The decorated tenure of Vince Wilfork with the Patriots appears to have come to an end.
The 11-year veteran defensive tackle took to Twitter Thursday morning to announce that the Patriots have informed him they will not pick up the $4 million roster bonus in his contract, making him a free agent.
Declining that bonus, plus $500,000 in other bonuses and $3.5 million in salary Wilfork was due to receive next season, means New England saves $8 million against the salary cap with the move.
Wilfork, 33, wrote on Twitter, “I’m in a good place and I have a great relationship with the Patriots organization. Please know how blessed my family and I have been to be able to play 11 years in New England for a amazing organization.
“The love you guys as fans have shown me have been my inspiration year in and year out . . . Your messages your stories your conversations and support always touch my heart. New England has been and always will be my home.”
It was not a surprise decision, and almost expected after what the sides went through last year around this time. Wilfork tore his Achilles’ tendon against Atlanta in the fourth game of the 2013 season, and after some contentious moments during the offseason tied to the financial ramifications in his contract for 2014 — it was to be the final year of a five-year extension he signed in 2010 — they agreed to restructure.
Wilfork signed an incentive-laden contract for 2014 that included two years of team options for 2015 and 2016. Despite coming off a significant injury, Wilfork played all 19 games (including playoffs) and earned every one of the incentives in the deal, for a total of $8 million.
New England’s first-round draft pick in 2004, Wilfork teamed with Richard Seymour and Ty Warren during the early years of his career at the center of one of the most formidable defensive lines in the league.
Over time, Wilfork developed into not just one of the better interior defensive linemen in the NFL, a five-time Pro Bowler, and a four-time first- or second-team All-Pro, but also one of the most respected players in the New England locker room.
Wilfork was voted a captain by his teammates for seven years. As he recovered from surgery in 2013, Wilfork was a mentor to young linemen Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, and Joe Vellano, who were thrust into bigger roles because of his absence.
In the quiet of the locker room after a loss in Green Bay last season ended a seven-game win streak, quarterback Tom Brady sat in front of his locker, his uniform off but his ankle still wrapped, his arms folded across his chest.
Only one player could talk to Brady at that moment: Wilfork. He leaned in close to his longtime teammate, and the two quietly talked about the search for consistency for their team and the road that lay ahead, with four regular-season games remaining.
Sixty-three days later, the two were celebrating their second Super Bowl win together (the Patriots also won when Wilfork was a rookie) and the fourth for the Patriots.
Wilfork could still come back to New England, obviously at a salary much less than what he was first slated to earn, but he will likely have some suitors around the NFL. Houston runs a 3-4 defense, and sweetening things there, Wilfork’s first defensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel, holds the same position with the Texans, his former teammate, Mike Vrabel, is linebackers coach there, and former New England offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is head coach.
The Colts could certainly use some help stopping the run, and Denver will be switching to a 3-4 defense this year.
Where could Vince Wilfork land?
Wilfork ended his Twitter statement by emphasizing that he’d like to continue playing.
“Can I still play football? Hell yea! do I still love football? Hell yea! One thing for sure is I will always be a fixture in New England forever . . . This will always be my home!!
“ I will take my time think things through take into consideration many things but mainly my family and see where life goes from there . . . But regardless remember I will always remain a New Englander a Patriot forever.”