BOSTON (CBS) — If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the Patriots this offseason, you knew it was coming eventually. Either Vince Wilfork needed to restructure his contract, or he’d be getting released.
As it turns out, Wilfork didn’t feel much like waiting to learn his fate, as he reportedly requested his release from the Patriots on Thursday afternoon.
From both sides, it’s certainly not difficult to understand this conclusion. The Patriots simply can’t dedicate more than $11 million against the cap to Wilfork. The position of defensive tackle has been de-emphasized league-wide as high-powered, spread passing offenses have become more of the norm. Wilfork’s age (32) and the fact that he’s coming off a torn Achilles contribute to the reality that no team can dedicate that kind of money to him.
For Wilfork, it’s pretty simple. He signed a deal, and he expects both sides to honor it. If the Patriots want to restructure a deal, they’re essentially not living up to their end of the bargain from Vince’s perspective. A man of principle, Wilfork would rather see the team tear up that existing contract than void an agreement. Now, he’ll see what he can get on the open market, which unfortunately for Vince likely won’t be full of suitors lining up to give him millions.
Could you make the case that Wilfork’s unwillingness to restructure his contract was a bit hypocritical, considering he nearly held out of training camp in 2009 when he wanted his rookie deal torn up in favor of a long-term deal, and considering he again threatened to hold out the next year if the Patriots placed the franchise tag — which he deemed to be a “slap in the face” — on him? Sure. Could you make the case that Wilfork is not more important to the Patriots than Tom Brady, and even Brady has always been willing to restructure his contracts to aid in the short- and long-term plans of the team?
Yeah, you could. But why would you want to?
Wilfork was, quite simply, one of the greatest Patriots of the past decade. He was at times an MVP-caliber player, regularly displaying a level of athleticism that just typically is not present in 325-pound men.
He was an impact player on the field, and a true leader off it. As veteran defensive players like Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison and the like all left or retired, the wisdom they imparted on Vince was clearly evident in the locker room. He was the largest presence in the locker room, physically and otherwise, and that continued to be the case last season, even though he was injured for most of the year.
Wilfork has been a player that neither owner Robert Kraft or head coach Bill Belichick has ever taken for granted. Both men knew they had a special player in No. 75, and both men will speak glowingly of Wiilfork when he is inevitably inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
They’ll talk about how every single snap Wilfork took represented one giant headache for the opponent, how you can count on one single hand the number of times he got beat in a one-on-one situation in his career, how every single play run by an opposing offense had to take into account how to deal with him. They’ll talk about him bullying interior lineman on one play and chasing down top-flight running backs the next.
They’ll try to talk about plays like this:
Or like this:
Or like this:
Or like this:
Or like this:
But they’ll struggle with how difficult it is to put that type of work into words.
They’ll talk about the unheralded job done by Wilfork, the type of hard work that gets overlooked and sets up teammates to pad their own glory stats. And of course, they’ll take about Wilfork basking in just a bit of that glory when he made his two interceptions and his touchdown in 2011.
Hopefully, they’ll play this video, which should be titled “The Single Greatest Way A Human Being Can Spend 60 Seconds.”
And hopefully, they’ll show this one as well: Wilfork dominating Jets guard Brandon Moore on Thanksgiving 2012, pushing the lineman into Mark Sanchez’s path, and leading to the now-infamous butt fumble. Yes, that’s right — without Wilfork, there is no butt fumble. How’s that for leaving a legacy?
Of course, Wilfork’s greatness hasn’t always been so easy to quantify, but simply watching the man play snap-to-snap for the past 10 years has been nothing short of incredible. Hopefully for the sake of all football fans, he recovers fully from that Achilles and continues on as the dominant force he’s proven to be since 2004. Regardless of his future and regardless of this unceremonious end in New England, Wilfork’s greatness is well-established. It’s only a matter of time before he’s inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame as one of the greats to ever wear the uniform.
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