NY Jets: Tackling the Muhammad Wilkerson situation

Nov 22, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates (6) passes the ball as he is chased by New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) during game the at NRG Stadium. Houston won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 22, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates (6) passes the ball as he is chased by New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) during game the at NRG Stadium. Houston won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports /

The NY Jets have a major decision to make when it comes to the contract situation with defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.

As every Jet fan knows, Muhammad Wilkerson‘s contract expires this year, making him free agency eligible. The Jets will undoubtedly try to retain his services, but they will need to work out a contract with the defensive star or choose to use the franchise tag on him by early March. Officially, March 7th, 2016 is the NFL deadline to use the franchise tag on a player.

Much has been discussed among Jet fans about Wilkerson’s contract, and what they need to do to keep him in green and white. Wilkerson just turned 26 years old in October and undoubtedly has plenty of football left in him.  He’s posted 36 sacks in his young career and has led the Jets’ defense since he arrived in New York. There are few that would doubt the talent that he is.

This is the NFL however, and it is a business. Sadly, talent isn’t enough to always get things done. Every season we see talented players leave teams due to financial restraints. I’m not saying that is the case with Wilkerson, the Jets can make room for his contract if they choose. Other talent is traded for purposes of adding draft picks to benefit the teams as well. It’s a business and it’s never as simple as talent.

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The Jets are coming off a very successful 2015, going 10-6 and falling just short of the NFL Playoffs in the final game. The Jets are still a team rebuilding however.

Two consecutive poor drafts under former general manager John Idzik set this team back several years. Even with a major splash in free agency in 2015 and a good draft by general manager Mike Maccagnan, the Jets have several holes and could use upgrades at several positions.

Maccagnan will have his hands full this off season, he has major decisions to make across the board from free agency, and of course, the 2016 NFL Draft. He’s going to have to put try to put value on our own free agents and work out deals.  He doesn’t have the luxury of the cap space he had last season and will likely be busy trying to restructure a few contracts as well. Maccagnan will be tested this year in the off season.

Ideally, the Wilkerson deal gets done quickly as the Jets would surely prefer it that way, getting the big one out of the way, makes it much easier to manage the rest. Wilkerson suspended the negotiations before the season opener, at the time Wilkerson stated he had suspended them so they weren’t a distraction to himself or the team during the 2015 season.

To his credit, Wilkerson had a career year for himself and increased the pressure on the Jetsto pay him. The Jets have mishandled negotiations for years with this contract, they could have easily extended him two years ago and at a much cheaper price I’m thinking. As a result, Wilkerson and his agent hold most of the cards in these negotiations.

The Jets were reportedly making progress last season in negotiations with Wilkerson, but their differences reportedly were still significant. After Wilkerson played a major role in the team’s success this year and set career highs for himself, one has to assume the price just went up. I’m sure the Jets will try to get a deal done, but they can’t let themselves overpay. This is a business deal from both sides of the table.

Nov 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) reacts to the crowd in the second half of the Jets 38-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

Every Jet fan wants to get this done, but Maccagnan has a tough call to make. The option everyone wants to see get done in the fan base is obviously the one where Wilkerson and the Jets sign a multi-year deal. The Jets would have to make cap room if he wants to be paid in the top five of current contracts, but Wilkerson’s agents also have the luxury of stretching this out and seeing what the new market may hold as far as value.

Currently, J.J. Watt‘s contract is top dollar in the NFL, $100 million for six years, with almost $21 million guaranteed. Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints comes in behind Watt, having signed a five year deal worth $55 million with approximately $23 million guaranteed. Watt’s average salary pays him somewhere near $17 million, while Jordan’s deal averages out at just over $11 million. If the Jets can split the difference, I think it would be a fair deal. I don’t think the Jets pay him like Watt however.

Short of working out a multiple year deal, the Jets have the option to use the franchise tag on him. Franchising Wilkerson will cost the Jets between $15 and $16 million for 2016, depending on which numbers you’re looking at. It is an option I think the Jets give serious thoughts to, but there are considerations there as well.

Sheldon Richardson is due to become a free agent at the end of 2016, and tagging Wilkerson would leave both of their defensive stars knocking on management’s door for a raise in the same year. The scenario isn’t impossible, but it will play into the thought process when and if it becomes time to make that decision.

Another possibility is if the Jets and Wilkerson can’t get a multi-year deal done, they settle on a short term deal for a year or possibly two. A two year deal likely wouldn’t be attractive to Wilkerson, but would help the Jets in staggering the upcoming contracts. If it is a last minute deal and Wilkerson truly wants to remain a Jet, he might be willing to take a short term contract.

The most unpopular thing the Jets could possible do in the eyes of fans is to trade their star player.  Jet fans have been here before and it’s never easy when it happens. Yet, the Jets have to at least consider it from a business and strategy perspective. I know it’s unpopular but the NFL is a business plain and simple.

Nov 12, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) stretches before the game against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

Trading a young star player at or near the top of his game doesn’t happen very often, and as a result the bidding for Wilkerson’s services will likely go high. The Jets would definitely be offered an a first rounder and another other pick to sweeten the deal, the second pick to be determined.

The Jets may be interested in that option as it would provide Maccagnan an extra first-round pick to work with at the very least. A trade also might be seen as a way of gaining a bunch of cap room and save some money in the process. If the Jets trade the big man, they save his future salary and could choose to use the pick on a younger cheaper talent in the first round of the draft. A trade would give Maccagnan some needed cash laying around as well.

Nobody knows how this all works out. If it were left up to the fan base, Wilkerson would have his big payday and would be playing in green and white for the foreseeable future. That decision isn’t in our hands, and we’re just going to have to trust Maccagnan to make the right call for the franchise.

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I’d like to see the Jets work out a deal as much as anyone, but if there are options the Jets see as more beneficial to the team, then I say they have to explore them. The deadline is only two months away, so the good news for Jets fans is we won’t have to wait that long to see how this all works out.

Is exploring a trade in the best interest of team? How much should the Jets pay for Wilkerson’s services? The Jet Press wants to know how our readers see the most important decision Maccagnan will make this off season. Please leave us a comment below and Let’s Talk Jet Football!!