Pats, Wilfork hope for long-term deal

As expected, the New England Patriots on Monday assigned the franchise tag to defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, but both sides indicated they still hope to work out a long-term contract.

"A long-term agreement with Vince Wilfork has been the team's top contractual priority for some time," the Patriots announced in a statement confirming Wilfork was tagged. "Unfortunately, despite numerous conversations and proposals, the goal has not yet been realized. Vince is a tremendous player for our team and remains a significant part of our future plans. It is because of Vince's importance to this organization that we have assigned the franchise designation as we continue to work toward a long-term agreement. We are hopeful that Vince will remain a Patriot for many years to come."

The Patriots used the nonexclusive tag on Wilfork, according to an NFL source, meaning that other teams can host Wilfork on a free-agent visit and potentially sign him to an offer sheet. If the Patriots decide not to match a potential offer sheet, they would receive two first-round draft choices. Because of that high cost, it is extremely rare for a nonexclusive franchise tag player to change teams with an offer sheet.

If Wilfork signs his nonexclusive franchise tender with the Patriots, it would be a guaranteed one-year deal at $7 million (the average salary of the five highest-paid players at his position last season). Had the Patriots used the exclusive franchise tag, other teams would not have the opportunity to sign him to an offer sheet and Wilfork's salary would have been calculated using 2010 salaries, not 2009.

The Wilfork camp responded to the news Monday afternoon with this message posted to the Twitter account of Wilfork's wife, Bianca:

"After six years of dedicated service I do understand this is a business," the message read. "With that being said it is my hope that the tag is applied for its true purpose. For the purpose of allotting more time for us to continue our talks and be able to reach a long term agreement. Only time will tell what the final result will be."

Wilfork has said he would consider the franchise tag a "slap in the face," telling a Boston sports radio station last month that he wants "a long-term deal or I want to be free. Point blank."

The Patriots were faced with a Thursday deadline to put the franchise tag on the 28-year-old Wilfork, who just completed the final season of a six-year deal he signed after he was drafted by New England.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.