The inevitable finally happened as the New York Jets officially released Muhammad Wilkerson to end his tumultuous tenure with Gang Green. In this case, the inevitable was the appropriate course of action.
It was supposed to be the feel-good story of New York football. The story of a hometown kid from a high school just 30 minutes outside MetLife Stadium who would transform his team’s defense and maybe, just maybe, lead them to heights the franchise had not seen in quite some time.
And for a few years, this is essentially what happened.
While the New York Jets unfortunately never reached the playoffs during his time with the team, Muhammad Wilkerson quickly developed into one of the most dominant defensive players in the game. His status as a folk hero grew with each and every sack of opposing quarterbacks and the stars seemed to have aligned for “Big Mo” and the Jets.
But not every story has a fairy tale ending.
Due to Wilkerson’s stellar play, the tension between both sides began to escalate as the 300-pound defensive lineman demanded a significant pay raise from his initial rookie contract. Instead, the Jets opted to place the franchise tag on him, much to the dismay of Wilkerson.
Eventually, the two parties were able to work out a deal, a massive 5-year $86 million extension, that all but solidified the Temple product as a long-term cornerstone of the franchise. It was deemed a smart move at the time and it appeared more and more likely that Wilkerson would go down in the annals of Jets history as the local boy who made it big.
He was a hero to the Jets faithful and an icon of New York football.
What would happen in the following two years would be a sudden and swift fall from grace not seen since, well, the same year with fellow Jets great Darrelle Revis.
It was a difficult time to be a Jets legend.
Wilkerson trudged his way through two injury-plagued campaigns complete with frequent tardiness, lackluster play, and total apathy from the once All-Pro player.
It was evident that this wasn’t the same Muhammad Wilkerson that we were accustomed to seeing dominate opposing offensive lines. This was a Muhammad Wilkerson who, for whatever reason, had decided to pack it in and rest on his laurels. This Muhammad Wilkerson was a poor role model whose tardiness count essentially equaled his sack count over the course of those two ignominious seasons.
This was a Muhammad Wilkerson who exhibited complete and utter apathy.
His unmotivated nature had grown old on both the Jets fans and the front office alike and cries for his departure grew louder with each passing week. Wilkerson had managed to entirely reverse his reputation and public image in just two short years. If we’re being completely honest, it didn’t even take that long.
The icing on the cake came this past year when the former first-round pick was scratched for the final three games of the season simply because management had had enough of him. His lack of effort and recurrent lateness had finally caught up with him and it was evident that Wilkerson had likely played his last game in the green and white.
This was confirmed when the team finally did the inevitable and released the Lindon High School legend just two years into his colossal five-year contract.
There were sighs of relief within the Jets community. Comments such as “good riddance” and “waste of talent” were commonplace among the Jets fanbase with some even going as far as to claim that he was “a disgrace to the franchise.” Looking back to just two years ago, it’s a shame that this is what it’s come to.
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But that’s the harsh reality of sports.
One moment you’re a hometown hero and the next you’re a dishonorable disgrace.
Now, this isn’t intended to paint Wilkerson as an innocent bystander to the uproar of the unruly masses. He is in the position he is today because of the choices he’s made during his time in the NFL. There’s always more than one side to every story, but there’s no denying that his apathetic demeanor and repeated unpunctuality were the major causes of concern that ultimately soiled him in the eyes of the fanbase that once idolized him.
This is the same fanbase that named him the Jets “Hometown Hero” in 2014 and applauded when he was re-signed back in 2016. But at the time of his departure, there may not have been a player more universally despised and looked down upon by Jets fans than Muhammad Wilkerson.
And that’s a shame. A downright shame.
The Jets did the right thing by cutting Wilkerson. The right thing financially, the right thing for the fanbase, and most importantly the right thing for the team.
But at this point, it’s fair to look back and wonder what could have and should have been.
In some parallel universe deep in the depths of the football overworld, Muhammad Wilkerson is still terrorizing offenses, he’s a surefire Jets Ring of Honor member, and is well on his way to a future trip to Canton, Ohio.
But in our universe, all we’re left with is the woeful tale of what never was.