A potential divorce between the Patriots and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork was foreshadowed in recent weeks, so Thursday's NFL Network report that Wilfork has asked the team to release him isn't something that came out of the blue.
The Patriots recently approached Wilfork about altering the final year of his contract, in which he's scheduled to earn $7.5 million and count $11.6 million against the salary cap. When a team usually approaches a player about his contract, it often means the team is looking for some type of concession.
Today's news, which comes on the heels of the Patriots signing cornerback Darrelle Revis to what is essentially a one-year, $12 million contract, seems to reflect how Wilfork feels about that.
Let's put ourselves in the shoes of each side and dissect things:
Wilfork's viewpoint: When Wilfork first joined the Patriots as the 21st overall pick in the draft, he was locked into a six-year deal, which was the maximum length for rookies at the time. He quickly elevated to a high level of play, yet it took until the start of his seventh season for him to land the big-money contract most players covet, which in his case was a five-year, $40 million deal. That was a long struggle for Wilfork and in 2009, it was clear to many of those covering the team on a daily basis how it affected him. He had a sign in his locker reminding himself to just do his job. Wilfork ultimately earned about $32 million of that money, and that provides some context as to why he might be reluctant to accept any type of reduction from New England.
Patriots' viewpoint: Wilfork has been a stalwart on the field, in addition to a pillar in the community, and from that standpoint he falls into a category of players who warrant Patriots Hall of Fame consideration and the type of honorary day reserved for players who start and finish their career with the team. But part of the Patriots' successful approach is not to be driven by sentiment. For a player of Wilfork's size (6-foot-2, 325 pounds) and age (32), continuing to perform at a high level while coming back from a torn Achilles is not guaranteed. The team paid Wilfork $6.5 million last season and Wilfork was lost for the season after four games. The risk of possibly paying him $7.5 million this year and not getting return on the investment is something they likely didn't feel comfortable assuming. If the Patriots follow through and release Wilfork, the team will clear $7.5 million of space on the salary cap.