Vince Wilfork officially announced on Monday that he’s retiring. It isn’t much of a surprise: Wilfork is a few months shy of his 36th birthday, and said at the end of last season, after the Houston Texans lost to the New England Patriots in the playoffs, that he was leaning toward calling it a career.
And Wilfork, who in recent years has become known for his overalls-and-nothing-else appearance on “Hard Knocks” and his love of grilling and smoking, made his decision via video he made in partnership with Kingsford, whom he has an endorsement deal with:
— Vince Wilfork (@wilfork75) August 7, 2017
“No more cleats – I’m moving on to smoked meats!” Wilfork says, dancing in front of a smoker. “Peace out!”
The video also announces “Vince’s Farewell Tailgate” in New England on Sept. 7, which is the date of the regular-season opener between the Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs.
Wilfork played 13 seasons in the NFL, 11 with New England, which took him 21st overall out of Miami (Fla.) in 2004, and the final two with Houston. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro in 2012, and won a Super Bowl ring in his first and last seasons with the Patriots.
Though he won’t be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame until 2022, it’s worth discussing whether Wilfork belongs in the Hall. In our opinion, he does.
It’s hard to evaluate 3-4 nose tackles, which Wilfork was for much of his career, on their numbers because they aren’t there in the way many expect from D-linemen: in 189 games (179 starts), Wilfork was credited with 565 total tackles, 16 sacks, 12 fumble recoveries, five forced fumbles, three interceptions and 24 pass break-ups.
But Wilfork was able to handle two and sometimes three offensive linemen at a time, freeing up teammates to get the glory of a sack or run stuff. As a younger player, Wilfork and ends Richard Seymour and Ty Warren formed one of the best lines in the NFL; as an older player, Wilfork became the heart of a rebuilding Patriots defense, a mentor to many as he still played at a high level.
Listed (generously) at 325 pounds, Wilfork was incredibly nimble and athletic for a man his size, which surprised many. During one Patriots training camp, coach Bill Belichick tested Wilfork, asking him to cleanly field a punt – while already holding one football – to give his teammates a needed night off; Wilfork did it. He also made a juggling interception and return against Philip Rivers and the Chargers several years ago, and in high school was one of the best shot putters and discus throwers in his home state of Florida.
In the fourth game of the 2013 season, in Atlanta, Wilfork suffered the only major injury of his career, a ruptured Achilles. In the four games with Wilfork, New England allowed 105 rushing yards per game; in the 12 games without him, it gave up 178.8.
Wilfork was fully healthy for 12 seasons; his teams finished top 10 in rushing defense in seven of those years.
Wilfork’s importance to his teams can also be underscored in his starts: as a rookie he played in all 16 games but started just six; for the rest of his career, he started every game he played in, even his final two seasons in Houston, when he was 34 and 35 years old.