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  • May 25, 2015

FARINELLA: Wilfork negotiations not the 'Patriot Way' - The Sun Chronicle : Patriots

FARINELLA: Wilfork negotiations not the 'Patriot Way'

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Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2014 12:00 am

Remember all those times you were scolded by your parents for throwing a temper tantrum in public and embarrassing them? Remember how badly they made you feel about the transgression, eventually shaming you into never committing the offense again?

Well, they should have shaken your hand, instead. Thrown you a party. Let you gorge yourself on chocolate cake for a week.

That's basically what Robert Kraft and the Patriots' organization did for Vince Wilfork late Thursday evening.

When Wilfork agreed to terms on a reported three-year, $22.5 million contract extension, it was a reward - but not necessarily for all of the good things he has done as a member of the New England Patriots.

It was also a reward for bad behavior.

Not the sort of "bad behavior" that would land Wilfork on the court docket, of course. That's not Vince Wilfork and never will be. He's a solid citizen, a trusted performer and a pillar of the off-field community. The veteran defensive tackle now has the chance to play his whole career for one team, your team, as well he should.

But it hasn't been all sweetness and light for Big Vince when it comes to contract talks over his 10 years as a Patriot. You can assign blame wherever you like for that; perhaps some of what Wilfork has said about his love for the Patriots comes off as a just a little disingenuous in light of the contentious negotiations that took place at the end of his six-year rookie contract. But then again, he did play for well under the market value for most of those six years, one of the reasons why it's now against NFL rules to tie up a rookie for short dollars over the first six years of his career. And when it came time for him to cash in, the bosses told him, "Sorry, we can't pay you what we signed you for. You know how it is."

It may be standard operating procedure in the NFL, but it would still tick off any reasonable person that trusted someone else's word.

Perhaps the latest debate over Wilfork's status might not have reached such a level of notoriety if he hadn't cleaned out his locker in a pique a few weeks ago, as multiple sources have reported. From all indications, it wasn't simply spring cleaning followed by a quick spritz of lemon-scented Pledge on the mahogany. Nor was it likely to resemble Sherman's March to the Sea; the imagination does tend to run wild when stories of this sort haven't actually been witnessed by card-carrying journalists.

But one thing's certain. It was designed to get someone's attention - preferably that of the guy that signs the checks.

And it worked.

At the owners' meetings in Orlando, Kraft met with the media and gave his usual song-and-dance about how he dearly wanted Wilfork to remain part of the family. What else was he going to say? If he rips the big lug in public, Kraft is the bad guy. If he expresses a longing to have Vince back on the team, however, he's the kindly father-figure who can turn to the cameras with a forlorn look on his face and say, "Well, it wasn't my fault " when the player leaves in a huff, as did Wes Welker.

That's how the game is played, folks.

But it does appear that the Patriots have recently altered how they play the game. In at least two instances, they have shed their skinflint image and thrown wads of short-term cash at people unlike anything previously done in the 20 years of Kraft's ownership.

First, they handed cornerback Darrelle Revis a phony two-year contract that's actually a one-year windfall for $12 million. The second year, which carries a $25 million salary-cap hit, will be ripped up before the ink is dry.

Then in Wilfork's case, according to the always plugged-in Adam Schefter of ESPN, it's really a one-year, $8 million deal that includes $3 million in guaranteed money. The other two years, over which his cap hit is spread, are really option years.

There's a slight scent of panic emanating from those deals. Yes, Revis might be a bargain at any price if he plays up to past levels. Wilfork, however, was more of a public-relations disaster in the making (if he left angrily) than he was an irreplaceable cog of the Patriots' defense.

Wilfork said in a tweet Thursday night that he had been called "every name in the book" during the unresolved portion of his dispute. Indeed, I recall using a four-letter word in my references to him - "risk." After 10 years in the league, with his bulk and coming off Achilles' tendon surgery, it certainly was not unfair to suggest that it was unwise to let him count $11 million on this year's salary cap, or to tie him to a long-term contract to soften the cap blow.

The result seems to be a little bit of a compromise by Wilfork - an acceptance that he doesn't have "long-term" left in him, coupled with an unwillingness to uproot his family in the pursuit of short-term gratification.

Beyond that, it also seems to indicate growing impatience within the ivory towers of Patriot Place.

Kraft will be 73 years old on June 5, and Bill Belichick 62 on April 16, and neither have won anything of consequence since Super Bowl XXXIX in February 2005. The clock is ticking for the leadership as well as for some of the most important players on the field, and the idea may be to load up now for what might be the old gang's last run at glory.

After all, possibly within just five years, these aren't going to be Kraft's or Belichick's worries. They're going to be Jonathan Kraft's worries, as well as the worries of the individuals that replace Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

I'm not saying the elder Kraft or the Hoodie are going to leave scorched earth for their successors to endure. I am saying that it looks like they'll do just about anything to fill some holes or keep a popular guy from rocking the boat so they can raise one more Lombardi over their heads before the sun sets on them. And the shadows are definitely lengthening.

MARK FARINELLA may be reached at 508-236-0315 or via email at mfarinel@thesunchronicle.com. Read Farinella's blog, "Blogging Fearlessly," at thesunchronicle.com/blogs/markfarinella.

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