Wilfork's Patriots career may be over

Wilfork's Patriots career may be over
September 30, 2013, 9:45 pm
Share This Post

There will be no farewell tour, with gifts heaped upon him at every out of town stop.  No touching goodbye, where long-time teammates call for the departing star’s substitution.  And there was no on air blubbering in his honor, as the team’s radio announcers bid adieu to the player and to their last shreds of professionalism.   

No, Vince Wilfork wasn’t accorded a taste of the send-off Mariano Rivera received this season. But last night, the Patriots and their fans may have seen the last of the franchise defensive cornerstone.

When Wilfork was hobbled by what was first thought to be an ankle injury in the 1st quarter of last night’s 30 to 23 Patriots victory, it looked appropriately minor. But as the game went on and reports started trickling in, the tone surrounding Big Vince began to take a familiar and ominous feel.  The in-game report had Wilfork suffering from an ankle injury, for which no other detail was provided.  The giant tackle’s return was listed as questionable, the same probability of return that Tom Brady was given after then Kansas City Chief safety Bernard Pollard’s on-field knee deconstruction. Then, early this morning, the Boston Globe reported that Wilfork’s ankle injury was in fact a devastating Achilles tendon tear.

This type of injury would mark the end to Wilfork’s season and leave the Patriots defense with a gaping hole to patch in their very formidable front seven.  It’s also the type of injury that could very well mark the end of Wilfork’s career in a Patriots uniform.  

Vince Wilfork is 32 years old and has been the model of durability for his entire career.  But this is the kind of injury that will force Wilfork to navigate around serious physical and financial roadblocks before the five-time Pro-Bowler can return to an NFL field.  

The first and biggest, literally, is Wilfork’s size.  Wilfork is listed on NFL.com as 6’2, 325 pounds.  Now, I’m not a professional weight guesser, but even Navin Johnson is going to hammer the over on that estimate. A very conservative guess on my part would be 350 pounds and simply carrying around that kind of girth has to be an added complication to a recovery process that usually averages about a year.

Now even if Wilfork recovers, there is serious doubt that he would ever be the same caliber of player he was before the tear.  Wilfork makes plays because he possesses a level of quickness and explosiveness that is in direct conflict with his body type.  If Vince’s attributes are compromised even slightly, it’s unlikely he will ever be the kind of game-changing, middle clogging playmaker the Patriots front seven has been built around for the last decade.

And nobody is more aware of these realities than Bill Belichick.  Bill is also acutely aware of the fact that Wilfork’s cap number next year, the last on his current deal, will be a staggering 11.5 million dollars.  

Normally, the last years of these long term NFL deals are just mirages, inserted to minimize early cap hits for teams and inflate the associated agent’s press release.  The fact that Wilfork was on the verge of playing into his final year reflects the high caliber of his play.  But even with his long resume of success, a physically heavy defensive tackle with an Achilles injury and the second largest cap hit on the team in 2014, will literally and figuratively have zero leverage to restructure his deal.  If Vince doesn’t restructure at a team friendly “value”, his return is very unlikely.

What Patriots fans will likely see in Big Vince’s future is the same regrettable departure that Bill Belichick and the Patriots accorded Ty Law in 2005.  Much like Wilfork, Law was a long time Pro Bowl caliber defender who’s health, age and cap hit lead to a premature parting of ways.

As a Patriots fan and someone who has enjoyed watching Wilfork defy physics for years, I hope that the big man has one more bit of physical magic to wow us with and we see number 75 return to the field next year in a Patriots uniform.  

But as a realist, who understands that unlike baseball, the NFL is a cold, emotionless, ruthless business, I do not foresee a happy ending for Wilfork in New England.

Unfortunately I think Sunday’s victory against the Falcons was the last game of one of the greatest players in Patriots history.  It was an exit without gifts, fanfare or celebrations and one that is all too common to the NFL.  

A slow, depressing goodbye on the back of a golf cart.