The New England Patriots should release Vince Wilfork.
Just not today.
The Patriots absolutely need to do something about that ridiculous $11.6 million cap number. The question is not so much what to do, but when.
With the bump in the salary cap this off-season the Patriots had the extra money needed to sign cornerback Darrelle Revis to replace the departed free agent Aqib Talib. Revis is on the books at a reasonable $7 million cap charge for arguably the best and most important defensive player in the NFL. The Patriots do not have to immediately make a move on Wilfork. But they will make a move on him eventually.
The Patriots will save $8 million in cap savings when they decide to release Vince Wilfork. But there is not an immediate rush to do so. The team has a $10.5 million cap number for guard Logan Mankins that can be manipulated to free up money. Converting part of his $6.25 million base salary to a bonus will free up enough money. The Patriots can convert all but $2 million of his salary to a signing bonus and save $3 million on the cap this season while $1.5 million is pushed out into 2015 and 2016 respectively.
The biggest question with Wilfork revolves around his ability to play and contribute in 2014. At age 32 in the last year of his contract and coming off a season-ending Achilles injury Wilfork has absolutely no leverage in negotiations. His best bet is to get released now when the other 31 NFL teams have millions of dollars to spend. Every day that the Patriots hold on to Wilfork limits his free agency options and lessens his earnings.
Last season Vince Wilfork did not start the season well. Against the Jets in week two he was manhandled and moved around like…well, like he were Joe Vellano or Chris Jones. Was he already injured? He was not impressive the next week against Tampa Bay and went down for the year in week four against Atlanta.
In contrast, free agent Tommy Kelly was the star of training camp on the defensive line. It carried over into the regular season as Wilfork was ineffective and Kelly looked like a great pick-up. Bringing pressure from the right defensive tackle position in the 4-3 front, per ProFootballFocus.com Kelly totaled three sacks, five quarterback hits, and six hurries in just four-and-a-half games before a knee injury shut him down.
There was little doubt that Tommy Kelly was the more impactful defensive lineman in the first quarter of the season. With Kelly carrying only a $2.66 million cap number, he is clearly the best fit for the defense in 2014 if it comes down to choosing between him and Wilfork.
Vince Wilfork has been a great player for a decade in New England, but the Patriots in 2014 need to focus on 2014, not rewarding players for past service. The Patriots have always put the team ahead of the individual. If Vince Wilfork does not see that the same rules apply to him, he is being naive and foolish. He has no leverage and as Wes Welker, Logan Mankins, Deion Branch and more learned previously in New England, a player only wins in salary negotiations with leverage. The Patriots are best served holding onto Wilfork to see if he is healthy and can help the defense. If not, he will be released when it fits the team’s needs, not Wilfork’s desire.
Vince Wilfork may want to be released, but the Patriots would be foolish to release him now. Of course, the Patriots would be foolish not to release Wilfork before the season starts if Wilfork will not restructure his deal. Vince Wilfork should be released by the New England Patriots…just not today.