A few Patriots greats, like Tedy Bruschi, Kevin Faulk, and probably Tom Brady, will get to play their entire career in New England and retire on their own terms.
But only a few get to experience a ceremonial, heartfelt sendoff. Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, and Willie McGinest were eventually released after their best days were behind them. Richard Seymour, Deion Branch, and Mike Vrabel were traded out of town.
Now it’s reportedly Vince Wilfork’s turn.
Pressed by the Patriots to take a paycut from his $7.5 million base salary and $11.6 million cap number, Wilfork instead asked the Patriots to release him Thursday after 10 seasons with the team, according to the NFL Network.
The Patriots did not have any official roster moves on Thursday’s waiver wire — the Darrelle Revis signing was confirmed by his business manager on Twitter. Wilfork will still cost the Patriots $3.6 million in cap space if they release him. But they will also save $8 million in cap space and $7.5 million in cash.
And some of that cap space might be used to bolster their secondary. The Patriots hosted former Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner Thursday. Reports were swirling late Thursday night that Browner had signed with the Patriots, according to the NFL Network. But Browner’s agent told ESPN that he was stil negotiating with “four teams and we do not have a deal. We aren’t even close.”
The NFL Network stuck by its report, tweeting that Browner “has spread the word to those close to him that he has agreed with the [Patriots].’’
Browner’s outspoken ex-teammate, Richard Sherman, tweeted “congrats to @bbrowner27 my brother so excited for you!!!!”
Browner, 29, is huge for a defensive back (6 feet 4 inches, 220 pounds) and could give the Patriots a physical presence at corner or safety. He also would come cheaply, having to serve a four-game suspension to start the season because of a violation of the league’s drug program, and he must forfeit an added four games of salary.
Wilfork, 32, is entering the final year of five-year, $40 million contract he signed before the 2010 season. The Patriots this week attempted to keep Wilfork with a new, three-year contract that would have significantly lowered his 2014 salary cap number, but a source said Wilfork was put off by the Patriots’ offer and refused to agree to a restructured deal.
Wilfork has been a defensive cornerstone since the Patriots drafted him 21st overall in 2004, earning five Pro Bowl nods and three Super Bowl appearances as a large-but-nimble, run-stuffing nose tackle with 16 career sacks. But he was set to have the second-highest salary cap number on the team behind Brady, and has a few red flags — Wilfork is getting old by NFL standards and coming off a torn Achilles’ tendon. He was having a substandard 2013 season in three-plus games before the injury.
It probably couldn’t have helped Wilfork to see reports of the Patriots giving Revis $12 million for one year, the highest salary of any cornerback for 2014. The one-year contract is actually a two-year deal, with a $20 million option for 2015 that is almost certain not to be picked up, but was created to help Revis fit under the salary cap for 2014.
The Patriots gave Revis a $10 million signing bonus, $1.5 million guaranteed salary and up to $500,000 for per-game roster bonuses in 2014. The contract also has a $12 million option bonus on April 1, 2015, a $7.5 million salary, and $500,000 in bonuses if the option is picked up.
The $10 million signing bonus is split into two years, so Revis’s 2014 salary cap number will be a manageable $7 million, and an absurd $25 million if the 2015 option is exercised. Instead, the Patriots would either try to extend Revis during this season, decline the option but try to sign him as a free agent, or decline the option and let him leave.
If they decline the option and decide not to re-sign Revis, he would still cost $5 million against the cap in 2015. It is unlikely the Patriots would use the franchise tag on him next offseason, as his salary would be $14.4 million and cap number $19.9 million.
Meanwhile, Wilfork wasn’t the only defensive tackle asked to the Patriots save some salary cap dollars. Veteran Tommy Kelly agreed to a restructured contract that cut his base salary by $1 million but lets him make some of it back via incentives — $50,000 in per-game roster bonuses and up to $645,000 in play-time markers, according to NFL Players Association records. Overall, the move gave the Patriots a little more than $850,000 in salary cap space. They currently have about $19 million in cap space when factoring in Wilfork, Revis, Kelly, and other recent transactions.
Kelly got a $100,000 signing bonus for his troubles, but that is the only money he is guaranteed, and the Patriots could save $1.7 million against the cap if they cut him at the end of training camp. Kelly had 2½ sacks last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 5.
The Patriots have some promising young defensive tackles in Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga, but are likely to bolster the position this offseason, particularly if Wilfork exits. Only a few decent nose tackles are left on the free agent market — Henry Melton, B.J. Raji, Alex Carrington, Pat Sims – so the draft may be the better way for the Patriots.
Meanwhile, the Patriots and receiver Julian Edelman continued to wait things out as the wide receiver market slowly developed. Edelman is expected to visit with his hometown 49ers Friday, a source told the Globe. The Panthers released Steve Smith on Thursday, and teams appear to be waiting to see where he and Hakeem Nicks land before moving on Edelman. Nicks visited the Colts on Thursday.
Edelman potentially lost one suitor on Thursday when the Browns signed slot receiver Andrew Hawkins to an offer sheet the Bengals are reportedly not going to match. The Ravens are also believed to be interested in Edelman, but the Ravens are also strongly interested in Smith, who included the Ravens and Patriots among the five teams he wanted to be traded to before the Panthers released him, according to the Charlotte Observer.
The Patriots continue to stay in contact with Edelman, but also are eying other receivers. It is unclear if they have interest in signing Smith or Nicks to short-term deals, and they reportedly hosted Jason Avant and Brandon LaFell on visits. Santonio Holmes, James Jones, and Emmanuel Sanders also remain available.Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin