Restructuring Vince Wilfork's deal in a way that works for both sides

There are several big issues surrounding the future of Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. At 32 years old, the 6-foot-2, 325-pound monster in the middle will count $11.6 million against the 2014 salary cap, which is $7.85 million more than any other defensive tackle his age or older — and none of them are attempting a comeback from a season-ending Achilles tear in 2013.

The Patriots will be right up against the $126.3 million salary cap next year, so they may need to consider restructuring Wilfork's contract.

Should the Patriots expect Wilfork, at his age, to be back at 100 percent of his old self? Should Wilfork? If anyone can make a full recovery from such a devastating injury, it's him, but is that a risk the Patriots will be willing to take? The answer to all of the above: Probably not.

That doesn't mean Wilfork will be ready and willing to accept a restructured contract, but there's a way to get it done that could work for everyone involved. The Patriots did it with quarterback Tom Brady just last year.

So, I asked Michael Ginnitti of, a website that tracks the contracts of every athlete in every major sport, for his take on what a restructured contract might look like. He provided me the chart seen here, which he constructed in the image of Brady's contract extension of last season.

The goal, most likely, will be to keep Wilfork's average in the top five defensive tackles in the NFL, and right now, that's at least $8.45 million, so over five years you're looking at $42.25 million. Even though he is 32, extending four additional years would create five years in signing bonus pro-ration (the maximum allowed). The $3.6 million signing bonus from the current contract must stay in 2014. If we use Brady's new base salaries exactly, we can tack on a $10 million signing bonus, and a roster or workout bonus of $1 million each year, with an added $250,000 in the third year (midpoint of the contract escalator), we're right at the $42.25 million.

The $7.6 million cap figure for 2014 clears $4 million, and puts $12 million in cash in Wilfork's hand. The only debatable point from there would be guaranteed years for base salaries. I'd recommend fully guaranteeing 2014-15, and making 2016 for injury only (maybe).

By getting Wilfork his full $12 million in 2014, the Patriots could make the third year of the contract voidable to build in some insurance for themselves. By that point, Wilfork still will have made all the money he would have made on his current contract.

The problem, however, is that in order for these restructures to work, there has to be some good faith. The last time Wilfork's contract ran up (2010 offseason), the team placed the franchise tag on him before giving him a new contract. Wilfork never got to taste free agency, and he made his feelings known to the media about the matter, saying it would be a "slap in the face" and "insulting" to be hit with the franchise tag.

"I want a long-term deal or I want to be free. Point blank. That's how I'm looking at it, that's how my family is looking at it," Wilfork said on WEEI at the time. "There's a short window of opportunity for me to make the kind of money I want to make. I'm not selling my family short and I'm definitely not selling myself short just to stay back and to win and to be part of a great organization."

The Patriots were able to get a deal done with Wilfork, and gave him the richest contract ever for a nose tackle, but the amount of time it took to get there (the Patriots made Wilfork wait through the entirety of his six-year rookie contract before signing him to the big-money contract) may have created some animosity.
If they can't restructure his deal, the Patriots may have no choice but to cut him outright; doing so would provide the Patriots $8 million in cap relief. They could try to just rip up his old deal and sign him to a new one. Either way, restructuring seems like a stretch.

"The Patriots have leverage now, so an ultimatum offer is more likely," Ginnitti said, "probably to the tune of the three-year, $8 million contract Cullen Jenkins recently signed with the Giants — plus the $3.6 million in dead money Wilfork's current contract carries."

However, the parameters are in place for a restructured contract that could work for both sides. Such a move could make sure Wilfork gets what he's owed, while providing the Patriots some much-needed relief in a tight salary cap situation.

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