The Patriots have been heavily criticized for past dealings with Asante Samuel, Richard Seymour, Adam Vinatieri and Deion Branch, who were all either discarded by the organization or simply sent away to another coast.
This time, the Pats deserve some serious praise for the way they handled their situation with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who signed a long-term contract extension Friday that is reportedly worth five years and $40 million.
The deal includes an $18 million signing bonus and $25 million in guaranteed money.
That's a very, very fair deal for a player who might have gotten more money if he was afforded the chance to explore an open free-agent market. The Patriots assigned their franchise tag to Wilfork on Feb. 22, which kept him under their control in 2010.
After the Patriots' playoff loss to the Ravens, Wilfork said the franchise tag would be a slap in his face, but the Patriots publicly announced they were using the tag as a means to extend their negotiation period with the hulking defensive lineman. If they didn't use their franchise tag on Wilfork, he would have become an unrestricted free agent on Friday and might have commanded a contract worth a pay grade less than the one just signed by defensive end Julius Peppers, who reportedly got six years and $91.5 million ($42 million guaranteed) from the Bears.
Clearly, the Patriots acted quickly. They didn't figure to be in play for Peppers or linebacker Karlos Dansby – this offseason's two best defensive free agents — so the Patriots took care of their work in-house. This will allow them to shift their focus to the next level of free agents, as well as their own guys, such as cornerback Leigh Bodden, defensive end Jarvis Green and running back Kevin Faulk.
This is also a great business move by the Patriots. Wilfork attended every mandatory workout during the final year of his contract — even though he said many people advised him to hold out — and he didn't create any disturbances in the locker room. Wilfork also played hurt midway through the season and fought through a foot injury in the playoffs.
It sends a message to future Patriots who enter the final year of their contract: Come to work, handle your business in a professional manner and you'll get paid.