By now, everyone knows that nose tackle Vince Wilfork has had a non-exclusive franchise tag slapped on him. And, if you're not aware, the franchise tag is a way for a team to "hang on" to a player, a designation given to someone who is about to become an unrestricted free agent. From wikipedia.org:
A non-exclusive franchise player may negotiate with other NFL teams, but if he signs an offer sheet from another team, the original team has a right to match the terms of that offer, or if it does not match the offer and thus loses the player, is entitled to receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.
Wilfork is entitled to the average of the top 5 player's salaries at his position, a cool $7.003 million. That's a steal. Now before you climb all over me with the "I'm out here working for a living and you're telling me 7 mill ain't enough..." (I work for a living, too), this is football. Vince has said he doesn't want Albert Haynesworth money. Albert signed a 7 year deal with the Redskins and, if you use the low figure of 4 years and $48 million outlined in the linked article, Albert is still at $12 million per year, 71% higher than Vince's franchise amount.
Franchising is usually bad for a player and in this case, it's bad for Wilfork because he doesn't get to explore the free agent market and find out what he's really worth. Given he's at the prime of his career, is healthy, and is a premier talent (many teams are exploring the 3-4 alignment), the big man, may have garnered in the double digits for a yearly salary.
My sense is it's about the length of the contract more than the money. Oh, don't get me wrong - money is important. But players at this stage of their career (successful first contract stint), want to capitalize on their success AND guarantee longevity as they "slide" into the second half of their career. Who can blame them? This sport chews them up and spits them out. Why not get what you can?
The thought of Vince not wearing a Flying Elvis is sickening to this Patriots fan. But it's a possibility. There are teams that may be willing to part with 2 first round draft picks if the Patriots decide not to match the other team's offer. Is Vince worth 2 first rounders? It depends on how much said team is looking for a 3-4 nose tackle of Vince's caliber.
If the above becomes reality, that Vince ends up on another team, who can step up? Well, 2 names come to mind: Ron Brace and Myron Pryor. Second rounder Brace was supposed to be the heir apparent, the shot across the bow in negotiations with Vince. Surprisingly, sixth rounder Pryor became the man to fill the middle when Wilfork was out for a few games. Am I comfortable with second year man Myron or Ron filling Vince's shoes? I'd rather have Wilfork, but those two guys, Pryor in particular, proved they could handle the job when called upon to do so.
Like I've said for most of this season, sign the man. Guarantee him $28 million with the possibility to earn $10 million per year for 4 years and see if he bites. I think that's reasonable. The guaranteed money divided by 4 years is basically his franchise amount and he can make $40 million in 4 years with whatever incentives the Patriots decide to throw in. Sound ok?