The New England Patriots have paid big money to their big man in the middle by inking nose tackle Vince Wilfork to an extension a league source said is worth $40 million over five years.
The deal, which includes an $18 million signing bonus and $25 million guaranteed, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports, makes Wilfork the highest-paid nose tackle in the NFL. It also provides him the long-term security he desires and ensures the Patriots -- hurt by the departures of several impact players in recent years -- retain a key part of their defense.
Wilfork confirmed the agreement, writing the following on his Twitter account: "We are pleased to say we will be here for many more years to come."
Wilfork, who was assigned the franchise tag on Feb. 22, was called the team's No. 1 contractual priority by owner Robert Kraft.
Also yesterday, the Patriots signed outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain to a three-year, $13.5 million contract and reached a two-year agreement with right guard Stephen Neal, according to a league source.
The contract for Wilfork, 28, gives him a chance to spend his entire career with the Patriots, which is something he didn't sound optimistic about following the team's playoff loss to the Ravens on Jan. 10.
"As the time ticked off that clock, it kind of dawned on me. I told my teammates, the guys I played with on defense, I don't know if this is the last game I played with you or not, but if it is, I love you, and I'm going to miss you," he said at the time.
Frustrated with the progress of contract talks in the days leading up to the Pro Bowl on Jan. 31, Wilfork went on sports radio WEEI and said, "It's time for me to move forward, with the Patriots or without the Patriots."
Negotiations apparently heated up shortly thereafter because when Wilfork was assigned the franchise tag three weeks later, his tone was significantly different. The Patriots also provided detail on the negotiations, which was a break from their usual tight-lipped ways.
"Vince is a tremendous player for our team and remains a significant part of our future plans," the team said in a statement at the time. "We are hopeful that Vince will remain a Patriot for many years to come."
Negotiations between the Patriots and Wilfork's agent Kennard McGuire had been ongoing since last year. Wilfork's wife, Bianca, was also an instrumental part of the process.
Wilfork, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 325 pounds, has been one of the Patriots' most durable players since joining the team as a first-round draft choice in 2004 (21st overall), while emerging as one of the NFL's top players at the hard-to-fill position of nose tackle in the 3-4 defense.
His value to the Patriots was also highlighted last season when he moved to end to help solidify struggles the team was having at that spot. Wilfork is also a strong presence in the locker room, which has added importance after a season in which the Patriots didn't always seem to have all 53 players pulling in the same direction.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.