With the deadline for the New York Jets to reach a long-term deal with Muhammad Wilkerson a day a way, all signs are pointing towards the two sides failing to reach an agreement. This has been the expectation for months now, with the Jets seemingly making very little effort to actually sign the All-Star Defensive Linemen. With Wilkerson coming off a season ending injury in the Week 17 loss to the Bills, the Jets can hide behind wanting to wait to see how he bounces back before signing him to a massive deal. The far more likely reason however, is that they want to buy themselves more time to choose between Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.
Throughout their tenure together, Wilkerson has been the far more productive of the two players, but Richardson still has room to grow into his potential. Despite being out produced, Richardson brings a violent explosiveness off the ball that Wilkerson doesn’t possess. The Jets were afforded the opportunity to have one of these players become expendable when Leonard Williams fell into their laps with the 6th overall pick in the 2015 draft.
When Williams was drafted he was viewed as the next great defensive linemen in the NFL, and he didn’t do anything last year to disprove that. When comparing Williams to Wilkerson at this stage of his career you could argue in many ways that he is a more naturally athletic version of Big Mo. It is difficult to project if Williams will ever end up becoming as dominant a player as Wilkerson because of how raw he was coming out of college; after all he was only 20 years old when he was drafted. The one thing that can’t be argued is that he improved greatly throughout his rookie year in 2015.
The future of the Jets defensive line is clouded even further by the concerns about Richardson’s behavior going forward. This will be the second year in the row that he starts the season with a suspension. In 2015 he was suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL Substance Abuse Policy. This year he is suspended for the first game of the year as a result of pleading guilty to a charge of resisting arrest stemming from an incident back in July of 2015. Richardson was clocked speeding at excessive speeds, and when the police finally caught up to him there was a smell of marijuana in the car, and he had a licensed gun with a child in the car.
Wilkerson playing out 2016 on a franchise tag will not only give the Jets the time to see how Richardson and Williams develop on the field, but it will also allow them to see how Richardson matures off the field. The Jets front office can still place the franchise tag on Wilkerson again in 2017, so there is a good chance that we could be going through this same exact process next offseason. The difference will be that Maccagnan will have a much clearer picture of what they can expect from Williams and Richardson in the future.
“I’m a talented guy. Everybody knows that. I feel like they’re going to get the best they can out of me and just let me go. That’s how I feel. Do I like that feeling? No. I’m a New Jersey guy, born and raised and would love to raise my family here.” , he spoke out about his frustration with how the contract talks had unfolded.
The truth of the matter is that there is likely some truth what Wilkerson said, after all this is a business, but that also goes both ways. Just like the Jets want to get the most out of him, Wilkerson is also going to try and squeeze every dollar out of them that he can.
What it comes down to is that the Jets will not be able to afford to pay Wilkerson, Richardson, and Williams the big bucks. They are both blessed and cursed with having three very talented players at the same position and only have the playing time and money to keep two of them. Wilkerson is a fan favorite so if he does leave, Jets Nation will be upset, and he will undoubtedly come back to hurt the Jets each time he plays them. However, with three great players for two spots, that is more than likely going to be the case no matter which player end up leaving the Jets.