Friday, March 14, 2014

Opinion: If Wilfork saga gets messy, don't blame the Patriots

Money sucks.

Well, in reality, it doesn't suck at all but it sure sucks the fun out of some of life's simple pleasures - like football for example.

There is some ugliness about to go down in Foxborough as nose tackle Vince Wilfork has reportedly asked the New England Patriots for his release and this time - unlike the uncomfortable posturing that took place during contact negotiations in 2009 - it's about more than money.

But, yes, money too.

How could it be solely about money when the big man is asking the team to release him from the final year of his contract, essentially leaving eight million bones in the Patriots' free agent coffers for the right to be unemployed, presumably to satisfy some innate and unreasonable fixation with pride.

The Patriots approached him regarding a contract modification in order for the team to lower his salary cap number, giving them more monopoly money to spend on the whacky free agent board game, a game where two and two don't always add up to four - particularly when you can take those numbers and spread them across multiple seasons...

...which is what the Patriots were offering under the guise of playing his entire career with one team and retiring a Patriot.

But it went sideways, presumably because Wilfork feels slighted in some manner or another.

And it had to be a calculated response, for unless he's been living under a rock since January, he knew that the Patriots would be approaching him about ways that he could help them gain salary cap relief - and if it was indeed a calculated response, the selfishness on display from his perspective is staggering.

Before the 2009 season, Wilfork staged a mini-pout when the team wouldn't negotiate on a long-term extension, skipping voluntary workouts in protest but grudgingly attending mandatory OTA's and camp when the team reached out and promised that they had his best interest in mind...

...and the tough talk continued throughout the season to the point that he had threatened to completely hold out if the Patriots slapped the franchise tag on him in 2010 - which they did, yet Big Vince signed up anyway, the reason being that all the while the team had been negotiating a long-term contract with him behind the scenes.

The contract that he eventually signed shortly after the franchise tag was the richest ever for a nose tackle at the time, the five-year $40 million contract with $25 million guaranteed showing both respect for Wilfork as an elite player and providing him and his family the financial security that he lusted after.

Perhaps it's a combination of the team asking him to restructure his deal or to sign an outright extension - which was sure to be signing bonus heavy and with play-time and weight incentives galore - and the fact that for one of the few times in Bill Belichick's reign has the team opened up the vault for an "outsider" and topped the final year of Wilfork's deal.

The outsider is Darrelle Revis, of course, who was given $12 million by the Patriots in another Belichickian coup, meant to solidify a defense that Vince was supposed to part of - everyone working in tandem to win a title

Whatever the case, Wilfork will receive the final $3.6 million dollars of his guaranteed money from that deal whether or not he is in Foxborough, which means that the Patriots will have delivered every penny that they said they would - that much was never in question.

But now he's going to scoff at being given more money as part of an extension that provides cap relief to the team that dealt with him in good faith, perhaps even paying him the entire 2013 salary of $11 million up front as a bonus for doing them a solid with lower base salaries that factor in age and injury?

Margin call?  Well, both Wilfork and the Patriots are about to find out as it is certain that Wilfork's agent has broken out the rolodex and calculator, calling teams in need of Wiflork's talent to gauge his market in comparison to what the Patriots have proposed before acting on his client's request.

The Patriots have the upper hand in this instance, and very little to lose in matching whatever offer the market bears for the five-time All Pro, especially given that the market average for defensive tackles appears to be around $6 million per year, so it is more than feasible that Wilfork will find himself back in New England and locked into a 3 year deal worth about $18 - $20 million with half of it guaranteed.

Because the team wants Wilfork to stay.  Bob Kraft is especially fond of the big fella and his locker room presence transcends the line of scrimmage, so it is in everyone's best interest to get him under contract in New England.

But if Wilfork and his agent don't play ball, all it will cost the Patriots is what they are required to pay in the first place - and many will look at this latest soap opera as just another example of the heartless and all-business Patriots giving the shaft to another aging veteran...

...but in reality it is the team asking a man that they provided financial security to take care of his family to take more money over another couple of seasons to help ease their bottom line.

Of course, Wilfork doesn't owe them that - but at the same time, the team isn't obligated to cave into his demands either - and it's not as if they absolutely need to gain the cap relief.  If they did, he would have been gone already - regardless, this could turn messy and Patriots' fans will be up in arms and blaming the Patriots for being cheap, but they have fulfilled their obligation and all they are asking for is a little help.

But the way that Wilfork is reacting to their request appears to be nothing more than a prideful, gold-digger with tunnel vision, seeing only dollar signs and missing the big picture - which is not the way that anyone wants to remember the certain Patriots' Hall inductee - so while Wilfork and his family are on vacation, the prudent approach is to let some time pass and to allow the process run it's course before making any decisions.

But if Vince Wilfork is eventually released, don't blame the "cheap" Patriots - they've gone above and beyond for their prized nose tackle in the past, and he's been well compensated for his toil - now it's time for Vince to take one for the team.

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