Pats confirm deals for Wilfork, Neal

Updated: March 10, 2010, 7:52 AM ET
ESPNBoston.com news services

The New England Patriots on Tuesday confirmed the signing of nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who told the team's Web site he "never wanted to leave" New England and was relieved the process was over and that it was "all about football again."

[+] EnlargeVince Wilfork and Robert Kraft
Courtesy of the PatriotsVince Wilfork, who posed with owner Robert Kraft while signing his contract, is relieved to put the business of football behind him.

The deal is worth $40 million over five years, according to a source, which includes an $18 million signing bonus and $25 million in guaranteed money. The team placed the franchise tag on the 28-year-old Wilfork late in the negotiations, something that Wilfork said earlier he would equate to a slap in the face.

"Did I get frustrated at times? Of course," Wilfork said in an interview posted to the team's Web site. "That's business, that's negotiation. I have never been through a negotiation. Certain things were pissing us off, and we had to go back-and-forth, and I'm not the type of person that likes to go back-and-forth, so I was like, 'When's it going to be over?' ... We play so much football we forget there's a business part to it, but I never wanted to leave.

"My family, my kids, are happier than I am. Not because of the long-term deal, just because we don't have to move anywhere. I'm excited. We're all excited. We definitely got done what we wanted to get done out of the deal, both sides. We both agreed on the deal. From the Wilfork camp, we're happy. The organization is happy. Now, it's all about football once again."

Wilfork said he thought his future in New England might be in jeopardy when the team put the franchise tag on him last month, but he was quickly assured that the purpose of the tag was to buy more time to work out the long-term contract (which made him the highest-paid nose tackle in the NFL) that eventually came to fruition.

"From Day 1, my main goal was to start and finish my career here," Wilfork said. "I've met good people in my time here, some great fans. You have a great chance of winning every year. Who wouldn't want to play in front of a sold-out crowd every Sunday at home? Who wouldn't want to be up under a Bill Belichick? Who wouldn't want to be up under the teammates I have, the friends I've made here? It's a lot easier."

Wilfork has been one of the team's most durable players since being drafted by the Patriots in the first round (21st overall) of the 2004 draft.

"We don't think there's a better player on the marketplace for this team" than Wilfork, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said on WEEI-AM. "We've been able to sign a number of our guys this year that we felt were No. 1 or 2 in the marketplace."

The Patriots also confirmed the signing of offensive lineman Stephen Neal to a two-year deal and Kraft confirmed the team had reached an agreement to retain top cornerback Leigh Bodden. Last week, the team re-upped pass rusher Tully Banta-Cain, part of the team's offseason philosophy to bring back its own players rather than make splashy and expensive new acquisitions.

"We're in the business of quality depth management," Kraft said. "If you lose someone you have to have depth. And if you don't have depth, you're in trouble."

The 6-foot-2, 305 pound Neal was drafted by the Patriots in 2001 out of Cal State-Bakersfield, where he was a championship wrestler and didn't play football.

The Patriots waived him, then re-signed him in December 2001. By 2004, he was starting at right guard.

In 2008, Neal started the final nine games on a Patriots team that set rushing records in yards, touchdowns and yards per carry.

Last season, he was part of a line that allowed 18 sacks, the team's fewest since the league switched to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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