Vince Wilfork wants out of Foxborough. He will follow the path set by a multitude of top-level Patriots defensive stars before him. They wanted "market value" and not "Patriots Market Basket Value" in the twilight of their careers.
The criticism of Patriots' ownership here and elsewhere of late was that the team was unwilling to go "all-out" or "all-in" - depending on which cliche you prefer - to load up on talent before Tom Brady storms his palace gates in Pacific Palisades for the last time as a member of the Patriots. Revis Island is a great launching point in this direction. That only took one day to accomplish here in this space. Frankly, I'm exhausted after spending much of Thursday taking a victory lap. The right shoulder is killing me. A small price to pay for vanity.
It's easy to understand how someone like Wilfork feels today. He sees others getting money, money he's contractually obligated to receive. He may intellectually know the game is changing, but he's not willing to accept that fact with a pay cut. He wants to be appreciated by an organization that doesn't do "appreciation." You work for Starbucks and the guy at Dunkin' Donuts makes more than you. This is no different, except with more zeros on payday.
Funny, when a player like Wilfork or Julian Edelman wants to exercise their right to free-agency, as agreed to by the owners in the current CBO brokered by Robert Kraft and the other 31 NFL owners, he is often cast as a villain by State Run Media. Another example of a "greedy" athlete who makes 10,000 times more than a firefighter or school teacher. When owners, however, show "fiscal restraint" and "salary cup prudence," even when the best QB ever in the history of ever [at least as far as New England is concerned] is facing a relentless biological clock, they are cast as being "wise, thrifty and wicked smart."
The pejorative adjectives "greedy" and "cheap" should be removed from this or any discussion about NFL player salaries. On both sides.
NFL owners enjoy a federal anti-trust exemption that has helped to perpetuate their league into the Godzilla [opens May 16 at a theater near you] of pro sports. The NFL itself is a tax exempt organization. Its TV deals are worth billions each year and they're obliged to pay only 48 percent of that TV and local ticket revenue to the players. It's impossible to lose money running an NFL team.
The NFL's new $27 billion, nine-year TV deal kicks in this season. That means each team will get more than $200 million in guaranteed money before selling one ticket, one beer, one parking space or winning one game. Then there are NFL and local corporate sponsorships, stadium sponsorships, ticket sales and more. We've never used the word "greedy" in describing this business model. It's brilliant. There's no moral judgment here on this formula, or in how the league works. People buy these products [Bud Light, Ford, etc.], buy tickets and watch the games on TV. There's a mass market demand being met.
Friday is "pi" day, March 14, or 3/14. There is plenty of "pie" to go around in Foxborough, even for a hefty 330-pounder like Wilfork.
[Not spending every dime possible during Brady's final productive days is a different matter entirely. Been there, done that, will do so again.]
To the players, the salary cap has increased to $133 million [on average] this season. They've successfully prevented the league from expanding the season, without extra compensation of course, and the smartest players are leveraging their celebrity through social media, individual endorsement deals and other lucrative endeavors.
[Crony at times] Capitalism at work. In a good way. "Greed" does not apply in any NFL contractual agreement, especially from the players' perspective. They do not control the money, the owners do. "Greed" is considered a mortal sin by many. Its use implies some sort of moral shortcoming. Wilfork and Co. may be mis-overestimating what he's worth. But foolishness and greed are two very different things. The Patriots want Wilfork to re-negotiate his deal [see "fiscal restraint"] because they wanted to re-allocate his resources elsewhere [see "salary cap prudence."] Wanting to save money and be smart doesn't make the Patriots greedy. Nor does wanting to make money or be reckless cast Wilfork in the same role.
The NFL is truly a business. It rivals Mircosoft more than "The Blind Side." It is immensely successful, despite the threat of billions in damages from its crippled and brain-damaged former players and an all-out assault on much of what the league stands for and/or encourages, namely behavior prone to men. It is going nowhere. It will see $50 billion in net worth before it ever sees bankruptcy.
Many Patriots fans were not happy with news that Wilfork asked for his release. Reaction on his Facebook page was mixed - sad, negative, appreciative and upset.
Of course, nothing the publicists from State Run Media [the story was "broken" by the NFL Network] reported, included the Patriots trying to grind him down into taking less money than the Patriots agreed to pay in 2010. That was a five-year, $40 million deal. There is no proof anywhere - from Mr. and Mrs. Wilfork or elsewhere - that this was an "emotional" decision. If Wilfork is being "childish," then he will pay for that mistake. The adults among us cannot in all honestly believe there was zero emotion involved on Patriots' end when they let Wes Welker leave for Denver last season over NFL pennies. If you do, you might need to go through Patriots Red, White and Blue De-Tox. Let me know how that goes.
That doesn't make Wilfork greedy, evil or disloyal. Maybe Wilfork, who is now 32 and coming off an early-season-ending injury in 2013, will find that the Patriots were correct. He's probably not quite worth what he, Mrs. Wilfork and his agents think he is worth. Teams are throwing more than they run. The big, heavy run blocker is not as valued as the shut-down corner. Maybe Vince can come back to New England on a salary number that fits better into the Patriot Way and their player-value spread sheet. That is his risk to take, just like it was Kraft's risk to buy the Patriots for $175 million 20 years ago this month.
Wilfork's presence on the Patriots has been mysteriously downgraded recently. The NFL is a passing league, but stuffing the run is important. Wilfork often devours a double-team, which frees up others to rush the passer or reach the backfield on a running play. In the Patriots' AFC title loss, the Broncos ran the ball 28 times against the Wilfork-less Patriots for 107 yards. When the Broncos opened the second half with that crushing 7:08, 13-play, 80-yard drive to go up 20-3, Peyton Manning was untouched and handed off the ball six times for 27 yards. Just enough to keep the Patriots off balance and out of New Jersey in February.
Right now, Wilfork has little to lose, assuming he's 100 percent healthy. The Patriots were not going to pay out on his deal. Whatever number the Patriots wanted him to take, is available elsewhere. There is no doubt in that fact. If he ends up with more money than he would have received restructuring his deal, then he's a smart businessman.
No different than Robert Kraft.
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