After the 2005 season, the Patriots had a chance to sign Asante Samuel to a long term extension.
The sides were reportedly only a few million dollars apart. Close enough that a deal should have been struck. But the Patriots and Samuel both took a hard line, and the deal never happened.
Samuel became a free agent after the 2006 season. When he reached free agency, he was as good as gone. The Patriots, who likely could have extended Samuel for relatively cheap dollars compared to what he got in free agency, were forced to franchise him for a season then watch him leave for Philadelphia and a ton more money.
The Patriots weren’t able to replace Samuel in 2008, and you can make a decent case that his loss cost them a shot at the playoffs.
The lesson here is that when you have a guy on your team that you need to keep, you have to lock him up BEFORE he becomes a free agent. Even if it means budging just a little and giving him a few million dollars more than you think he’s worth.
Because if you wait for free agency, there won’t be enough money available to keep him. There’s always some other team willing to overpay for a useful player who’s coming from a good team.
Since Bill Belichick arrived on the scene, the Patriots haven’t made many mistakes. When they have, they’ve learned from them. Like their players, the Patriots’ front office very rarely makes the same mistake twice.
Which begs the question: Why haven’t the Patriots extended Vince Wilfork’s contract?
With all due respect to Asante Samuel, losing him would pale in comparison to losing one of the best nose tackles in the game. Samuel can be replaced. There are other elite cornerbacks in the league, or potentially in the draft, that the Patriots could sign.
Who would you replace Wilfork with?
All of the good nose tackles in the NFL, and most of the mediocre ones, are locked up long term already because their teams know they’re indispensable.
Ask Ray Lewis how good he’d be if Haloti Ngata wasn’t keeping three-fifths of the opposing offensive line busy on every play.
Vince Wilfork might be the most indispensable player not named Tom Brady on the New England Patriots. And after the season Matt Cassel had last year, he may have overtaken Brady.
Effective 3-4 nose tackles are a rare breed. They have to be willing to forgo their own stats, do the dirty work against the interior of the opponent's offensive line, and take a tremendous beating week in and week out.
When you find one who’s not only willing, but able to do the job, you hang on to him.
Which is why the Patriots MUST sign him to an extension. Immediately.
Wilfork was in the news recently telling the Boston Globe that he’s willing to listen, but the Patriots haven’t tried talking yet. Which is understandable considering the Patriots lost their GM, lost their offensive coordinator, and had to franchise their backup quarterback.
But now that things have settled down, it’s time to lock up their nose tackle.
Don’t let Vince Wilfork become the next Asante Samuel.
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This article originally appeared on the New England Patriots Examiner page. To read more articles like this one, check them out here.
He is a Senior Writer and an NFL Community Leader at Bleacher Report. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.