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Wilfork signs 5-year extension

Patriots also retain Banta-Cain and Neal

V. WILFORK: $25m guaranteed V. WILFORK: $25m guaranteed
By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / March 6, 2010

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NFL teams began shopping at 12:01 a.m. yesterday in a free agent frenzy considered the NFL’s version of Black Friday. Only time will tell who picked up the best deal, but the Patriots spent the most right in their own backyard.

The Patriots and Vince Wilfork agreed to a five-year extension worth $40 million ($25 million guaranteed and an $18 million signing bonus), making him one of the highest-paid defensive tackles in the league and settling a negotiation process that dated to last season.

The Patriots also agreed to a three-year deal with linebacker Tully Banta-Cain and, according to patriots.com, signed guard Stephen Neal.

But the headline move of the day around New England was Wilfork. The 28-year-old nose tackle, who is on vacation, updated his contract status via Twitter. Wilfork and his wife, Bianca, thanked fans for their support and added, “We are pleased to say we will be here for MANY more years to come.’’

The outlook wasn’t always optimistic for Wilfork, who was hit with the franchise tag at the end of February. When Wilfork opened up about negotiations, he expressed a desire to be given the best opportunity to take care of his family. As talks continued, the team maintained their interest in keeping their 2004 first-round pick in a Patriots uniform. Eleven days ago, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Wilfork was the organization’s “first priority.’’

Yesterday, they made the wait worth Wilfork’s while.

Wilfork has proven his value as the key cog of the Patriots’ 3-4 defense. He started 13 games last season and earned his second Pro Bowl selection. He had 43 tackles and one forced fumble.

On a day when the Patriots jumped in the bidding for defensive end Julius Peppers and wide receiver Anquan Boldin, they ended up signing two of their own key players. Peppers, the most coveted free agent on the market and the edge rusher the Patriots clearly lack, signed a six-year deal with the Bears worth potentially $91.5 million, with a record $42 million guaranteed.

Receiver is another area of need for the Patriots, but the Cardinals traded Boldin and a fifth-round pick to Baltimore for third- and fourth-round picks in the 2010 draft. Boldin, who was unhappy in Arizona because of his contract (he was set to earn $3 million next season), received a new four-year, $28 million deal, with $10 million guaranteed.

The Patriots retained Banta-Cain, who recorded a team-high 10 sacks in 2009. He returned to New England after a two-year stint with San Francisco looking for a chance to prove himself. Banta-Cain was rewarded, signing for an estimated average value of $4.5 million a year that includes a $6 million signing bonus. With incentives and escalators, he could pocket nearly $19 million.

The signing of Neal was announced on the team website. No details were released.

Banta-Cain was drafted by the Patriots in the seventh round in 2003 and played four seasons in New England before he signed with the 49ers as an unrestricted free agent in 2007. Two years later, the 49ers released Banta-Cain and he found his way back to the Patriots.

Although the Patriots had an up-and-down season in 2009, Banta-Cain said he was satisfied with his production. “It’s great to come back, and now I’m really looking forward to my future here,’’ he said last night.

Banta-Cain said there wasn’t much discussion about joining another team.

“The consideration is there but I really wanted to stay here, I love it here, and that was the whole reason why we didn’t want to get it to a point where I would have to go into the free agent market,’’ he said. “My goal was to get something done here and I’m really glad that it happened.’’

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report; Albert R. Breer of the Globe staff contributed; Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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