The Patriots assigned the franchise tag to Wilfork on Feb. 22 as a means to extend their negotiation period with the 6-foot-2, 325-pound nose tackle. New England finally came to terms on a long-term deal with the 29-year-old on Friday, the same day he would have become an unrestricted free agent had he not been tagged.
The former first-round pick served as a team captain last season and earned his second Pro Bowl selection after recording 43 tackles, two passes defensed and one forced fumble. The Patriots defense has ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in four of his six seasons with the team.
Neal was considering retirement after suffering through a fourth straight injury-plagued season, but he ultimately chose to return to the Patriots. The 33-year-old missed four games last season, one with a concussion and three with an ankle injury.
Neal, who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2001 after a wrestling career at Cal State-Bakersfield, has been a starter on the offensive line for each of the last six seasons. Last year, the New England offensive line gave up just 18 sacks, the fewest by a Patriots team since the NFL moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978.
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