Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork’s interview on sports radio WEEI on Wednesday was notable not just for what he said, but also for how he said it.
The tone was powerful. After listening to it, it sounds like Wilfork is drawing decisive contractual battle lines, almost as if to say “No more Mr. Nice Guy.”
The part that stood out and what I believe is at the root of Wilfork’s displeasure was when he said early in the interview:
“We never asked for a six-year deal from the get-go. Right after we signed a six-year deal [as a rookie], they came out with a rule about no six-year deals. Honestly, somebody is seeing something wrong with guys getting six-year deals. I didn’t like the six-year deal but I did honor it. … We tried for a five-year deal and we didn’t get [it].”
My feeling is that Wilfork felt a six-year contract was forced upon him in 2004, and that has him ready to dig in his cleats in negotiations with the team.
As a first-round draft choice in 2004, the 21st overall selection, Wilfork had little leverage with the Patriots having won two Super Bowls in the previous three years. That meant the team was in a position to essentially say, “If you don’t want a six-year deal, we’ll move on without you.”
Tight end Benjamin Watson, another first-round draft choice that year, was in a similar situation. He was a holdout before ultimately accepting a six-year pact (his original agent wouldn’t sign the deal, so Watson hired a different agent).
The Patriots, it should be noted, were operating fully within the rules at the time. It should also be noted that the Patriots have offered Wilfork a long-term deal, which would provide him more security, but it is below what he feels is his market value.
In the end, like many contract negotiations, leverage is a big part of the game.
Wilfork seems to have a bad feeling about how the Patriots used their leverage back in 2004, and probably realizes he has little leverage now given the NFL's uncertain labor situation. He's in a tough spot.
His tone in today’s radio interview with Michael Holley and Lou Merloni on the "Dale and Holley Show" reflected that, and is setting the stage for what could be a contentious situation.