picby Scott Benson

It’s an undeniable fact of our sporting lives that even the most dignified athletes will sometimes use the press to leverage themselves quicker/better deals from their employer.

Doesn’t mean it still can’t come off as crass.

Take Vince Wilfork, for example. On field, he might sometimes come off as a personal foul waiting to happen, but otherwise, he seems like a solid chap and someone who has truly appreciated and enjoyed his time in New England. And he’s played just great since he first walked off the campus of the U to join the Pats.

On Wednesday, Vince responded to a query posed by Chris Gasper of the Boston Globe, who was checking in on the status of a contract extension that has long been assumed to be a Patriots priority for the 2009 off-season.

Here’s my issue – Wilfork may have only been responding to a question, but by painting the team as distant and uninterested (“Last year at this same time – that was the last time I heard from them”) and the lack of recent progress as a surprise (“I thought maybe there would be some sort of move forward, but everything is at a standstill”) seems kind of silly considering that the team now faces one the most unique roster/payroll challenges in its history, one that sits like the lead domino that will set everything else in motion.

Pretty common knowledge that the Pats currently have two quarterbacks on their roster at a total cost of $29 million, isn’t it? Pretty common knowledge that one of them is an MVP still rehabbing from a grievous injury, and that the other is a former seventh round pick who has progressed so far that – if the team has any luck – he could be flipped for as many as several picks in a few short weeks, right?

Pretty common knowledge that as good as this sounds, there’s still a chance the whole thing could blow up in the team’s face, leaving them in a real salary cap bind for at least a year, isn’t it?

So why now, with the impatience, when successful resolution of the Matt Cassel issue will clearly dominate the team’s contract efforts through April? Why now, to begin with the ominous “they know the longer it takes the more it costs” bon mots, right out of the Ty Law playbook?

I don’t know a single Pats fan who doesn’t hope Wilfork is extended at a price fair to him. I’ve not run across too many who think he hasn’t been a very good nose tackle – maybe the best the team has ever had – since the day he first stepped on the field.

I also don’t know too many who would read Gasper’s piece and instantly decide that Vince can go stuff it.

One of the reasons for this – beyond his consistently exemplary play at the center of the Pats D – is because Wilfork has always gone out of his way to express his happiness and satisfaction with the team and the area, and his desire to continue that relationship into the next decade.

We’ve also never heard one scintilla of evidence that the feeling wasn’t mutual, either (not that we ever would, but I’m just saying).

So, I can’t help but wonder what would have been wrong with more fully recognizing the team’s unique position at this point in time – which is, after all, just the third week of February more than a year before Wilfork’s contract is due to expire – and just tell Chris Gasper that you really don’t have anything to say right now, other than you’re optimistic that things will work out in time?

It’s not like when this is all over, Vince Wilfork won’t be playing for nearly three times as much as he makes a year now, whether it’s with the Patriots or somebody else. A few comments to Chris Gasper won’t make a dime’s worth of difference in that equation.

So why the published pokes now, when its clear that the team stands on the precipice of a major personnel move that could do as much as anything to speed their return to the ranks of the NFL’s championship teams (you’d think he have a dog in that hunt), and nearly as clear that one of the prime motivators to addressing this situation is so that they may move on things like Wilfork’s issue?

As noted at the start, newspaper negotiations are a fact of life, just as it’s a fact that in a high stakes business like the NFL, players have to take care of themselves because surely no one else will.

But timing is everything, Vince, and yours sucked on this one. Come on.