Entering 2014, it appeared that a messy contract dispute between the team and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork would lead to the 32-year-old's departure from Beantown, leaving a huge hole right in the middle of the defense.
Well, fences have been mended, all is apparently well in Boston (at least for now) and the Patriots have one less question to answer as they begin a quest for the sixth Super Bowl trip of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era.
As ESPN's Adam Schefter reports, the Patriots and Wilfork, who had nine tackles in four games last year before tearing his Achilles, have agreed to terms on a three-year contract:
Patriots and DT Vince Wilfork restructured his contract. It's a new 3-year, $22.5M deal, per source. Wilfork stays a Patriot.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 27, 2014
However, Schefter was also quick to pass along that the contract is, for all intents and purposes, a one-year deal:
Vince Wilfork's new deal with Patriots really is a one-year, $8M deal that includes $3M guaranteed and deal has an option for 2 more years.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 27, 2014
It makes sense. After all, Wilfork is well past 30 years old, and a torn Achilles is a major injury no matter a player's age.
Still it certainly beats the direction things appeared to be headed only a few days ago.
It was only Monday that Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald reported that Wilfork's time with the Pats appeared finished:
According to two sources, an angry Wilfork ripped his name plate off his locker stall, and cleaned out his locker. That's how Big Vince felt about the proceedings. Naturally, time and distance can change perspective, but Wilfork seemed convinced he was done in New England.
However, Patriots owner Robert Kraft told Guregian that Wilfork was one of his "personal favorites" and that he hoped they could get a deal done.
Sure enough the Patriots did, and not a moment too soon.
Simply put, the Patriots need Wilfork in 2014.
|Year||Overall||Pass Rush||vs. Run||Coverage|
Among Defensive Tackles
Granted, Wilfork has never been much of a pass-rushing threat, with a career high of 3.5 sacks back in 2011. However, Wilfork's value has always been at the point of attack.
Prior to last season's defensive meltdown, the Patriots had finished in the bottom half of the NFL against the run only once in the past five seasons, and that was 17th in 2011.
Over that five-year span, the Patriots allowed an average of just over 109 yards per game on the ground. A year ago, with Wilfork on the shelf, that number mushroomed to 134.1 yards a game, including allowing 107 yards to the Denver Broncos in an AFC Championship Game where the Patriots defense just couldn't get off the field.
Yes, Wilfork's absence wasn't the only reason for the free-fall. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes all missed significant time with injuries as well.
However, that just makes re-upping Wilfork all the more important. With so many players returning from serious injuries (and Spikes, one of the league's best run defenders at the position, now with the Buffalo Bills) there was enough uncertainty surrounding the middle of the New England defense without adding replacing Wilfork to the pile.
So while adding cornerback Darrelle Revis was great, all it did was ensure (hopefully) that a Pats pass defense that was 18th in the NFL last year (their highest ranking, incidentally, since 2009) won't backslide significantly after Aqib Talib bolted for the Broncos in free agency.
Upgrades at wide receiver? Those are fine, but the team retained Julian Edelman, and for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the Patriots passing game, it still ranked 10th in the NFL a year ago.
Now, if the Patriots are going to not only win their 47th straight AFC East title (approximately) but also get back to the Super Bowl, then fixing that giant bowl of pudding where their run defense used to be was a big priority this offseason.
There's still work to be done, of course, but keeping Wilfork in New England was a big step in the right direction.