It’s difficult for a veteran NFL player to see the end of his contract, even if he’s Vince Wilfork.
As soon as Wilfork tore his Achilles in Week 4 during the Patriots’ win over the Falcons, it was inevitable that something would have to be done with the big nose tackle’s contract in 2014. He was set to earn $11.6 million, which is too much for a 32-year-old.
The Patriots will save $8 million in cap room when they release Wilfork, and that’s valuable after signing cornerback Darrelle Revis to a big contract.
It wasn’t logical for the Patriots or Wilfork to agree to an extension. At Wilfork’s age and size, there is no guarantee that he will the same player after tearing his Achilles. It would be a risky proposition for the Patriots to extend Wilfork at a contract to his liking.
For Wilfork, it doesn’t make sense to agree to a pay cut if he thinks he’s 100-percent healthy and capable of being the same player he has been for 10 years. Wilfork had a fantastic season in 2012; he was an $11 million player that season. There’s a chance he’s not anymore, and the Patriots aren’t willing to take that risk.
When Wilfork is released, it will leave the Patriots with Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Tommy Kelly, Marcus Forston and Armond Armstead at defensive tackle. Siliga was very impressive for the Patriots in seven games with the Patriots last season. Whether that carries over to 2014 and beyond remains to be seen, but there was enough there for the Patriots to be impressed.
The Patriots will likely draft a big defensive tackle to compete with Siliga. They could also sign a player like B.J. Raji, Pat Sims or Terrence Cody, all of whom are available as free agents.
Kelly is written in pencil as the team’s other starting defensive tackle, but after tearing his ACL in 2013, his future is in doubt, as well. It’s like the Patriots sign or draft a pass-rushing three-technique defensive tackle too. And clearing space on the cap with Wilfork is key in getting that player.
The NFL is a business, but there’s a very personal side to this move, too. Wilfork was the face of the defense and he was one of just two players left from the Patriots’ Super Bowl dynasty (Tom Brady, obviously, being the other one).
Wilfork wasn’t a vocal leader, but he was a captain that made sure the locker room was always in order. When he went down last season, he stuck around to help players like Jones, Vellano and Siliga get better. The unfortunate irony of Wilfork’s release is that he helped Siliga — his eventual replacement — become a starting-caliber player by correcting his mistakes on the sidelines.
The 2013 season was a tough one for the Patriots, and without Wilfork’s leadership when the team convened in July, there’s no telling how its season would have transpired.