Vince Wilfork is a big man; not only due to his 6'2'', 325 lb frame. He is also a big presence for the New England Patriots both on the field – as one of the team's most reliable defenders – as well as off it – as the senior member of the defense and via his charitable work.
He also has a big impact on the Patriots' 2015 salary cap.
In March 2014, Wilfork and the Patriots agreed on a one-year contract with a two-year option added, to lower his $11.6 million cap hit. The option included in the contract needs to be exercised prior to the start of the 2015 league year (March 10, 4:00 p.m. ET); the Patriots can either pick it up or not. If they decide to pick up the option, Wilfork will receive a $4.0 million roster bonus on March 10. If the team does not want to pay him the money, they have to cut him prior to that day.
Therefore, New England's front office has to ask itself how to approach this situation.
First, we take a look at Wilfork's current contract. If the option gets exercised, the 33-year old will hit the Patriots' 2015 salary cap with at least $4.4 million (if he gets cut after March 10) and up to $8.9 million (if he remains on the roster and reaches all of his incentives). However, if the Patriots deem those numbers too high for a player at the career-stage Wilfork is at, they will try to lower his cap hit – especially considering that players such as Devin McCourty and Darrelle Revis have to be taken care of this offseason.
How can they lower the cap hit? They have two options.
Option number one: in order to create some immediate cap relief, the team could simply cut Wilfork. If they do so prior to the start of the 2015 league year, the Patriots save $7.1 million in 2015 cap space; if they do it afterwards, they will still save $3.1 million. Therefore, cutting Wilfork before March 10 arrives looks like the right move if you focus strictly on the numbers (his age and cap hit). However, football is not a numbers game. Not only is Wilfork the second-longest tenured Patriot (after Tom Brady), he is also the team's best defensive tackle and played 73.6 percent of snaps this season. As long as the Patriots do not have the personnel to replace Wilfork – and as of right now, they do not – cutting him would weaken the interior of the team's defensive line.
Therefore, the Patriots might have to try something else to lower Wilfork's cap hit. Enter option two, which is basically two options in itself: New England might either extend or restructure Wilfork's contract. As has been said in the article about Nate Solder, no player wants to miss a chance to collect a huge check. Wilfork's is $4.0 million, due on March 10. Thus, the Patriots might opt to extend Wilfork's contract and convert this roster bonus into a signing bonus while spreading out its cap hits over the duration of the new deal. The team also has the possibility to sweeten a possible extension (or a restructure) via an increase in salary or more guarantees. Thus, the Patriots could – depending on the length and structure of a new contract – save more than $3.0 million in 2015 cap space.
Vince Wilfork, without a doubt, is one of the all-time great players to don the Patriots' uniform. He would be worth every dollar the franchise gives him for his past contributions both on and off the field. However, teams do not give out new contracts for past performance but for what they expect to happen in the future.
What do the Patriots think about the future of their longest tenured defender? We do not know. We do know, however, that the team has options to lower Wilfork's 2015 cap hit without having to cut ties with the 33-year old. If the Patriots decide to do this, and if Wilfork and his representatives agree to such a change, remains to be seen.
What would you do if you were the Patriots? Extend or restructure Vince Wilfork, or simply cut him?