When the Patriots declined to pick up Vince Wilfork's option last offseason, it seemed as though the big defensive tackle's career was perhaps a year or two away from its end.
Wilfork was 33 years old at the time, had spent 11 years in the league, and was coming off of a miraculous Super Bowl victory, giving him two championships on his resume. It wouldn't have been a bad time to shuffle off into the sunset.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick gave Wilfork an appreciative send-off by releasing a glowing statement soon after Wilfork announced he would sign with the Texans.
"Few players reached or will ever reach the special level of Vince Wilfork," Belichick wrote. "He is a great champion and one of the classiest people I have ever been around — just a kind, genuine and giving person who was all about our team, football, winning and bringing joy to others. There may have never been anyone at his position with as much strength, toughness, intelligence, instinctiveness and athleticism. He is the best defensive linemen I ever coached, an all-time great Patriot whose place on our team will be missed but whose remarkable career as a Patriot will be remembered forever."
Despite all he'd accomplished in a Patriots uniform, however, Wilfork wasn't ready to call it quits. In fact, after starting all 16 games for the Texans last offseason, he's still feeling good enough that he believes he can play a few more years.
"I feel good," Wilfork told the Houston Chronicle. "I said until I feel like I can’t perform at a certain level or my body can’t take it, or I’m mentally not there anymore, it’ll be time for me to hang it up. But I think I have a couple more good years in me.
"I think, mentally, it’ll go before my body will. It’s just the amount of stress over the years you’ve been in the game. To play this game, you have to be mentally there. If you’re not mentally there, I don’t care who you are. You won’t make it."
Working alongside JJ Watt, Wilfork put together a strong 2015 -- according to Pro Football Focus, Wilfork graded better than defensive tackles like New England's Malcom Brown and Alan Branch, Cleveland first-round rookie Danny Shelton, Kansas City's Dontari Poe and Detroit's Haloti Ngata -- and he figures to factor in heavily to Houston's defensive plans again this season.
Wilfork is scheduled to make his return to Gillette Stadium in a Thursday night matchup with the Patriots in Week 3.