Muhammad Wilkerson may have his days with the New York Jets numbered after Fletcher Cox‘s massive contact extension with Philadelphia.Enjoy Muhammad Wilkerson while you can during the 2016 season. After this season, Big Mo is as good as gone. Once again, the New York Jets will be caught with their collective tails between their legs, a pose the franchise has essentially mastered.
Wilkerson essentially won the negotiation thanks to a colleague in Philadelphia, defensive lineman Fletcher Cox. The fifth-year lineman received a six-year deal from the Eagles worth $103 million with $63 million in guarantees and a $23 million signing bonus. In other words, Cox set the market for Wilkerson’s value and the Jets simply don’t have the money to pay him.
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Cox and Wilkerson are extremely similar players. Cox recorded 71 total tackles and 9.5 sacks last season and Wilkerson tallied 64 total tackles and 12 sacks while playing virtually the same position. Both are indispensable players and now one of them is the wealthiest defensive lineman in the NFL.
The thing is, Wilkerson might be the better player and will get the chance to prove it while he plays under the franchise tag in New York.
We could go back and lament on how the Jets had opportunities to lock up Wilkerson and failed to, but that won’t accomplish much. The bigger point is this: If the Jets want to keep Wilkerson beyond 2016, they will have to pay top dollar.
Unfortunately for the Jets, they don’t have the money capable of offering Wilkerson this type of lucrative contract. The Jets will have a little more than $21 million in salary cap space in 2017, according to Over the Cap. Re-signing Wilkerson would likely eat up most of that $21 million, which would simply be financially irresponsible.
The Jets have made their bed and now must sleep in it. General manager Mike Maccagnan slapped the tag on Wilkerson and attempted to trade him, but struck out. Now, the Jets will most likely watch Wilkerson walk right out the door and will be unable to get more than a compensatory pick in return.
It’s another swing and a miss for a franchise that’s had too many strikeouts to count.
Obviously, the Jets aren’t doomed along the defensive line without Wilkerson. They’ll still have Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams, presumably. But Richardson will be a free agent after the 2017 season and has been hard to trust off the field. Richardson could face additional discipline for his street racing incident from last July after he was suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Williams showed promise during his rookie season and has been projected as a transcendent talent, but all of that isn’t a certainty.
The Jets are essentially letting go of a franchise player for nothing all because of questionable front office tactics by two different regimes. The Jets better hope Richardson stays out of trouble and Williams pans out and meets his potential, or else the Wilkerson situation will sting even more.
I’ve written before that the Jets should bet on a sure thing in Wilkerson, even if his upside doesn’t match up to that of Richardson or Williams. Now, the only sure thing is that Muhammad Wilkerson won’t be wearing the green and white after 2016 and that’s a shame.