It’s time for another New England Patriots Roundtable, this time it’s the Vince Wilfork edition. Vince was the big news of the week, but there is still a lot of talk around the NFL Draft, and it will only continue to steadily rise as we get closer to May 8th draft date.
Q. Vince Wilfork re-worked his deal last week so that he could come back to the Patriots at a reduced cost. What are your thoughts on his 3 year, $23 million dollar contract?
Hal: Basically a one-year deal, it is one of those maddening Patriots contracts that is so loaded with incentives that it eats up cap space and the team saves money by not having to pay out when the player does not reach them. What the Patriots did with the deal is they have the roster bonus that forces a decision next season (and the next if he is kept) early in the off-season so they do not have the long drawn out process. For Wilfork, his agent can say he is getting his money, but for the Patriots it protects them if his play falls off.
Cyrus: I like it. When healthy, Wilfork instantly makes the Pats run defense 10x better, and now that he has lowered, his cap hit, it is a win-win situation.
J.T.: I love the idea that Big Vince will be back and be able to spend the twilight of his best days in New England. Will he retire here? Well, there is always the chance someone buys him out later on, but he’s no spring chicken anymore. However, he is still a dominant player at his position and if he can fully recover from his injury, can be a paramount asset to the team. Moreover, since the Pats will likely draft his eventual replacement, it will be convenient to have Wilfork instill his habits and work ethic into the next man in line.
Matt: I thought it’s a great deal for both teams. Wilfork gets an opportunity to re-gain all that money if he lives up to his level of play. He also helps his team out by saving them nearly five million dollars. It’s also great for the Patriots fans, because they get to keep a universally loved player. The Patriots are protected in the future, with almost no guaranteed money in his final two years of the deal as well. Love it.
Q. With Wilfork back in the fold, how do you see the Patriots addressing their defensive line? Should they stand pat, or grab one more impact player in free agency or the draft?
Hal: Definitely need to add to the team in the NFL Draft, preferably early in the draft. They missed out in free agency as the Dolphins were able to keep Randy Starks, one of the better defensive tackles, for two years and $12 million total. Looking at that deal, the Patriots may have been best served releasing Wilfork before free agency started and pursuing Starks.
Cyrus: One silver lining New England got with Wilfork’s injury last year, was it allowed other players to gain valuable game experience. If Wilfork and Tommy Kelly can stay healthy, the Pats will be just fine at defensive tackle. However I do think that they need some depth out on the edge. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones can’t play 95% of the defensive snaps in 2014.
J.T.: They could certainly use some depth at the defensive end position, as the production quality drops off after starters Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones. These two studs need a breather like everyone else, you know? If the Pats can land someone like Will Smith at a decent price, then maybe they go that route. Otherwise, there is always the draft, which is where they will most definitely look for a defensive tackle to act as successor to Wilfork. Many mock drafts out there currently have Louis Nix (Notre Dame) going to New England in the first round.
Matt: Absolutely still think they need multiple players to add to the defensive line. I think they go defensive end or defensive tackle in round one, and then will find more depth throughout rest of the draft. They at least need one of each, preferably someone who is versatile enough to play inside and out, and also provide interior pass rush. Defensive line is still the number one need for this team.
Q. Final Wilfork question: Do you see this situation as a bit of an anomaly, considering how the Patriots tend to deal with players of advanced age, like the media suggests?
Hal: Vince Wilfork was in a position with so much dead money and Aaron Hernandez already clogging the cap with $7.5 million that the Patriots lost some leverage in dealing with him. That said, his time to hold out should have been last off-season, so shame on his agent for not taking advantage of the leverage he had before the 2013 season began to request and workout a contract extension.
Expect to see this with much more animosity play out in a year or two with Logan Mankins. Another prideful Patriot who had to fight (even harder than Wilfork) for his payday and will not be interested in any kind of pay cut. With his high cap number, advancing age, and declining skills, the end of the Logan Mankins era in New England could be a messy affair with fans wishing it was as tranquil as the Wilfork negotiations.
Cyrus: Definitely. I don’t think the Patriots will do things like this in the future. Their way of doing things has been very successful, and even they bent a little bit for Wilfork, they won’t continue to do this with other players.
J.T.: Vince is one of the best skill players at his position when healthy. The renegotiation of his contract currently saves the team $4.8 million (though this can change due to his insanely complicated incentive deals) and it just feels like a good investment. As I mentioned earlier, Wilfork will act as a supreme mentor to his inevitable replacement, so that alone is added value in keeping him around.
Matt: I feel like the media, specifically the Boston media tends to over blow these situations, like the Wes Welker dilemma of last season. The Patriots know what these players are worth, and don’t tend to budge from that original idea. It has succeeded in the past, and will continue to succeed in the future. The NFL is a business, and you’re here to win games, not make friends. Sometimes a falling out will occur like with Welker, and sometimes it works out like with Wilfork.
Q. Name me your favorite defensive line prospect in the upcoming NFL Draft, that could be an option for the Patriots.
Hal: I’d love to see either Notre Dame defensive tackles Stephon Tuitt or Louis Nix in New England to eventually replace Wilfork, but since the Patriots will trade down to the second round neither will still be available. If they get aggressive and trade-up (i.e. 2012) they could snag Florida State DT/DE Timmy Jernigan who adds some beef. On the outside, a Dee Ford or Kony Ealy could jumpstart the front four.
Cyrus: I liked Louis Nix III, but with Wilfork back, I doubt they will go after him. He is essentially a younger version of Wilfork, although he has a long climb to Wilfork’s status.
J.T.: I really like Louis Nix out of Notre Dame. He’s the best nose tackle prospect in the draft and he’ll more than likely be there for New England in the first round. Dude is just a plain beast. Though the feeling originally was that the Pats might reach for a tight end, I think the team will still be able to look for options at that position in the second and third rounds.
Matt: My personal favourite is Stephon Tuitt, and the nice thing is, if the Patriots do look to trade back in the draft, if they could get an early second round pick, he’ll probably still be there. Like I talked about above, I want someone who can play inside and out, and that’s what Tuitt can do. After that, Hageman and Ealy would be my next favourites.
Q. Baseball is finally back. I can assume most of us are Red Sox fans, so how do you see their season playing out this year? Or would you rather watch paint dry than pay attention to baseball?
Hal: The Red Sox still have a deep starting rotation and strong bullpen, which is still key to outlasting a strong, deep division. Expect anywhere from 90 to 97 wins in 2014 and another trip to the postseason in 2014.
Cyrus: Big Red Sox fan. Hopefully they can continue their success from 2013. I am not “expecting” a repeat, but obviously I’ll be hoping they can pull it off.
J.T.: I’ll tell you what, I grew up a huge Frank Thomas fan and for that reason alone, I still show love for the White Sox (refrain from your booing, please). But hey, I’ve still been to plenty of games at Fenway and still love the Red Sox. Heck, I even got the Big Hurt’s autograph at Fenway Park! Look, Boston will be just fine this season. I’m actually both amazed and looking forward to seeing what Grady Sizemore can bring to the table as the starting centerfielder. His story is just so incredible that you cannot help but root for the guy.
Matt: Very happy that baseball is back. The Red Sox gave us perhaps one of the most magical seasons in team history, and are just as loaded as last year. I’m expecting them to be right up there in the division race, make the playoffs again, and make more noise.
Thank you to Hal, Cyrus and J.T. for helping out on this week’s New England Patriots Roundtable. If you’d like to have a question answered by us on this roundtable, then feel free to send a tweet to @Musket_Fire or @MattyWinPats, or any of the guys personal twitters