Vince Wilfork, Patriots Bend But Don’t Break Future Plans

Vince Wilfork’s restructured return to New England was a compromise on what lies ahead. (USA Today Sports Images)

NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas

For 14 days, it seemed imminent.

It seemed as if his success in holding the point of attack on the field and the organization’s success in doing the same off the field would be their unraveling.

For Vince Wilfork and the New England Patriots, it seemed to be about pride.

But as two weeks of uncertainty wore on, so did the semblance of hope that the 10-year NFL veteran would restructure his $11.6 million salary cap hit to return to the team that drafted him 21st overall in 2004.

In the afternoon hours of March 27, that came to fruition, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the 32-year-old defensive tackle had re-signed on a one-year, $8 million deal with $2.6 million guaranteed and a two-year option worth up to $22.5 million.

His cleaned-out locker and torn-off nameplate would not spell the end of his stay in Foxborough, Mass.; it would only catalyze a new one.

– Vince Wilfork via Twitter

Wilfork now finds himself on the same path as other Patriots cornerstones – owner Robert Kraft’s personal favorites – Tedy Bruschi, Matt Light, Kevin Faulk and Troy Brown. All of whom finished their careers where they started, and the 6’2”, 325-pounder has a chance to do the same.

The five-time Pro Bowler stuck to his principles; the Patriots stuck to theirs. And ultimately, the bend-but-don’t-break adage that has fueled the Patriots defense over the years forged new meaning.

Coming off a torn right Achilles’ tendon and having logged 3,220 snaps since 2010, Wilfork’s case proved to be an exception to the rule. In a business of great turnover and little sentimentality, head coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio revealed their trust in No. 75.

And he trusted the organization enough to ink an incentive-laden deal, essentially earning back his original salary when he might have found more financial security elsewhere.

If the Lantana Fla., native plays in every game in 2014, averages 70 percent of snaps, New England makes the divisional playoffs and the defense ranks in the top-10 in scoring, he will earn a total of $3 million in performance incentives, according to’s Field Yates. If he meets his weight clause incentive, his offseason workout bonus, his 53-man roster bonus and 46-man game-day active bonuses, he could earn as much as an additional $2.4 million.

If the team triggers his option for the 2015 League Year, he’d be in line to accrue a $4 million roster bonus and potentially an average of $7.5 million through 2016.

Albeit far from set in stone, all of which is attainable. It may not be right, asking a longtime employee to take less assured money while suggesting they can earn back the rest by abiding to the fine print. It may not be right, asking a player to sacrifice in a game of short shelf-life so that the team can benefit with short-term cap relief.

It isn’t fair. But it’s understood.

Wilfork’s pact may fray once again next March if the Patriots opt to save the $4 million he will be due. Yet in the meantime, the roster has some flexibility to plan for the future without mortgaging.

Vince Wilfork looks on from the sideline as the Patriots defeat the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs. (NFL Game Rewind)

It was telling when the Patriots sifted through the first several weeks of free agency without signing a defensive tackle, only bringing in former Minnesota Viking Letroy Guion for a visit, releasing Isaac Sopoaga and restructuring Tommy Kelly’s deal.

Part of that suggested patience with the second-longest tenured Patriot. Part of that also suggested confidence in 23-year-old journeyman Sealver Siliga, who left a strong impression after being promoted from the practice squad to start the final four regular-season games at Wilfork’s usual one-technique spot, tallying 23 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble.

The two figure to work in hand next season, rotating on the interior of New England’s defensive line as run-stuffers in a similar two-gap mold. Nevertheless, Wilfork’s return and Siliga’s emergence aren’t barriers that will keep the Patriots from drafting a defensive tackle this May.

It’s reasonable to say Wilfork wasn’t playing up to his usual standards before his injury struck against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4. Yet conversely, his importance went on to be realized in his absence. The run defense was hamstrung without him.

Even so, questions will inevitably linger when it comes to how his performance will fare this upcoming season. He turns 33 in November and has played in 158 regular and postseason games since entering the league out of the University of Miami a decade ago.

And although Siliga’s late-season rise in 2013 instilled promise, it didn’t instill certainty that he will sustain that level of play over a 16-game season in 2014. He remains relatively unproven, even if the Patriots found something in the 2011 undrafted free agent that three other teams didn’t.

Sealver Siliga’s moment in 2013 came at the expense of New England’s roster attrition. (USA Today Sports Images)

With these forces at work, New England could very well address the position as soon as Round 1, where a rookie prospect could walk into a Keith Traylor-type apprenticeship the way Wilfork once did.

That could come in the form of a Louis Nix III from Notre Dame or a Timmy Jernigan from Florida State. That, however, may not be the course of action. New England could very well move away from the nose tackle position and select a three- to five-technique pass-rusher to add versatility, depth and third-down pressure along the front.

With the restructured Kelly recovering from a torn ACL and former Canadian Football League standout Armond Armstead battling back from an infection that required surgery, the Patriots three-tech alternatives include Chris Jones and Joe Vellano, who were thrust into significant snaps as rookies, and Marcus Forston, who has spent much of his NFL career on New England’s practice-squad shortlist.

Looking to bolster that area of the line, a draft addition could come in the form of a Ra’Shede Hageman from Minnesota, a Stephon Tuitt from Notre Dame or a Dominique Easley from Florida. Yet with five selections in the first four rounds, there is room to invest in value over need.

There is room to grow around the foundation in place. Because by stretching just far enough, the Patriots defense was able to retain its captain and its leader for at least another season.

And while the numbers were once far apart – and still may be – the end result is what both parties wanted all along.

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19 Responses to “Vince Wilfork, Patriots Bend But Don’t Break Future Plans”

  1. Joe Blake says:

    Go DE not DT and move Ninko to OLB. TE, OL, RB and a SS (best athlete available) strategy. We need playmakers.

  2. Dan Sullivan says:

    I can’t picture Vince giving any less than 100%.
    Patriot Predictions
    Free Agents
    Tyson Clabo OL Miami
    Adam Carriker DL Redskins

    1 Trade for 2,4 and 5.
    2 Dee Ford DE Auburn
    2 C.J. Fiedorowicz TE Iowa
    3 Trevor Reilly OLB Utah
    3 Jeremy Hill RB LSU
    4 George Uko DT USC
    4 Arthur Lynch TE Georgia
    4 Trade for 3rd
    5 Trade for 3rd
    6 Uani Unga ILB BYU
    6 Parker Graham OT Oklahoma St.
    7 Daniel Sorenson SS BYU

  3. GM-In-Training says:

    This contract is actually better than I’d expected. It speaks to Wilfork’s pride demanding the opportunity to get paid and the confidence that he will play as he did a couple years ago and log more snaps than almost any other DT in the league. The Pats for their part, acknowledge that if he plays like that, they’ll pay him like that, but that they have protection in case any of a number of things hinder that. For a capologist…this is a pretty good middle ground for the team.

    What this does not guarantee is that Vince WILL play up to the contract. He has to overcome serious hurdles. So does Tommy Kelly. If those two don’t overcome those hurdles, and if Armond Armstead doesn’t overcome his hurdles…we might not have any better of a run defense in 2014 than we had last year. If you’re BB, do you look for an insurance policy…a draft pick or a veteran FA pickup who works for not much guaranteed income, but could pick up the slack if need be?

    • Bill Vermont says:

      Maybe the problem with Vince is he was playing too many snaps for his body and his production tailed off. They will need to keep him below the level for a lot of incentives and save him for playoffs. Maybe he really is a 2 down lineman.
      I’m thinking more that the Patriots need to spend a #1 on a pass rusher, either DE or one of the two tackles Hageman or Tuitt. Kony Ealy looks like he is slipping a little, and I’d be all over him. Attaochu is moving up and everybody like his speed and power

      Its a lot like golf. You don’t need to make great shots. You just need to not make bad ones

  4. J H TARBORO says:

    I don’t think the Pats will draft a DT this year, we have Wilfolk, Kelly, Siliga, Smith, and Velano. Our need is at LB,DE,RB(Ridley and Vereen are in the final year of their contracts and Bolden could be replaced. A hard hitting SS could be on the menu, and the Pats signed OL Ryan Wendell to a contract, why? He really stunk up the joint last year!

    • acm says:

      Wendell’s deal carries little guaranteed money and is practically yet another prove-it in camp deal. He had a bad year last season but was very solid the year before, so I guess they thought he deserved the chance to prove himself. Chances are they bring more competition at C from draft and UDFA (there is also the OL “farm” too) but if nothing sticks, with Wendell they at least have some insurance in the form of a vet player, who’s familiar with the system.

    • Bill Vermont says:

      Vellano and Fortson are marginal players. Armstead has never played in an NFL game and had some kind of infection 2 years after a heart problem. Kelly is 33, Vince is coming off an Achilles injury…….. they will draft a DT but maybe not until rd 4

      I’d love to see high priority on SS, either as a starter type like Buchanon, or as an understudy to Duron Harmon if BB really believes in him. a 3rd rd pick on Telvin Smith would be a nice pick. he could backup and work his way in to the program as nickel LB

      Sometime before the 4th round is over, they will have taken a interior OL, to play c or replace Cannon as the primary sub, with Cannon moving to guard. I would assume Connolly moved on or re-did his contract

  5. Bobthebuilder says:

    Just wondering, anyone here still think DT a need? I’m in a bit of a fight on Reddit saying we have talent and depth now, it’s not an important position, we have more important needs than future DT and decent starters at DT are easy to find.

    • jim r says:

      I do not think it is a priority now however you will get people who think they have to draft one high.

    • acm says:

      Yeah, I do. Not just any Dt but one player in particular – DaQuan Jones – who had a pretty unique blend of strength, mass and athleticism that would allow him to provide run-stuffing and interior push at the same time.
      Wilfork is back but his deal is really a one-year, prove-it type of contract. He is soon to be 33, coming off a very serious injury, probably even heavier than before (and even last year he could stand to lose 30 or so lbs). All that means is he would be slower and will take his time to come back to acceptable fitness levels, if ever at all.
      Kelly is a 34 yo player coming off an ACL tear, while Siliga, Jones and Vellano are good back-ups but likely nothing more than that. Not much of anything in the AFC title game last season.
      Armstead looks very promising but has his own weird set of circumstances that allow for more doubts than certainties, at this point in time

      In the end of the day, having the numbers doesn’t mean they have the quality in the middle of the D. So, I think they need a difference maker at DT, not just a late-round pick to add to the numbers. Think that player is D. Jones, who’d add something they lack right now. To be perfectly honest, don’t fancy any of the other DTs except maybe Cauran Reid but he’d be more of a redundancy at this point unlike D. Jones.

      • Daniel R. Martin says:

        I’ve learned a lot from your posts over the past several months ACM, and I agree with most of your ideas. I can’t say I agree with your assessment of D. Jones. I don’t watch much college ball, almost none actually. He doesn’t have a highlight compilation lasting longer than about three plays that I could find. I recognize the combine doesn’t tell all. But his 25 reps on the bench doesn’t scream bullish type power. Unlike Stephen Paea who did 49 reps a couple of season ago. His 5.35 40 time doesn’t make me think incredible athlete either.

        Bringing Wilfork back wasn’t something I advocated. But I like the price tag they paid. I’m glad Kelly was retained, especially at a lower price point as he too was restructured. I do see the need of a D- Tackle, but I can’t see that need as immediate as a viable 3rd defensive end. Nink isn’t a superstar caliber player and Chandler Jones may be peaking. I think getting a couple of good sack machines at d end and outside linebacker would be transformative of the entire defense.

        Please contrast Daquan Jones and Kelcy Quarles, who had far more sacks.

        Please give me your thoughts on selecting Defensive End Trent Murphy in the second round, assuming Belichick trades out of the first.

        • acm says:

          D. Jones didn’t exactly blow up the combine but didn’t do badly either and his game speed/athleticism is much, much better. Combine results don’t really mean much, especially the 40-yard dash for linemen, otherwise perfect drafting would have been a cake walk, which it obviously isn’t as it’s closer to being a shot in the dark. Players like Harrison, Bennett, and many others bombed the combine but are premier players in their positions at the NFL. Combine results could well be swayed by momentary circumstances (injury, sickness, etc, etc) and that’s just one example of how they shouldn’t be taken to be representative of a player’s true ability. All in all, it’s simply a very misguided and poor way of doing evaluation … almost as misguided as judging a player by the length/availability of youtube highlights 😉

          I agree that edge rush needs to be improved and adding a third DE is one of the bigger needs right about now but improving interior rush is also very important as it improves edge rush (and vice versa). Nothing like the pocket collapsing right in the face of a pure pocket passer like manning. In short, ideally you wanna better both, not just one or the other. This would be especially important to get the best out of the pressmen coverage they will be playing with CBs like Revis and Browner on this year’s roster.

          I like Quarles but they aleady have a similar, not to say identical, player in Armstead. Yeah, AA is unproven in the NFL but then again so is Quarles. If Armstead wasn’t already there, I’d have loved the Pats to go for him too. What they lack, however, is a player that isn’t a pure runstuffer but isn’t a pure interior rusher either (these players usually are thinner and suffer in stopping the run, like Henry melton, for example). A player like D. Jones would allow for better balance at the heart of the D by combining pass-rush with run-stopping skills.

          I think Murphy would be a very Belichick-type pick. He is definitely a good player and showed some pretty loose hips in the LB drill at the combine, which adds to his value as a player with positional versatility. Personally, I wouldn’t be disappointed one bit if they landed Murphy but wouldn’t be overly ecstatic either. I just prefer smaller guys like Attaochu or Lawrence, for example, in that role as they tend to be more explosive and play with character, anger in their game – just think the team needs that out there on the field. Not sure Murphy would add to the team something that’s not already there in C. Jones and Buccanon.

    • Matt says:

      Who will replace Wilfork if hes not on the team next year or retires? I think the Pats should draft his replacement. I’ve always liked Nix sold stopping the run good at getting after the QB and good at making holes for the ILB’s. If the Pats draft Nix for example Wilfork can show him the ropes go over the playbook and film etc.

      • Daniel R. Martin says:

        I can understand your thinking but I can’t agree with it. By the time a prospective DT (ie. Nix) “learns the ropes” from Wilfork, Brady will have a year left, maybe two.

        The time to win is now. After three consecutive AFC title games (five in the past seven years, I for one am tired of knocking on the door. It’s well past time to kick that door down! I believe Coach Belichick agrees, as evidenced by the acquisition of marquis talent such as Reevis and Browner.

        I’m not saying don’t draft for the future. However, with Wilfork, Kelly, Armstead, Siliga, Jones, Vellano and Forston on the roster, I don’t see the team investing a high draft pick and any more than the 13 % of the 53 man roster space already dedicated to the position.

        • Matt says:

          And if Wilfork gets hurt again? Also with the exception of Kelly and Chris Jones i’m not impressed with the others at all.

  6. RD says:

    Everybody talks about how Wilfork’s performance had been down before the achilles. If I recall he was missing practice time even before this because of “foot” problems. Could those “foot” problems been the beginning of the injury and it jusst detriorated until it snapped. If so, it might explain some of his play prior to the injury. Just conjecture for thought.

  7. steve earle says:

    Nice article Oliver. Coming back from a ruptured achillies isn’t easy ( I know) but it can be done. Every case is different but I’m betting if any 32 yo can it would be VW. I’m rooting for him either way. Go Vince, Go Pats

  8. JB says:

    This contract removes all risk for pats. If wilfork is re-injured or fails to return to form his payout this season will be limited and he will likely be cut as there is no guaranteed money after this year. If he returns to form the pats have him locked in at a reasonable if not slightly high rate of around 8m per year. If he stays healthy but is limited pats could look to strong arm him into another restructure next year or simply cut him. All in all it gives the pats a roll of the dice on his return to form and allows them to go BPA in the draft rather than leaving a massive hole that needs to be filled early. Flexibility and low-risk/high-reward potential is what BB is about.

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