On the dawn of free agency, the Patriots locked up three of their best defensive players, rewarding them with sizeable contracts and keeping them away from the open market. Now, will those three big-money players back up their new deals on the field in 2010?
Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork ($40 million over five years), cornerback Leigh Bodden ($22 million over four years) and outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain (as much as $18 million over three years) were retained by the Patriots shortly after entering free agency. Each of them was among the best at his position on the open market, and Wilfork might have been the best free agent available regardless of position.
The Patriots, you may have heard, have developed a reputation for failing to pay their players once their contracts expire, but Wilfork, Bodden and Banta-Cain were locked up in one fell swoop. It’s up to the trio to return the favor.
All three are hard workers who have remained dedicated to winning, and they’ve been training at Gillette Stadium with the rest of the Patriots throughout the majority of the offseason. They don’t have the personality of people who would be satisfied with sitting on a contract, so that’s a good sign right off the bat.
Wilfork has always been a professional, ignoring contract talks for the majority of 2009, reporting to all of his mandatory workouts and refusing to hold out in order to send a message to the front office. That likely went a long way toward the Patriots’ willingness to strike a long-term deal with him this offseason. Wilfork, who has been willing to play at any position along the defensive line, will continue to be one of the most valuable members of the defense.
Bodden, who said he has always been looking to prove people wrong after he went undrafted in 2003, was the Patriots’ most consistent cornerback last season, starting on the right side and remaining steady in a defensive system that he understands and enjoys. However, it’s worth noting Bodden had his least-productive season with the Lions in 2008 after he signed a $27 million, four-year contract extension. The poor performance, though, could have been credited to Detroit’s defensive system or the team’s overall horrendousness in general. Outside of that, there’s little reason to believe Bodden will have a big drop-off in 2010.
Banta-Cain is another humble, steady player who has enjoyed his best years in New England. Yet, Banta-Cain took more money to head to San Francisco for two disappointing seasons, and that was a signing that the 49ers regretted. Banta-Cain was the Patriots’ best pass rusher in 2009, recording 10 sacks, but he got his sacks in spurts, recording two in Week 1 against the Bills, two in Week 11 against the Jets and three in Week 15 against the Bills.
At one point, he went through an eight-game stretch in which he registered just one sack, and that type of drop-off will yield scrutiny after signing such a contract. Yet, with so few options at outside linebacker in New England — especially since it’s assumed the organization knew it was going to release Adalius Thomas — and a very thin free-agent class, the Patriots were almost forced to shell out the dough that was necessary to retain Banta-Cain.
The Patriots did a good job by spending money on good, hardworking people, and keeping Wilfork in New England was an absolute necessity. The trio of returnees will reward the organization with their consistent attitude and work ethic, but their on-field production will remain under the microscope due to the recent padding of their bank accounts.
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