For the first time in his 13-year career, Vince Wilfork is thinking about hanging up the cleats. If he does, he may end his career where it began, as the Texans have a solid chance at playing the Patriots in the Divisional round of the playoffs if they can hold off the Raiders in Saturday’s Wild Card game at NRG Stadium.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about,” Wilfork told the Houston Chronicle. “It’s a possibility. I still love this game. One of the hardest pills to swallow is when you leave something you love.”
After being drafted by New England in the first round in 2004, Wilfork became an iconic figure for someone at his position, bullying opposing offensive linemen for over a decade. In his 11 years with the Patriots, Wilfork won two Super Bowls, four Conference Championship games, and was selected to five Pro Bowls while being voted a First-Team All-Pro in 2012.
Since Wilfork joined the Texans in 2015, he has become the anchor of the defensive line and helped Houston win back-to-back AFC South titles. With Wilfork in the trenches, the Texans finished the 2016 regular season being ranked first in defense. In his time in Houston, Wilfork has started all but one game.
“It’s going to be tough,” Wilfork said. “My body feels good, but do I want to continue?
“I’m not walking out banged up or with nothing left in the tank. For me, it’s more mental than anything. When the season’s over, I’m going to really take a look at what I want to do, if I want to continue or not.”
Wilfork and his current head coach, Bill O’Brien, have some history with each other that dates all the way back to 2007, when O’Brien was hired as a Patriots assistant.
“I’ve had tremendous respect for Vince from the time I met him” O’Brien said. “When I think about Vince, I think about two things – his family, his wife and kids and all the things he does in the community in New England and Houston.
“And then I think about Vince on the field. To play that position for that many years at such a high level is incredible.”
Disregarding 2013, where he missed 12 games with a torn Achilles tendon, the 325-pound Wilfork has been incredibly durable in his career, as he has only missed seven games in 12 seasons.
“There’s physical, violent contact on every play,” O’Brien said. “It’s a testament to his toughness.
“He’s been a good teammate and a good leader. And I know this about Vince: He wants to play really well in the playoffs.”
If it was up to Texans offensive tackle Duane Brown, Wilfork would be wearing a gold jacket as soon as he is eligible.
“Absolutely (because) if you ask any offensive lineman that’s played against him in this league – any quarterback that’s played against him – they’ll tell you the same thing,” Brown said. “He’s been an unstoppable force for over a decade. He’s done everything you can do as a player.”
Wilfork has tallied 559 tackles, 16 sacks, 26 passes defensed, three interceptions, and four forced fumbles in his career. If he calls it quits after this season, he will leave a big void for Houston to fill in the offseason, both in terms of physical play and veteran leadership.