Vince Wilfork was first-team All Pro in 2012.
That wasn’t one of those reputation-based honors, either. He was – along with Geno Atkins – one of the very best defensive tackles in football.
Since 2007, Wilfork was either first or second-team All Pro in every season except 2008 and last season, when he blew out his Achilles against the Falcons.
Prior to the injury, Wilfork’s work in the Patriots first three games was modest. Far short of the destructive force he’d been in 2012.
That fact, Wilfork’s age (he’ll be 33 in November) and his financial heft (he’s due a $7.5M salary and will carry an $11.6M cap hit this year) have his immediate future in some question.
Over the next four days, the Patriots will be trying to convince Vince to trim that cap hit down by taking a restructured deal.
And – given his age and recent injury history – they may be asking him to take a pay cut as well (I don’t know that to be the case, by the way, it is a presumption).
This is where it might get sticky. Wilfork – aside from a three-game span in 2013 – has been one of the NFL’s best defensive linemen over the past seven years.
He’s not going to think he’s anything less than that now.
The contract Wilfork signed in March of 2010 was for five years and $40 million. It included an $18M signing bonus and $24M guaranteed. He’s realized $31,954,860.00 of that deal.
Given the prolonged battle he went through to get the deal he got, I will bet Wilfork and his wife/business partner Bianca are going to want every cent the Patriots agreed to give them.
Having been with the team since 2004, Wilfork is well-acquainted with the Patriots’ relentless pragmatism.
He likely foresaw these March 2014 discussions taking place the day he signed the contract.
The rub to any Patriots appeal for a restructure is this: it’s not that they CAN’T carry Wilfork’s $11.6M cap hit this year. It’s that they will not WANT to.
The cap is at $133M. With cap rollovers, credits, etc., they are about $15M under the cap right now according to Miguel Benzan, a layman cap expert who’s been doing this stuff for more than a decade and is very accurate.
Meanwhile, Isaac Sopoaga and his $3.5M cap hit have already been heaved overboard, we’re just waiting for the splash. They have a crapton of cap space.
The Patriots can handle Wilfork’s $11.6M cap hit. And Logan Mankins’ $10.5M cap hit. Both players have been everything they said they’d be when they signed the deals in 2010. They’ve played at a high level. They’ve played hurt. They’ve been the standard-bearers for leadership on offense and defense and they’ve been the conscience or their groups.
If the Patriots want to shuffle Wilfork’s money just to open 2014 cap space and then contract Wilfork at below-market prices in coming years WITHOUT using the cap space saved on new guys in 2014, then I wouldn’t go along with that if I were Vincent Lamar Wilfork.
The Patriots would be, in essence, pocketing the savings and penalizing Wilfork in 2014 for being hurt in 2013.
However, if the Patriots intend to use that money a Wilfork restructure will save them THIS YEAR, that’s a different story. In that case, they are giving Wilfork all of his five-year, $40M contract but contracting him at a below-market deal in coming seasons. The negotiation would then be in good faith.
The Patriots would be signing up for two more seasons at below-market price for a player of Wilfork’s ability. They would be entitled to do that, in my opinion, as he would be a guy coming off an Achilles in his 33rd year on Earth. And what the hell, the Patriots guarantee about 70 percent of it, and that’s a fair move.
I’m sure these are the things being weighed right now in Camp Wilfork.
Both sides are going to be hoping for peaceful resolution. The chance of that happening? 50-50