EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 27, 2009

Is walking out an option for Wilfork?

On Pro Football

FOXBORO — What happens if Vince Wilfork walks?

The New England Patriots nose tackle might have no other option.

Both Wilfork and his fellow New England Patriots defensive linemate — both with Pro Bowls on their resumes — sit in the the final season of their current contract.

There is a humongous difference here, though, as Seymour, a first-round pick in 2001 has already cashed in once for mega-millions thanks to the Kraft family.

Wilfork, a first-rounder in 2004, has felt the punishing wrath of the NFL's current contract structure.

Coming out of the University of Miami, he was cornered into a six-year deal ... paying him about $18 million over that span. For what Wilfork has brought to the franchise, you're talking pennies on the NFL dollar.

His loyalty and service have not been rewarded yet.

"Pretty frustrating," was how Wilfork described the situation this week. But less than three weeks to the opening nighter with Buffalo, will the backbone of this defense get frustrated enough to do something drastic?

There are positives and negatives to a possible walk off the job.

First, it's Wilfork's only line of defense right now. Yes, he is under contract.

It could get expensive, with missed paychecks adding up. Walking out might infuriate the Patriots as it did when Deion Branch refused to report.

Branch laughed all the way to the bank in that case, inking a six-year, $39 million deal with the Seahawks after New England balked at any such thing.

Wilfork's only other option is to buckle up, dominate the trenches and put up a monster year. His stock would rise, forcing New England to either place the franchise tag on him or allow the 330-pounder to test the free-agent waters.

Either way, it's a hefty payday and a step up the ladder, albeit with risks.

Asante Samuel took that tact back in 2006-2007, landing a franchise year for about $11 million before signing for six years and $57 million in Philadelphia.

What happens if Wilfork goes out against Buffalo and wrenches a knee or worse? So much for security and that one giant score.

Samuel rolled the dice and blew up the system. Can that work for Wilfork who, with a wife and three children, might not want to do the same?

For himself and his family, holding out is an option that Wilfork could be forced to explore.

Even Brady talking contract

For the first time in years here, contract talk has overtaken the actions on the field as not only Wilfork, but Tom Brady, whose "hometown discount" deal expires after 2010.

Much of the talk around here, with an entranced football following seduced by the Patriots, centers around the "Patriot way," this theory based on the team winning without stars.

It morphed into this team not having to pay top dollar for stars, because any real Patriot would never expect to earn what he's worth here. A real Patriot takes less for the good of the team.

Slowly, though, those theories have been chipped away. First, Richard Seymour cashed in. Then Randy Moss, a superstar with a superstar persona, came here.

Belichick praises Kennedy

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick says he admired the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, who sent him personal notes and congratulations on the team's successes.

Belichick said yesterday that Kennedy's "leadership and his courage were certainly something I personally always looked up to" and also "meant a lot" to people in Massachusetts and the nation.

Speaking at the team's training facility the morning after Kennedy's death from brain cancer, Belichick said the senator "personally was very supportive of this team and also of me." He added that Kennedy attended the team's Super Bowl victory visits to the White House.

Kennedy played football at Harvard. As a senior end, he caught a 5-yard pass for a touchdown in a 21-7 loss to Yale on Nov. 20, 1955.

Associated Press material was used in this report.

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