appear in five games over the next two seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

Prior to the 2009 season, Payton brought Ninkovich back to the Bayou, with the idea of converting him into a long snapper. It didn't take, and after New Orleans released him early in training camp that year, the Patriots quickly swooped in and signed Ninkovich.

The move wound up being one of the best under the radar transactions of the Belichick era, as Ninkovich would go on to play in 123 games -- with 101 starts -- over eight seasons for New England, winning two Super Bowls in the process before retiring during training camp in 2017. His 46 sacks are eighth in franchise history.

In the grand scheme of things, worse personnel blunders have been made. Would the presence of Ninkovich have helped the Saints win a second Super Bowl in the Payton-Brees era? It's hard to say, but the Patriots certainly reaped the benefits of a regret Payton felt the need to mention off the top of his good-bye press conference.

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