Yesterday, the Patriots had only $4,019,036 in cap space and serious doubt about the prospects of bringing defensive captain Vince Wilfork back. Today, Vince is back, and the team has more breathing room against the cap as a result.

The contract breaks down as followed. The $3 million guaranteed that was widely reported comes in the form of a $1.5 million signing bonus, $1 million fully guaranteed salary and a $500,000 roster bonus. Vince also gets the same weight ($300,000) and workout ($200,000) bonuses he received on his old contract, and can make up to $1.4 million in per game bonuses on the active roster ($87,500 per game). He can earn an additional $3 million in incentives, although the specifics of those haven't been disclosed yet.

An option bonus prior to the start of 2015 league year will trigger the second year of the deal. So far, specifics aren't known about the final two years of the deal.

Because the amended contract is a three year deal, Vince's $1.5 million signing bonus is split into three $500,000 cap charges for each year of the contract. The $3.6 million in dead money (which Wilfork has already received in real life) remaining from his old contract also gets accelerated to the 2014 cap. Hence, although Vince will receive $3 million up front in guaranteed money, only $2 million of that gets charged to this years cap.

via PatsCap

[NOTE: All cap interpretations in this article are my own, and do not represent PatsCap.com in any way]

It's important to keep in mind that an exact cap number is impossible to calculate with so much of the deal tied up in incentives. The graphic above pencils Vince in for only four games worth of his per game bonuses, due to a technicality that ties that number to last year's performance. It's almost certain that Vince will play in more than the four games he saw in 2013.

It's also unclear how attainable that $3 million in incentives is. Typical performance-based incentives include Pro Bowl nods, playoff appearances, playing time percentages and things of that nature. While it won't be unthinkable to see Vince return and play at a high level, he'll likely miss the beginning of the season on the PUP list, and will almost certainly see a reduced role from the crazy snap totals he was playing prior to the injury. If Vince earns all $3 million in incentives AND plays all 16 games, his cap number could theoretically balloon all the way up to $10.5 million, but the odds of that are slim to none.

In fact, the amount of money tied up in playing time could make for some drama to watch for when the season approaches. The Patriots will naturally want to err on the side of caution in bringing their 32 year old nose tackle back from an Achilles injury, but Vince now has significant financial incentive to return to the field as quickly as possible. Hopefully, Vince recognizes that his best chance of earning the entire length of this contract lies with a completely healthy return. However, any Patriots-related medical situation will make me nervous as long as Tom Gill is the team doctor.

All that aside, what's a realistic guesstimate of Vince's cap number? Considering the recovery timeline for an Achilles is roughly a year, lets be optimistic and say Vince comes back in Week 5 (he was injured Week 4 last year) and manages to play the remaining 12 games. That would put him at $1,050,000 in per game bonuses, $700,000 more than the penciled in figure above. That would put him at a cap number of $7.15 million prior to any other incentives, saving $4.45 million and bringing the Pats up to $8,469,036 in cap space.

It's a nice compromise between two sides that seemed irreconcilable merely a week or so ago. Wilfork is an excellent bet to make at least $4.5 million this year (a good number considering his circumstances) and can come close to making the $8 million he was scheduled to make if he completely returns to form and stays healthy. The Patriots obviously get the double benefit of saving cap space while retaining a huge piece of their defensive line, and the structure of the deal basically buys the team one year to monitor Wilfork's health before deciding whether to continue the investment or cut the cord.

It was just Monday that Robert Kraft told reporters he was hoping for a "win-win" resolution from the Wilfork situation. Just four days later, it appears the team achieved that goal with flying colors.

Ned Brady 3/28/2014 01:01:00 PM Edit

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