Updates from Tuesday, March 25
Sources close to the situation have told NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport that the Patriots have taken steps to win Wilfork back.
Although nothing has been worked out on the contract front, Kraft is reaching out to Wilfork in an effort to smooth over any bad blood that has developed between the two sides.
Updates from Monday, March 24
ESPN's Mike Reiss provides a statement from Patriots owner Robert Kraft discussing Vince Wilfork's future within the organization:
Robert Kraft on V. Wilfork: "I very much hope we get it done & I believe he very much would like to do it as well. We'll see what happens."— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) March 24, 2014
Updates from Friday, March 14
Albert Breer of NFL Network has the latest on Wilfork's status:
Might take a little bit for things to unfold with the Patriots and Vince Wilfork. He's away on vacation, so makes sense that they'd wait.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 14, 2014
A day after signing Darrelle Revis to bolster their shaky defense, the New England Patriots face an interesting dilemma with one of their longtime defensive stalwarts.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has asked the Patriots for his release:
#Patriots Pro Bowl DT Vince Wilfork has asked that the team release him after 10 seasons in New England, according to sources.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 13, 2014
Wilfork, 32, played in only four games last season before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury. He has played each of his 10 NFL seasons in New England, earning five Pro Bowl and All-Pro team selections (one first team, four second team).
It's unknown whether the Patriots have any plans on granting Wilfork's request, but clearly something has gone awry in their relationship. ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss reported just last week the Patriots and Wilfork's representatives were engaged in contract restructuring negotiations.
Wilfork is due a $7.5 million base salary for next season, a figure the Patriots likely don't want to pay for an aging veteran coming off a debilitating injury. With a cap number of $11.6 million and only $3.6 million of dead money on his contract, New England would save $8 million by granting his request, per Spotrac.
A restructuring of Wilfork's 2014 cap number would entail an extension, as his contract expires after next year. By adding years to the end of Wilfork's current deal, the Patriots could lower Wilfork's high cap number by converting his high base salary into guaranteed bonus money. They would then be able to stretch that bonus over multiple seasons, creating long-term stability for Wilfork and immediate relief for New England.
Long, hardball negotiators with veterans on the downside of their career, Wilfork's request is a sign New England's extension offer—if it gave one at all—was not adequate. Asante Samuel, Richard Seymour and Lawyer Milloy are among the high-profile former players Bill Belichick cut ties with out of effectiveness or salary-demand concerns.
Because of his Achilles injury, it's possible the Patriots simply asked Wilfork to take a pay cut and prove he's still worthy of top defensive tackle money in 2014.
Wilfork also understandably takes one look at the open market and realizes he'd have no shortage of suitors, coming off an injury or not. Starting with the 4 p.m. ET opening of the 2014 league year, NFL teams have already spent more than $1 billion on free-agent contracts. With an unexpected influx of revenue helping raise the cap to $133 million, teams are free to spend beyond their typical budget, and have done so without impunity.
Count the Patriots among those high-spending teams. In a move atypical of the conservative New England way, Darrelle Revis signed a two-year, $32 million deal to return to the AFC East on Wednesday, per Rapoport. Revis' deal is essentially a one-year contract with a second team option for $20 million, and he'll count $7 million against the cap in 2014.
The Revis negotiations are likely a separate thing from Wilfork's, but it's impossible to miss the timing of his request. Seeing the Patriots spend at such a rate on Revis and not be willing to pony up a long-term contract to Wilfork's liking has to be a rude awakening—even for someone well aware of how this team operates. Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports noted Wilfork's story isn't unique:
What @ProFootballTalk just tweeted: If you're shocked by the Wilfork thing, you haven't paid attn to how this league works. Still jarring.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 13, 2014
Although it's unclear how much Wilfork will resemble his old self next season, the Patriots obviously missed his presence in 2013. They finished third-worst in rushing yards allowed and were 27th in run defense DVOA, per Football Outsiders. Adding Revis and bringing Wilfork back to the fold would ostensibly help the Patriots—quietly one of the least consistent defenses in football—give Bill Belichick his most talent on that side of the ball in years.
Wilfork is considered one of the best and most versatile defensive tackles of his generation. He expressed confidence in December that he'll return to his former self in 2014.
Now, whether that happens in a Patriots uniform or elsewhere remains to be seen. It's a question Wilfork seemingly wants answered soon.
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