By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

Yesterday marked the beginning of the new league year, and with it, the start of free agency – the first in an uncapped system since the early 1990’s.

While big splashes were made by some teams around the league (Chicago, Detroit, both New York teams), the Patriots mostly stayed at home yesterday, choosing to finalize deals with three of their own free agents.

The team reportedly did dip their toes into the free agent pursuit of Julius Peppers, and engaged in trade talks involving Auquan Boldin, but it didn’t seem either was a top priority.

By mid- afternoon, (early morning for some) the natives began to get restless, wondering at the lack of signings or activity by the Patriots.

As the day went on, a few items began to trickle out of Foxborough. First the team announced that they had signed linebacker Tully Banta-Cain to the three year contract. The Herald reported that the team was still in talks with Kevin Faulk. Then, around dinnertime, the big news dropped.

Vince Wilfork and his wife – on vacation somewhere – confirmed the news that Wilfork and the Patriots had agreed on a five-year, $40 million contract -the largest ever for a 3-4 nose tackle.

A little while later, Patriots Football Weekly also reported that the team had also re-signed Stephen Neal to a two year contract.

Now, you might remember I had written previously about whether the team should devote significant resources to a player that only played about 64% of the defensive snaps. My concerns laid out in that article remain, but I do have to say I’m happy that the big lug is sticking around for a few more years.

The whole attitude around the team up until training camp will be different now. Without this deal, the biggest story around every passing camp, mini-camp or whatever would be Wilfork and his holdout. We’d hear more screaming from talk show hosts about how cheap the Patriots are and that they won’t pay their guys. That’s all gone now. The focus can be on the team now. (Until they start obsessing over Tom Brady’s status)

That may not be worth $40 million, but it is priceless in its own way. Plus, we know that Wilfork is a high-character guy, who performs on the field. The Patriots need to keep the ones that they have remaining.

Now that the Patriots have solidified their own house, hopefully now they can focus on adding to the talent on the roster.