October 25, 2014

Should The Patriots Re-Sign Vince Wilfork?

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

It’s not even a question, right?

Most places I’ve looked at have signing the massive nose tackle to a long term contract the number one priority this offseason for the New England Patriots. Many, including media people, say that OBVIOUSLY the Patriots first order of business this offseason is getting this done.

But is it? And should it be?

I’ll admit, I’ve leaned towards the camp of getting him signed up long term. He’s a top performer at his position, was their best defensive player this season, has been loyal to his six-year contract, and has by all accounts been a solid citizen and generous in the community. He has endeared himself to many, and his appearance on WEEI earlier today, where he declared ““I want a long-term deal, or I want to be free” resulted in a number of people on Twitter trying to start a grass-roots campaign to get the Patriots to reward his loyalty and sign him up to the deal he is looking for.

But is it a slam-dunk no-brainer that the Patriots should just back the Brinks truck up to Wilfork’s bank and unload it there?

Well, let’s try and look at this objectively. That’s not an easy thing to do for a player as likable as Wilfork.

The Patriots surely appreciate what Wilfork brings to the team. Bill Belichick has gushed about Wilfork in the past, and particularly this season. Word is that both sides really want to get a deal done – the Patriots want to keep him, and Wilfork wants to be here – but that the sides are far, far apart on the value of the player. The uncertainly regarding the future of the CBA has been a factor as well. The Patriots signed plenty of smaller name (and size) players to extensions this season, but none of their bigger name players. They seem reluctant to lock up a player to a big contract without knowing what the rules will be in the future. In the end, this could cost them Wilfork.

Looking strictly on the field, while nose tackle is a huge part of the 3-4 defense, how good has that unit been in recent years? They’ve been OK, nothing spectacular. Has his presence single-handedly vaulted them into an elite defense? No. The Patriots won two Super Bowls before Wilfork got here, and they won their third when Wilfork was a rookie splitting time with the immortal Keith Traylor (Traylor started 10 games that season, Wilfork 6). Since that time, Wilfork has emerged as a stalwart on the defensive line, and while it is not his fault the team has not won a fourth Super Bowl championship, the fact remains that they found a way to win those Super Bowls before he got there. Is he irreplaceable?

Apparently he is replaceable on third down, as for much of his career, Wilfork has pretty much a first and second down player, meaning he in on the field for only half of the defensive snaps. This season, the Patriots experimented with putting him on end on third down at times, and he still only played in 51.8 percent of the snaps this season, according to Mike Reiss. More on that later. (NOTE: Please see the comment section below for more information and perspective on the snaps played statistic.)

The second and biggest thing to consider is the type of salary that Wilfork is likely to command. As mentioned, the uncertainty of the CBA situation is a problem here. Does Wilfork expect Albert Haynesworth-like numbers in his contract? Haynesworth’s deal is 7 years, $100 million, which is somewhat deceiving, as many contracts under the current CBA are. However, Haynesworth is guaranteed $41 million in this deal. If Wilfork is expecting that, forget it. It’s not going to happen with the Patriots.

Wilfork is 28 years old. If he wants a 6 year contract, that will take him to age 34. What’s he going to be like at that age? Ted Washington, one of Wilfork’s predecessors at nose tackle for the Patriots, was 35 when he played for the New England, and played until he was 39. Traylor was also 35 when he played for the Patriots, and played until he was 38. It’s possible Wilfork could do the same, but can we count on it? Wilfork’s tragic family history of diabetes which claimed his father at a young age is something that could become a factor for Wilfork himself.

But if Wilfork wanted a shorter term deal, maybe four years, at a somewhat reasonable rate, would the Patriots do that? I think they would, but is Wilfork going to take that? Consider what he said on WEEI in that interview this morning:

“I’m not selling my family short and definitely not selling myself short, just to stay back and stay to win and be part of a great organization,” he said. “That plays a big part in winning. Winning is a big part of sports. But a lot of teams win. A lot of teams win. We’ll see. We’ll see. Like I said, we’ll do what’s best for my family, but I would definitely not sell myself short of my ability. Not at all.”

That doesn’t sound like a guy willing to take less money to remain here with the Patriots. He’s going to try to get every dollar he can while he can still earn it. You can’t really blame him for that, but does that mean that the Patriots are obligated to, or even should, give him all that he wants?

His loyalty to the six-year contract that he signed as a rookie is admirable. The Patriots cannot make that loyalty a factor in contract negotiations. It’s not good business.

Will giving Wilfork the contract he wants prevent the Patriots from improving their defense this offseason? That’s certainly a possibility. But keep in mind also that the team needs to get a deal done with Tom Brady sometime soon as well. I’d say Brady is more of a priority than Wilfork, and everyone else on the team needs to come in behind Brady in terms of salary. You’re not going to pay Wilfork more than Brady. It’s just not happening.

Are you going to tie up your future in a guy who only plays in 50% (or even 64%) of your defensive snaps? That just doesn’t seem to make sense to me. For a franchise that places such a premium on value, that doesn’t seem like good value to me.

Are the Patriots better off with Wilfork signed long term, and mediocre pieces around him because that is all they can afford, or with a Keith Traylor type in the middle, and great linebackers and players around him? The former has never worked, while the latter has worked in the past.

Besides, it seems like half the league is going to the 3-4 defense now. It appears Seattle and Buffalo will join the ranks next season. Is it time to try something new? If the Patriots sign up Wilfork, they’re pretty much locking themselves into the 3-4 for the length of that contract. That limits your flexibility. With a lower price nose tackle, you’re not going to be forced to keep him on the field to get your money’s worth of the contract, and can perhaps do some more creative things on the defensive side of the ball.

In the end, I think both sides are going to move on. I think the Patriots attempted to plan for this with the drafting of Ron Brace and Myron Pryor last April, Brace was a huge disappointment, but has the size to become someone that can hold his own in the middle of the defense. Pryor showed some good technique, but needs to add some bulk. Albert Breer had the Patriots checking out Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody as someone of interest as well.

Vince, you’ve been a great Patriot, and I thank you for all you’ve done for this franchise for the last six years, but I think you’ve played your last game with the Patriots.

Comments

  1. martin miller says:

    You did not do a good job of explaining the playing time. He plays on first and second down which should be around 67% of the plays (as 4th down is rare). The major reason he only played 51% of the plays for the season was that he was injured and sat out for three games. He might have played one of the three if they needed it to clinch a playoff berth. He has been remarkably healthy and has played in 90 of 96 games over six seasons. Brady has been healthy in general but he missed 15 3/4 games last season.
    The real question is how much is Vince worth (signing bonus and avg salary)? It would be easy to fit a big signing bonus (maybe called something else) in next year’s uncapped structure if they want to. The Pats could probably trade him for a #1 pick to a team that will pay him what he wants. It would be a good deal if they draft another stud who they could sign to a five year rookie contract but would be a bad deal if they don’t hit in the draft. Meriweather (#24) was drafted around where WIlfork was (#21) but is more easily replaced.
    I do not have confidence in the Pats’ ability to draft someone to replace him with a pick they would get from trading him.

    MM

    • Bruce Allen says:

      You’re right in some regards. According to ProFootballFocus.com , which breaks down the snaps played per game, Wilfork played in 565 of a possible 873 snaps in games he played in. That’s 64%. So you’re right with that one. The year before he played in 63% of the snaps. So the Reiss stat of just snaps played for the entire season is misleading for this particular application.

      I still don’t think you pay $40 million guaranteed, or anything close to that for him.

      Brandon Meriweather on the other hand, played in 97% of defensive snaps, and Jerod Mayo , despite missing most of that first game of the season, played in 89% of the snaps in games he played in, including 100% each of the last six weeks of the season.

      Meriweather, Bodden, Guyton, Mayo, McGowan, Banta-Cain, Wright, Green, Thomas, and Wilhite (!) all had a higher Cumulative Defensive Player Snaps % than Wilfork.

      I know it’s different positions on defense, but when Mike Wright and Jarvis Green are on the field more snaps per game than Wilfork, that can’t be in his favor.

      • You don’t pay a player 40 million when he can’t put pressure on the QB. Period.

        • But that’s not his role. The Nose Tackle is to occupy two blockers, and create matchup issues elsewhere along the line. The Patriots priority has always been to stop the run, and the NT plays the key role in this regard.

  2. You don’t mention the franchise tag. Is it already a foregone conclusion that the Patriots won’t use it on him, simply because he’s expressed his displeasure were that to happen? If so, then Wilfork has already won in the court of public opinion; problem for him is Belichick doesn’t preside over that court.

    Until a new CBA comes around, the Patriots are still granted the use of the franchise tag. The players agreed to that. And Wilfork is free to hold out, at whatever penalty the CBA calls for for the days missed.

    It’s ugly business, but it’s a right still written into the agreement. This is the part I never really get about contract stalemates. Why is the team to blame for simply executing their right under the agreement?

    I’ve read some saying Wilfork is owed because he didn’t get his deal a year earlier like his ’04 classmates, or that he’s owed because unlike Seymour or Branch, he never held out while under contract. He’s even said something along the lines of he’s done everything right, and now it’s time for the Patriots to do right.

    I don’t subscribe to that mode of thinking. I love Wilfork, but a new deal shouldn’t be a reward for past service, nor a reward for good citizenship. It should only about the value the player realistically will bring to the team over the length of the deal.

    There was a scene in “North Dallas Forty” in which John Matuszak’s character rips into an assistant coach (Charles Durning), saying, “Every time we say it’s a business, you say it’s a game, and every time we say it’s a game, you say it’s a business.”

    The Patriots have never said it’s anything other than a business. It may seem cold-hearted, but it’s more honest. And it’s probably a significant reason for their success.

  3. Get the feeling this is going to be ugly – maybe they franchise him to trade him, no way they are going to let him walk away for nothing. I guess this will show how Belichek really feels about his D. If Wilfork gets a new contract it means he thinks what they have now can be salvaged, if not then it’s basically starting from scratch, which given the lack of playmakers now may not be a bad idea. As a fan the last thing I want to hear about is value though – if you want to charge high ticket prices, high parking fees and want me to spend my money in Patriots place don’t tell me that signing Sam AIken and Eric Alexander to extensions is the best you can do.

  4. Different subject.
    Prediction: If Tim Tebow lasts until the second round, the Patriots will Draft him.
    Probably not as a QB but as a FB and Wildcat.

    • Not a chance, MAYBE if hes there in the 4th round but no way they draft him in the 2nd.

      Do you really want Tom Brady OFF the field on ANY offensive snaps? thats crazy

  5. I used to think along the same lines, until this season. I don’t think its about “the system” any more – the Patriots lack quality players on D, and need more. You don’t get there by trading away your best defensive player. The mantra has always been depth over quality, but I think we need to return to a focus on quality – we need play makers, we need players that opposing teams need to scheme around, or be wary of, and we’re sorely lacking in this area right now (on D, that is)

  6. This is going to be Matt Cassel 2.0. Franchise tag applied – pre-draft trade made.

    Wilfork’s a great athlete, but he seems to be getting larger practically each week. It’s hard to see the team putting big long term dollars to a guy like him, as good as he is. Let a team like the Raiders or the Seahawks do that, and hopefully use a second round pick you’d get for him to get a young playmaker.

  7. Teams have wised up to Vince Wilfork and doubled teamed him all season long. The Patriots rarely got pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season and it would be interesting to see what we could get for him in trade.

    • Chris Warner says:

      My issue with the whole “Wilfork doesn’t pressure the QB” argument is twofold: one, a 3-4 defense doesn’t require the linemen to penetrate into the backfield; two, without Wilfork (or a rare player of equal ability), how do the Pats expect to get teams into the 3rd and long situations that require a pass-rusher? Without a stout line, teams will be able to run on NE all day.

      Also, with all due respect, I don’t think Wilfork being double-teamed means teams have wised up to him. It’s always the NT’s job to take on multiple linemen and take up space.

      I’d hate to see Vince go. No, the D wasn’t great this year, but how does taking away the best part of it make it better?

      • Vince Wilfork maybe a big guy but he is losing his explosiveness. His 2009 stats were a big drop from 2008 and resembles his rookie year. I think the Pat’s are concerned about his weight and I don’t believe that he is now 325 pounds. His NFL Combine weight was listed as 323 and that was six years ago! There has to be a reason why the Patriots haven’t locked him up to an extension by now or even talked about it if he is that important to the team besides the pending CBA agreement.

  8. Also if Vince Wilfork thinks he is going to land a huge money contract in New England then he would be the first. Pretty much everyone on this team has taken the hometown discount to be on a competitive team and have the chance to win a championship. Tom Brady makes peanuts compared to the other elite QB’s in the league. That’s why Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel and Deion Branch left the team for richer waters though it’s doubtful the last two will ever reach the level they once enjoyed with the Pats.

  9. Adam Vinatieri left for a Patriots-like situation in a dome for the rest of his career. I don’t fault him for that but seeing how much he has been injurred, I don’t miss the big drag on Pats salary cap compared to price and production of Gostkowski. Heck, they could have kept Robbie Gould for that matter.

    Samuel, Branch, and you might as well add Givens, all cashed in on their good fortune to have been drafted by the Pats and helping to win the Superbowl. I don’t fault them for that either but while the jury is out on Samuels, is anyone arguing that the Seahawks and Titans got the better end of those other contracts? No way.

    As far as the diabetes arguement for Vince, I know more about that than most and let me say that Type 2, which runs in his family, will not pose a risk to his value or contribution in the short term. The affects would be later down the road but he is well aware of this as he speaks about this frequently and he is clearly taking care of himself in this regard.

    The question about Wilfork is what do you do if you don’t have him? The problem recently wasn’t Vince, it was the players behind him. Now, you have cash to improve those but you have to replace Vince. Is Peppers worth that money? I would say he has less ambition in general than Vince and the game really is about heart.

    If Vince was all about the money, then he would have already made a stink, and I mean a big stink, and probably would have gotten the Hobbs/Seymour/Samuels treatment along with a bus ticket. He is saying the right things and we can all enjoy the drama but he will likely be back, or he will be hugely overpaid by the Browns, Chiefs, Packers or Broncos to such an extent that we may be glad we didn’t match the offer. Would you argue that it would be more fun to play for any of those teams that it would be to play for the Patriots? Only Suh might be a reasonable trade and we would never get that for Vince.

  10. “Wilfork’s tragic family history of diabetes which claimed his father at a young age is something that could become a factor for Wilfork himself.”

    It *has* to be illegal to take this into account in personnel decisions, doesn’t it?

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