At this point with emotions running high in Muhammad Wilkerson‘s camp, the New York Jets could never bring him back. Or could they?
By Robby Sabo
It’s all said and done. There’s actually nothing left but the crying.
It’s just business, nothing personal, and logistically it makes sense.
Thanks to the hardened salary cap of the league that plays for pay, handing out a long-term deal is risky business. It’s a proposition not for the faint of heart (John Idzik). For if you should hand out a long-term guaranteed deal to the wrong player, your personnel becomes forever screwed.
The only thing tougher than fielding a competitive team after messing up guaranteed money is selling ice to an Eskimo.
Come to think of it, maybe Jets boss Mike Maccagnan can, indeed, sell ice to an Eskimo. It’s plausible. After all, many of the Gang Green faithful out there actually believe his strategy of pushing Big Mo out the door is the right one.
“It makes sense,” everybody says.
Ryan Fitzpatrick remains unsigned and the Jets desperately need the cap space to get Fitzmagic back under center in 2016.
Now that Wilkerson is reported as “unhappy” and is not expected to show up to any offseason workouts, it makes all the more “sense” for the Jets to rid themselves of Mo.
It makes all the sense in the world.
That is, until, you rewind the clock to 2013.
New York was coming off another disappointing Rex Ryan season. It was Mike Tannanbaum’s last as boss. It was also the end of Darrelle Revis on Broadway. The Jets best player and one of the greatest cover corners in the history of the NFL, was no longer wanted.
Revis, who was coming off a torn up knee forcing him to only see the field in two games in 2012, was shipped to Tampa Bay for a first and a fourth round draft selection. Although Revis didn’t fully morph back into his dominant form immediately, he eventually joined Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots a year later.
He went on to be that missing ingredient for a defense who constantly struggled under Belichick. He regained his All-Pro form and won a Super Bowl for the Jets most despised enemy.
A more disastrous situation simply cannot be imagined.
What Woody Johnson learned about that situation, Mike Maccagnan should understand now.
Never out-smart yourself. This new NFL has quickly become a superstar league and having those superstars who can be trusted with guaranteed money is worth its weight in gold.
By now, everybody knows the Wilkerson story.
First off, the guy is a beast. He’s the best 3-4 defensive end in all of football (this side of J.J. Watt). All he’s done for the Jets franchise is out-skill and out-work the competition to the tune of 36.5 sacks, 184 total tackles, 21 pass deflections, 10 forced fumbles, one Pro-Bowl nod, and two second-team All-Pro selections.
Now, at 26-years old and five years into a brilliant NFL career, Wilkerson wants to get paid.
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) April 18, 2016
It started last spring. Knowing he was severely outplaying his rookie contract, Big Mo started with the long-term contract demands. He was rebuffed by the new regime of Mikey Mac and Todd Bowles, yet showed up every day with ferocity.
Knowing the situation was still unsettled as Wilkerson headed into free agency, Maccagnan laid the dreaded franchise tag on him (for a cool $15.701 million). All that did was create a temporary band-aid until the right solution was realized.
Now, as we head towards the second half of April and ever so close to the NFL Draft, that long-term solution is still in question. Wilkerson is fuming even more about the situation (especially considering his Week 17 injury), Fitzpatrick still remains unsigned, and Maccagnan is trying to find that right deal to ship Big Mo out of town and create a much-needed $15.701 in cap space.
There’s just one little problem: The entire league knows the Jets are now desperate to trade Wilkerson.
Because they know this, trying to find the right value for one of the best defensive players in the game will be tough. Actually, it’ll be almost impossible.
That’s the way this league works. If you don’t strike early, you lose all value.
Maccagnan should’ve either dealt Wilkerson last summer or signed him long-term.
Could he still sign him long-term now? Of course he can. Anybody who says otherwise is simply spewing garbage from their mouth.
There’s one thing that shuts up the pro athlete more than any special perk in this world, and that one thing is money. Should the Jets sit down at the big boy table with Wilkerson and express their desire in making him their future, he’d be all open arms.
Not only would it keep one of the best defensive players in the game in New Jersey, but it would do this one magical thing the Jets are trying to accomplish. It would actually create cap space.
The highest annual cap hit a franchise can take comes from the franchise tag. Tearing up the franchise tag and inking Big Mo to a long four or five year deal would create an incredible amount of cap space immediately.
How much cap space exactly? Well, it all depends on the deal.
Let me rephrase that. It doesn’t make sense to keep all three guys long-term. Trying to pay all three, or even two in a 3-4 scheme is simply insane.
What makes sense, however, is to pay your best player and allow such a shaky off-the-field character in Richardson to walk at the end of the year. Or, you could actually tag him next year and trade for value (should he come back strong in 2016).
We understand one of the two must eventually go (Wilkerson or Richardson), but why does it have to be the great and steady one – especially when a return in value is going to be hard to come by?
And even if the space created by signing Big Mo to a long-term deal doesn’t mean Fitzpatrick can come back (even though there are many ways to work that out, hello Breno Giacomini), the Jets would still be in the same unfortunate position of not having a franchise quarterback.
If that’s what it takes to bring back your best player, you find a way to get it done.
Just like Darrelle Revis in 2013, Muhammad Wilkerson deserves to feel the Jets love now.
He’s your best player. This relationship is not irreparable. There are other quarterback solutions. Certain solutions that actually yield a higher-end return.
Big Mo isn’t just a good player, he’s a flat-out stud.
Pay the man.