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Wilfork would be angered by franchise tag

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Recent posts by Eric Edholm

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Posted Feb. 20, 2010 @ 7:44 a.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

This is the third in a series of scouting reports on 15 key players who are slated to become free agents — restricted or unrestricted — March 5, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.

News: According to various reports, the Patriots have placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on NT Vince Wilfork, which means that other teams can meet with Wilfork and attempt to sign him to a free-agent contract but that the club would have to pay the princely sum of two first-round picks if the Patriots fail to match the offer. For now, the Patriots have three potential courses of action. They can use the next few months to continue working on a long-term deal to keep Wilfork in New England, they can attempt to trade him, or they could let Wilfork walk and collect the two first-rounders. Wilfork and the Patriots have had talks over the past year on an extension, but no agreement has been reached. And the measure of progress reached in the negotiations is a matter of conjecture, but this much is known: Wilfork has expressed his hope that he is not given the franchise tag. He and his representatives met shortly after the season to outline a game plan for the offseason, and they came out with guns blazing about Wilfork’s preference not to receive the one-year tender offer of just over $7 million. “I want a long-term deal, or I want to be free. Point blank. And that’s how I’m looking at it,” Wilfork told Boston-area radio station WEEI. “That’s how my family is looking at it. It’s a short window of opportunity for me to go and make the type of money that I want to make. … Yeah, (the franchise tag is) decent money for most people out there. What I do, it’s OK,” he added. “But I don’t look at myself as an OK player. Like I said, it’s just basically a slap in my face and it’s insulting to me to tell me I’m an OK player.” Most view Wilfork as an integral piece of the team’s defensive scheme, and Monday’s franchise desgination shows the team knows his value. It issued a press release minutes after the news was released, saying that Wilfork has been a “top contractual priority for some time” and that they hope that Wilfork “will remain a Patriot for many years to come.” It’s notable that the Patriots also have a lot of other work to do this offseason, including getting a long-term extension for QB Tom Brady, whose current deal runs through 2010.

Notes: Wilfork never has been a big statistical producer, with only 7½ sacks and one forced fumble in 90 career games. He has missed only six games in six seasons, which is good accountability for such a big man. Wilfork had another solid season in 2009, but many believe he was at his best in ‘08 when he made a career-high 66 tackles, collected two sacks and paced a very solid New England defense. Wilfork’s job became less appreciated last season, however, because of the loss of much of the Patriots’ defensive core in players such as Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel.

Wilfork’s strength, run-stopping ability and toughness are rare to find at a position of growing demand. With more teams running 3-4 schemes, finding a nose tackle who can take up two gaps, absorb double-teams and clog up the middle is very difficult but vital. Most often, his work inside eating up two offensive blockers allows others to make plays more cleanly. But Wilfork is not just a two-down, two-gap plugger; he also can play at either DT position in 4-3 schemes and last season kicked out to a 3-4 DE position at times, showing he can match up with offensive tackles and seal the edge effectively.

Negatives: Paying Albert Haynesworth-type money for a player who doesn’t sack the quarterback or force many turnovers is risky business. Wilfork has some position versatility, but he’s clearly best inside. And he’s not a 60-snap player, either. The Patriots often sub for him on third downs or take him off the field during some extended drives to keep his wind. Although Wilfork remains in his prime at 28, turning 29 at midseason, many nose tackles who sustain as much wear as he does tend to fall off quickly into their 30s with extended snaps. The Ted Washingtons and Pat Williamses of the world are the exceptions to the rule.

Risk factor: Moderate. Teams scouting Wilfork know what he is: a reliable, forceful inside presence who can make those around him better and allow more clean lanes to rush through and stop the run. He hasn’t shown much of an injury history through his career, but the risk is that he might not be nearly as effective on the back end of a four-, five- or six-year deal as he would be on the front end. In a market where talent runs thin and some teams will be desperate to make a significant addition, there might be a suitor for Wilfork’s services. But that club almost certainly will have to pay above market value in terms of guaranteed money for Wilfork and surrender the two first-round picks. That’s a very high price that rarely is paid.


Sunday: Chargers WR-ST Kassim Osgood


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