Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Friday, March 14, 2014
With Wilfork, legacy vs. principle

By Mike Reiss

Why is Vince Wilfork reluctant to accept the team's desire to alter his $7.5 million contract?

That question has been asked quite a bit since news broke Thursday that Wilfork has asked the Patriots to release him. It has been asked, in part, because it's highly unlikely that the 32-year-old Wilfork, who is coming off a torn Achilles, would receive that type of money elsewhere as a free-agent.

Vince Wilfork
Vince Wilfork is putting his Patriots legacy on the line with his stand.
We've covered the business-based history of Wilfork's time in New England, which adds context to how he might view the situation.

Now let's go a little deeper.

From this viewpoint, what makes this a compelling situation is that it puts two powerful forces in conflict -- legacy vs. principle.

Wilfork has been, by almost all accounts, a great Patriot. He traveled with the team last year despite being on season-ending injured reserve for the final 14 games, which is unprecedented in Bill Belichick's tenure, and his presence with the team was the subject of a "60 Minutes Sports" segment promoted by the club itself.

That's part of his legacy as one of the all-time great Patriots. He also has a Super Bowl ring from his first year with the team.

If the personable Wilfork starts and finishes his career in New England, he'd have a Tedy Bruschi-type presence in this region for decades if he so desired. Those situations are rare and to some, like Bruschi, that legacy would trump all.

But Wilfork is also deeply principled, and there is something to admire about that as well.

Even if remaining in New England gives him the chance to earn the most money in 2014, that's not always the clincher for every player. If Wilfork feels like he's already made concessions based on his business relationship with the team over the last 10 years, and doesn't have one more in him, that stance warrants respect and maybe a divorce is best.

In this case, one simply can't tell another person how they should feel. It's not a right-or-wrong-answer situation.

This is similar to what unfolded with Wes Welker last offseason, just to a little bit of a lesser degree. Welker felt it was hard to take the Patriots' final offer after giving everything he had to the franchise for six years, a stretch of time that included coming back from a torn ACL in about seven months. To Welker, it was easier to accept that same deal elsewhere in the form of a fresh start.

Based on Wilfork's request to be released, it appears he's reached the same point.

But that doesn't mean it is necessarily the end game. 

The club seems prepared to give this some time to simmer before it reaches its conclusion, and maybe in time, there is a change of heart with either side -- Wilfork accepting the revised deal, or the team electing to honor the final year of the contract as is.

Thus, Wilfork's future will hang in the sensitive balance a bit longer -- legacy vs. principle.