Owner hopes Vince Wilfork stays put

— -- ORLANDO, Fla. -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft compared Vince Wilfork, who has requested to be released, to some of the franchise's greats in expressing his hope that the standout defensive tackle will remain with the team.

"Going back over the last 20 years, we've had some pretty special people come through, and [Vince] is one of my personal favorites," Kraft said Monday at the NFL's owners meetings at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, his first public remarks since Wilfork's request. "I'm thinking of Tedy Bruschi and Matt Light and Kevin Faulk and Troy Brown, they made their careers with us. I surely hope Vince will be with us next year.

"In modern-day athletics, in pro sports, it's a business as well as commitment to one another. We have to work through [this], and I'm still not giving up hope that he'll be part of our team next year."

Wilfork, who has been with the Patriots since being selected in the first round of the 2004 draft, is scheduled to earn $7.5 million in the final year of his contract and count $11.6 million against the salary cap. The 32-year-old team captain tore his Achilles in the team's fourth game last season and missed the remainder of the year.

The Patriots have approached him about adjusting his contract, but to this point the sides haven't been able to find middle ground.

When asked about Wilfork's reported request to be released, Patriots coach Bill Belichick deflected, suggesting to reporters to confirm the information with the player.

"You need to talk to him about any of those statements, which I think you should verify first," Belichick said Tuesday at the NFL annual meeting.

Earlier, Belichick had been asked about the "contentious" situation with Wilfork and said, "I don't really know the nature of your question, maybe that's something you have to talk to Vince about."

Although the owner says he and Wilfork share a close relationship, Kraft explained that there's a separation between strong personal feelings and the business side of the game.

"For him, he's making some individual decisions," Kraft said. "For us, we have to put a team together of over 50 people. We have a salary cap. In the end, it's about both parties feeling it's a good transaction and it's a win-win. I think that's what we're both shooting for.

"We've been very close, and I'll let Vince speak to whatever he feels is appropriate. We're probably results-oriented and life is about execution, so either we get it done or we don't. I very much hope we get it done, and I believe he very much would like to do it as well. We've been so lucky to have him. So we'll see what happens."