Cutting Vince Wilfork sounds ridiculous, but it is a plausible scenario.
Yes, he is one of the best run stuffing defensive tackles in the league, and the Pats did struggle mightily without him in the middle. But if they cut him, could they upgrade enough at other positions to overcome the loss of Wilfork? Let’s take a look.
The terrific Mike Loyko of nepatriotsdraft.com has a piece on how the Pats can free up cap space this offseason. According to Loyko, the Patriots would save $7.5 million by cutting Wilfork, and if they extend his contract, they could gain about $4 million in cap space. So, by releasing big number 75 (and a couple of guys who are flat out money wasters), New England could really infuse some young talent into this team. Loyko details this in his piece, but basically, the Pats could create over $16 million by cutting Isaac Sopoaga, Dan Connolly, and Adrian Wilson. That isn’t even mentioning Wilfork. So when you add in cutting him, the Pats would have over $23 million to spend this offseason.
If Wilfork were gone, that would leave Tommy Kelly, and probably either Sealver Siliga, or Chris Jones as the two starting defensive tackles. Kelly is a good player, but I don’t want Siliga or Jones as the only option on the other side of Kelly. But this year’s draft is full of talent along the defensive line, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the Pats go in that direction.
Just for kicks and giggles, here is a possible offseason plan that could be implemented by the Patriots.
1) Release Wilfork (and a few other guys, to free up cap space)
2) Draft Louis Nix III (a draft day trade might be in order for that to happen)
3) Spend freed up money on Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders, T.J. Ward, and maybe even Alex Mack, a solid center who played the 2013 season in Cleveland.
That would leave New England upgraded at three important positions (safety, offensive line, wide receiver). An important thing to keep in mind here, is the depth the Pats now have at defensive tackle. A silver lining in the injury to Wilfork was it allowed the young guys to come in, and gain some important game experience. Kelly would be the mainstay veteran, and then you have a slew of youngsters that can come in with fresh legs, and produce. I also think Bill Belichick would go out and get another veteran tackle to help replace Wilfork, because as great as youth is in today’s NFL, experience is still needed. But with those three positions now where they need to be at in terms of talent level, I think that could be enough to put the Patriots over the top. It is time to start spending money for Tom Brady, because he doesn’t have a lot of time left in this league. It is not New England’s style to make big splashes in the offseason, but sometimes it is necessary.
I am not saying that New England should in fact release Wilfork. However I do think that it would present the Pats with a lot of good opportunities to improve their roster. Getting an explosive wideout is a must, re-signing Talib brings back one of the best cornerback groups in football, Mack helps stabilize the interior of the offensive line, and Ward could be the next Rodney Harrison. Obviously I don’t know if that specific situation would play out for New England, but you get the point. There are certain weak points on this team that have to be addressed, and they may have to release Wilfork (or at least restructure his deal) to make those improvements. Having the defensive backs, wide receivers, and safeties ready to go is more important than having a top five front line, especially after watching the Seahawks defense destroy Denver. Seattles two defensive tackles are solid players, but they aren’t the foundation of that team (speaking of Seattle, Red Bryant might not be a bad fit here in New England, if he were available).
When it is all said and done, I doubt Vince Wilfork will get cut. But the option is there, and it could benefit the Pats greatly, if they use the freed up money correctly.