ORLANDO — Vince Wilfork and the Patriots haven’t settled their differences regarding his contract. But the sides might be getting closer, and perhaps the rift wasn’t as big as it originally appeared.
A day after owner Robert Kraft called Wilfork “one of my personal favorites” and said he hoped to come to a “win-win” solution to ensure that Wilfork remains with the Patriots, Kraft reportedly began “re-recruiting” Wilfork to get him back in the team’s good graces, according to NFL Network.
The network reported two weeks ago that Wilfork had asked the Patriots for his release instead of agreeing to a restructured contract, but coach Bill Belichick cast doubt on that Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings.
Belichick was asked what the next step is after Wilfork asking for his release.
“You need to talk to him about any of those statements,” Belichick said. “I think you should verify first.”
Wilfork is due a $7.5 million salary and $11.6 million salary cap number in 2014, and the Patriots can save all of the money and $8 million in cap space by releasing him. Wilfork, a member of the Patriots since they made him a first-round pick in 2004, has refused to budge, but the Patriots would rather not release him.
“I’m still not giving up hope that he’d be part of our team next year,” Kraft said Monday. “I very much hope we get it done, and I believe he very much would like to do it as well.”
Belichick spoke at length with the media for just the second time this offseason, and addressed several topics.
■ He wasn’t much in the mood to wax about new cornerback Darrelle Revis, widely considered one of the best — if not the best — in the league.
“I think he’ll help our team,” Belichick said. “We’ll see how it comes together with us, what his role is and how exactly he fits in our scheme and so forth. We’ll just have to see how that comes together.”
■ He addressed the re-signing of Julian Edelman and new free agents Brandon Browner and Brandon LaFell.
“I’m glad we were able to work things out with Julian,” Belichick said. “Good player who is versatile, does a lot of different things for us, works hard, he’s tough, and he’s developed all the way through our system.
“He came in not as a receiver, not as a punt returner. He’s developed into being pretty good at both those things, so glad to be able to keep him.”
Belichick didn’t say much about LaFell’s role in the Patriots offense, but in Carolina, he played both on the outside and in the slot.
“He was a productive player in Carolina, had some skills that we liked when he was coming out of LSU,” said Belichick.
Belichick didn’t say much about Browner’s role but did note that he has “rare size for a corner” (6 feet 4 inches, 220 pounds).
■ Belichick brusquely denied the allegations of former players Aqib Talib and Brandon Spikes that the Patriots falsified injury reports. Talib claimed that he had an injured thigh and not hip, and Spikes disagreed with the Patriots’ decision to place him on injured reserve five days before the playoff game against the Colts.
“I don’t agree with that,” said Belichick. “Never.”
■ Belichick also didn’t play into two intriguing story lines that have developed this offseason.
He was asked about John Elway’s recent comment that the Broncos and Patriots, who were both big players in free agency, are engaged in an “arms race.”
“We’re just trying to improve our team,” he said.
And he brushed off the suggestion that the Patriots are making roster decisions with Tom Brady’s age in mind; he will be 37 in May, and no NFL quarterback has won a Super Bowl after age 38.
“We try to have a competitive team every year,” Belichick deadpanned.
■ Belichick did show a lighter side, as well.
He was asked about being the only one among 32 head coaches to skip the group photo Monday morning.
“I missed it,” he quipped. “Maybe they can Photoshop me in there.”
He also was asked about the cost of adding extra cameras to the sidelines to ensure full coverage for instant replay, one of the four rules changes he has proposed at these league meetings.
“Maybe we could have a bake sale, raise some money for the cameras,” he joked. “We could do a car wash.
“We just spent however many million dollars on the replay system. I mean, there’s a thousand cameras in every stadium, so if somebody spills a beer on somebody, we have it on record, right?”
Belichick was asked about his proposal to change the extra point to make it a more competitive play, and he lamented recent rule changes that have made it tougher for teams to block kicks.
He even showed support for the Florida basketball team, which won its first two games of the NCAA Tournament. Belichick attended the Gators game Saturday in Orlando.
“Shout out to Billy [Donovan] here,” he said. “Going to the Sweet 16.”
And he was incredulous when asked if he had any timetable for the return of star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who tore his ACL and MCL in December and had surgery in early January.
“Did you seriously ask me that question?” he said.