Once the clock struck midnight, and the calendar turned from the 10th to the 11th, and the window opened for the Patriots to franchise nose tackle Vince Wilfork, the search for a comparable deal to what Wilfork could get/might be worth was on.
The most popular one was the contract signed by Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins two years ago, worth $30.25 million over five years, which included $18 million over the first three years of the deal and just $9.5 million guaranteed.
I'd say there's an awful lot of revisionist history going on here if you think that Wilfork now is in a similar spot to where Jenkins was then. Jenkins was seen as a malcontent in Carolina, had a history of shoulder and knee problems there (which cost him nearly two full seasons), reportedly ballooned to more than 390 pounds during the 2007 season (a part of consistent issues with weight), and was already on his second NFL contract. That is to say the Jets assumed a lot of risk when signing him. Conversely, Wilfork has always been a team guy, has missed a total of six games in six years, has worked to keep himself in shape, and is still on his rookie contract.
Frankly, it's a different deal, period. And beyond just what was stated, there's this: The market has changed. Drastically.
When the Patriots allowed this to go into final year of Wilfork's original contract, there was risk and reward. The reward is they got perhaps the game's best nose tackle at a rate of $2.2 million. The risk was that the market for defensive players could change in the time Wilfork remained un-extended, and it has, and that's another reason why Jenkins' deal is less applicable than it would've been a year ago.
The three players pictured above are responsible ... Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware, Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha and Redskins DT Albert Haynesworth. There's a perception out there that Haynesworth is the game's highest paid defender. The truth is, he never was. That distinction went to Asomugha last year, and remains his, and the fact that there are multiple deals shows that things are different now strengthens the point here. Here's a look at those contracts:
Signed: Feb. 19, 2009
Terms: Three years, $45.3 million
Guaranteed money: $28.5 million
Notes: This was, absolutely, a defensive player jumping into QB stratosphere. The first two years are guaranteed, and the third year is a team option. If it's picked up, Asomugha will make either $16.8 million or the quarterback franchise number -- whichever is greater -- in 2011. He'll get another crack at free agency at the age of either 29 or 30, depending on what happens with the option, and the Raiders can't franchise him again.
Signed: Feb. 28, 2009
Terms: Seven years, $100 million
Guaranteed money: $41 million
Notes: This deal is, in essence, a four-year, $48.2 million pact between the Redskins and the big defensive tackle. He'll collect a $21 million option bonus this offseason, and makes $35.6 million over the first two years, with $5.4 million and $7.2 million salaries in 2011 and '12. Think about this: Before he collects a single game-check in 2010, he'll have pocketed $32 million, more than the total amount of Jenkins' five-year contract. His three-year take is $41 million.
Signed: Oct. 27, 2009
Terms: Six years, $78 million
Guaranteed money: $40 million
Notes: Ware got $45 million over the first three years of this deal, making it the richest in league history for a non-quarterback, if you consider that Asomugha's third year is an option. Ware got a $20 million signing bonus, and a $5 million raise to his 2009 salary. Ware's agent worked off deals signed by Philip Rivers and Eli Manning to get to his numbers, compromising a bit in the end, while continuing to prove the movement in the market.
You could also look at Terrell Suggs' deal, signed after the team franchised him last offseason, which was worth $62.5 million over six years with $38.5 million guaranteed. That's not to say, by the way, that Wilfork is in the class of Ware or Haynesworth or Asomugha, and it's worth noting that the latter two played the 2008 season after signing the franchise tender.
But it is to say that it's important to recognize how significantly the market's changed over the last few years. And that will do a lot to help you see it from the player's perspective.