A few players can tell you how hard it is to earn a contract extension from the New England Patriots.
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich can tell you how hard it is to earn three extensions. The eighth-year NFL veteran earned an extension that will keep him with the team through the 2016 season, according to ESPN's Mike Reiss:
This deal is for three years and $15 million, with $8.5 million guaranteed, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
He's worth every penny.
For years, Ninkovich has been as versatile as the Patriots have asked him to be, playing a mix of 3-4 outside linebacker, 4-3 outside linebacker and 4-3 defensive end.
The contract extension is obviously great news for him, as he gets to remain with the team where he has found a big role, but also good news for the Patriots, who hang onto one of their key playmakers on defense. Ninkovich had eight sacks in 2012 and has 14.5 sacks over the past two seasons, the most for any Patriots defender in that stretch.
The implications of the contract extension reach beyond just Ninkovich, though.
Here's a look at some of the Patriots' most important upcoming free agents:
That's quite the laundry list of players to take care of over the next 16 calendar months.
Which of those players will the Patriots take care of first? It's anyone's guess, but recent trends indicate Brandon Spikes will not be that player. He played 72.4 percent of the team's snaps in 2012, but has played just 34.1 percent of the snaps through the first two games of the 2013 season.
Devin McCourty seems to be the next in line for a big extension, with left tackle Nate Solder not trailing too far behind.
Those long-term questions will be addressed in time, but for now, the Patriots can take comfort that Ninkovich will be with the team for a long time.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.