Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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METAIRIE, La. It's not uncommon these days, to read about how good the New Orleans Saints are at finding undrafted rookie free agents to fill out their roster.

They're players who were overlooked in the draft only to catch on with a team during offseason workouts and training camp.

But what always sticks with Sean Payton, the team's head coach, are the ones who got away.

Sunday, when the Saints play at the Patriots (3:25 p.m., FOX), Payton will face the one no longer around that he alludes to the most Rob Ninkovich, a hybrid end/outside linebacker who now plies his trade for the New England Patriots.

There are no hard feelings, however, from Ninkovich.

'I know that its business and I'm happy that I was able to get the opportunity to come here and play football for the New England Patriots,' said Ninkovich, who has 20 1/2 sacks in five seasons with the Pats. 'It was a great learning experience for me, not only just in general but in life. It was a life lesson to pursue your goals and go after things that you want.

'It just kept me motivated, really, and to stay hungry for my long term goals and playing in the NFL.'

Ninkovich, 29, is the rare player who can compare and contrast several of the NFL's best at what they do Payton and Bill Belichick, Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

About the coaches:

  • 'Playing for both coaches, you can kind of see the similarities and how they want their teams to be mentally tough teams that are smart.'
  • 'I think that both coaches really try to hit home on and get every single player in that mindset of playing three phases, taking care of the football on offense and creating turnovers on defense.'

About the quarterbacks:

  • 'Drew is a great pocket guy. He has great pocket awareness. He can move pretty well. You see a lot of guys that think he is going to take a sack and then he's able to shrug the guy off with his pocket awareness. He's got really great feet in the pocket.'
  • 'Tom is just a Hall of Fame guy that is just so competitive. It's crazy how competitive the guy is. Every day he is out here trying to get everyone better. It's just a great quarterback to have leading your team.'
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