Patriots opening the vault

In discussions with people around the NFL -- from those employed by teams to media members covering those teams -- one of the top questions I've heard over the last 10 days or so is this:

What has gotten into the Patriots?

Those asking the question are curious what has prompted the team to open its checkbook so wide -- not just in total dollars but also in the structure of contracts. One example is that nose tackle Vince Wilfork earned an $18 million signing bonus. In many of the deals the Patriots have struck in recent years, it has been commonplace to see that number split between an up-front signing bonus and an option bonus to be paid at a later date.

That change might be because of the NFL's uncertain labor forecast.

Still, it wasn't the only example cited in highlighting the Patriots' free-spending ways. The reported four-year, $22 million deal for cornerback Leigh Bodden was also viewed by one front-office type as especially rich.

Based on my calculations, the deals for Wilfork, Bodden, running back Kevin Faulk, outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain and offensive guard Stephen Neal have totaled $84 million. That total doesn't include potential incentives for Banta-Cain and Faulk.

After looking at the finer details of a few deals, and relying on the media reports on a few others, the Patriots have guaranteed approximately $45.5 million in those contracts.