The salary cap casualties keep coming across the NFL.
Early Thursday morning, the New England Patriots did not exercise their contract option on defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Wilfork was due a $4 million roster bonus on March 10, when the new league year begins, and was going to count $8.6 million against the salary cap in 2015.
Wilfork is a five-time Pro Bowler and was a first-team All-Pro in 2012. He was seen as one of the best defensive tackles and run stuffers in the league and could even get after the quarterback — he was good for two to three sacks per season.
His best season was in 2012 when he had three sacks, forced two fumbles and recovered four fumbles. Even though his numbers were never as good as some of the big names, he freed up a lot of defenders, usually taking two guys to block him.
The move doesn’t come as too big of a surprise for Patriots fans, as this wasn’t the first time Wilfork’s pay was too high for the team’s liking.
Last season, the Patriots and Wilfork argued over salary, as New England wanted Wilfork, who was coming off of Achilles surgery, to take a pay cut. Wilfork was reluctant and many thought he would be traded or cut. However, in March of 2014, the two sides agreed to a new three-year contract.
In the 2014 season, Wilfork played about 75 percent of the team’s snaps and seemed to struggle. He didn’t record a sack or force a fumble, but he did block a kick. His tackles were also down, and it is hard to decipher if that was due to better blocking or if he lost a step given his injury.
The loss of Wilfork will leave a big, no pun intended, hole in the Patriots’ defense. The Patriots had a top-10 run defense last season, as few teams wanted to run up the middle at Wilfork.
There is a chance the Patriots could re-sign him, as it would not be the first time the Patriots let one of their free agents see what the market is like before coming back. Since the Patriots are declining his option and haven’t cut him, he isn’t a free agent until the league year starts, so New England could still work out a deal.
A lot of teams could use a big run stuffer like Wilfork, as he creates matchup problems due to his size and will usually free up one or two other defenders to make plays. Wilfork will be a fan favorite wherever he goes and, if he signs elsewhere, will be missed in New England.
If he doesn’t come back to New England, he would have started and ended his Patriots career with Super Bowl victories.