Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The Patriots' emerging leader
By Mike Reiss ESPNBoston.com
At one point during a conference call with reporters Wednesday, New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork talked about identifying "bad seeds" in the locker room and weeding them out. He said he wouldn't have a problem going to head coach Bill Belichick and pointing it out.
This is part of the benefit the Patriots could gain after signing Wilfork to a five-year, $40 million contract with an $18 million signing bonus.
Vince Wilfork sounds like he is ready to take on an expanded leadership role in the locker room.
They didn't just re-up their best defensive player from 2009. After a season in which team chemistry wasn't at championship levels, they also empowered a new locker-room policeman.
Wilfork has traditionally been a leader by example. Now, he's positioned to possibly expand his leadership role inside the locker room given the long-term commitment that the team has made to him.
"As players, everybody has to be accountable. If you are on the field, you have to give me 100 percent," Wilfork said Wednesday morning, taking perhaps the first steps toward a larger leadership role.
"You have to weed out the bad seeds, point blank. If you can't give me what I'm giving you on the field, I don't need you on the field with me. That's point blank. That's how you win. You have to build trust. Show me that I can count on you.
"If a guy is not giving me that, I have no problem telling that guy that I don't need him on the field, and I have no problem going to tell Bill that I don't want him on the field. That's point blank. That's how it's going to have to work."
Given that Wilfork was unsure of his future with the Patriots last season -- contract negotiations were up and down over the course of the year -- it sounded like he might not have been completely comfortable with that role. Now, he's charging ahead.
He touched on the dynamics of building a championship team.
"We need to build that bond. And with that bond, you have to have some accountability. We need to trust one another when we're on the field. There is no question that we have that, but we have to pull it out of the guys," he said. "I think this year is going to be a huge change.
"We have a bunch of leadership on this team. A lot of guys aren't used to seeing young leaders, because all the leaders we had were older guys -- Rodney [Harrison], [Richard] Seymour, [Tedy] Bruschi, [Mike] Vrabel. You name it, they were older guys. They're not here anymore and now you're starting to see younger guys becoming leaders earlier."
Wilfork then listed a handful of younger leaders, while noting that "we have guys in this locker room who know what it takes to win. You just have to trust it. I think we as the leaders of the team, we have to ask more out of ourselves and ask more out of our players."
He said it starts in the offseason program.
Other snippets from the near 30-minute conference call:
• On having a weight clause in his contract each year (he earns money by being a specified weight): "It's not a big deal. I've been having a weight clause, it wasn't in the contract, but it's a certain weight I have to meet anyways -- at 325 every year. I've never had a problem being at my weight. Every big guy in the league that is a nose tackle/defensive lineman that is a bigger guy all have this in their contracts. There is nothing in this contract that is unfair to me."
• On the team's other signings: "It's very encouraging. Leigh [Bodden] was around last year, so he got a little taste. Tully [Banta-Cain] has been around, so he knows what a championship team is all about. Those two guys are definitely people who can help us."
• On conversations he had with team owner Robert Kraft during negotiations: "There were times when I wanted to talk to him. Sometimes it was about contract, sometimes it was just general conversations. He had no problem talking with me. He always returned my phone calls if I didn't reach him. Our personal relationship is great. It's always been great, from day one until now. It's always been a good relationship between us and the Krafts. There were times when I thought maybe I needed to talk to him directly and I did."
• On the role of his wife Bianca during negotiations: "That's my agent/wife. She's tough. She wants nothing but the best for us. I wouldn't change it for the world, to have a wife that is my partner, my friend like she is, business-minded. Ever since she came into my life, she's been a huge supporter of me -- football or no football."
• On his late parents and how much he'd like to share this experience with them: "There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about my parents. I lost my father when I was 20 and I lost my mother after my 21st birthday. My parents never got a chance to see my daughter or baby son. Every day that goes by, I reflect on that. I told my father when I was 4 what I wanted to be in life, a professional football player."
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.