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Wilfork is playing high-stakes game

Next no-show may cost him $500k

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By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / June 9, 2009
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BOLTON - If unhappy nose tackle Vince Wilfork does not attend the Patriots' mandatory minicamp that starts tomorrow, he could lose up to $500,000, an NFL source said yesterday.

Wilfork wouldn't automatically forfeit $500,000, but the Patriots could pursue it as part of his contractual status and language that was included in the 2006 extension of the collective bargaining agreement.

That $500,000 at risk could factor into Wilfork's next step. The six-year veteran has stayed away from organized team activities as a statement of displeasure with his contract, but since those sessions were voluntary, he couldn't be fined and wasn't at risk to lose money.

Wilfork attended the Patriots Charitable Foundation golf tournament yesterday at The International, although it didn't appear that signaled a thaw in his stance. A team official prevented media members from speaking with him, but he was part of a live interview on WEEI in which he added context to the situation.

"It's nothing personal towards the organization," Wilfork told the radio station. "It's nothing personal towards my coaches or anything like that. It's not the first time a player has gone through a contract negotiation problem.

"So I try to stay positive and at the same time do what's best for me and my family. At the end of the day, that's what matters to me."

Wilfork, 27, is scheduled to earn a base salary of $2.2 million this year, which is the final season in the six-year contract he signed as a rookie in 2004. Both sides agree that Wilfork is worthy of a raise, but the issue is finding a middle ground. The sides have discussed an extension, but talks are stuck in neutral, which has prompted Wilfork to stay away in an attempt to spark movement.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft said yesterday that the league's uncertain labor situation was a consideration with Wilfork, pointing out, "We're in a unique period in the evolution of the labor relations, so there are a lot of things factoring in here."

But that seems to overlook the plethora of extensions signed by players across the NFL this offseason, most recently the San Francisco 49ers inking offensive tackle Joe Staley to a deal through 2017 last week that included a reported $40 million in new money, $16 million of which was guaranteed.

Kraft, whose club has had contract standoffs with defensive lineman Richard Seymour, receiver Deion Branch, and cornerback Asante Samuel in recent years, called himself a "big fan" of Wilfork.

"Unfortunately, the business part of this game, this is something that goes on every year with most teams," Kraft said. "We're lucky to have Vince. I hope he's here for the long-term. These things usually have a way of working themselves out."

In his interview on WEEI, Wilfork reiterated some of his remarks from last week when he said he wasn't seeking a blockbuster deal like the one free agent defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth signed with the Redskins, which averaged $13 million per season in the first four years.

"I'm not looking to sign this big-time, going-down-in-history, the best contract there is," he said. "I want to be comfortable, but at the same time, I want to be with the guys that I go to war with, and I don't think I'll find any better group of guys or coaches out there. So I don't want to leave. I'm pretty sure we're going to do everything in our power to make it work.

"I'm not hiding from nothing, but I try not to talk about it because I try to stay positive. I get frustrated at times.

"I want to be a Patriot. That's not the question here. At the same time, there's a business aspect to it. Hopefully we can meet somewhere in the middle of this thing and get it over with. I hate the business part of it, but it is [a part]."

While Wilfork is making a stand, he continues to make it clear that he is not considering sitting out the season.

"Hopefully, everything is resolved, and if not, I'm going to go forward, be 100 percent, and give everything that I have," he said in the WEEI interview. "Just because of the contract or the negotiation, if that's not done before the season, it won't stop me from working hard. I'm going to continue to put everything on the field.

"I will be ready to play this season."

The Patriots have their last of 12 voluntary organized team activities today, before wrapping up the week with their three-day mandatory minicamp tomorrow through Friday.

The $500,000 question is, will Wilfork be there tomorrow?

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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