What's Next For Wilfork?

The New England Patriots had a decision to make with their best interior defensive player. Instead of letting him test free agency to determine market value, New England put the Franchise tag on him. Now, they have time to work out a deal, but will they?

Whether Vince Wilfork likes it or not -- and he said a number of times earlier this offseason that he'd be upset if it happened -- New England named the nose tackle its franchise player Feb. 22. The designation comes with a $7.003 million, one-year tender for 2010.

In a team release announcing the decision, a quote indicated that the move may be more about protecting the Patriots' interests through negotiations than looking to retain the two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle on simply the one-year deal.

"A long-term agreement with Vince Wilfork has been the team's top contractual priority for some time. Unfortunately, despite numerous conversations and proposals, the goal has not yet been realized. Vince is a tremendous player for our team and remains a significant part of our future plans. It is because of Vince's importance to this organization that we have assigned the franchise designation as we continue to work toward a long-term agreement. We are hopeful that Vince will remain a Patriot for many years to come."

The Wilfork camp responded in hand with comments put out through the Twitter account of Wilfork's wife, Bianca.

"The franchise tag has been applied. After six years of dedicated service i do understand this is a business ...

"With that being said it is my hope that the tag is applied for its true purpose ...

"For the purpose of allotting more time for us to continue our talks and be able to reach a long term agreement. ..."

"Only time will tell what the final result will be."

Those comments are a bit softer than Wilfork's tone in January when he said the franchise tag would imply that he was "an OK player."

"It's basically a slap in my face and an insult to me to tell me I'm an OK player," Wilfork told WEEI radio in Boston of the franchise tag. "If it happens, there's nothing I can do. We'll handle it the best way we know how to handle it and we'll try to move forward with it in a positive way."

Whether it's a slap in the face or not, Wilfork has indeed been slapped with New England's franchise tag as the two sides seemingly keep lines of communication open in negotiations on a potential long-term deal.

After playing out the final year of his six-year deal that's clearly foremost in the former first-round pick's mind.

Based on the statement released by the team announcing the franchise tag, a long-term deal remains important to the team as well.

"Vince was a priority, and we've worked very hard, and I think both sides have worked hard, and I think we're close, and I hope we're close something," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said.

Now it's just a matter of the two sides reaching mutual ground on an agreement. If that doesn't happen, then Wilfork's stance on the tag could very well revert to the "slap in the face" stance that he expressed prior to the move becoming official.

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