Here are a few thoughts on Muhammad Wilkerson’s new five-year, $85 million contract with the New York Jets:
1. This was their biggest upset since they stunned the New England Patriots in the 2010 playoffs.
This was an out-of-the-blue deadline deal — a smart move by the Jets. You build championship teams by keeping your best players in the building, and Wilkerson, only 26, is a cornerstone player. The notion of trading Wilkerson never made any sense even though they explored it over the past two offseasons. Give Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan credit for finally recognizing Wilkerson’s value. This also alleviates a potential training-camp headache because Wilkerson probably wouldn’t have signed his franchise-tag tender by the start of camp on July 27.
2. The big question: Is QB Ryan Fitzpatrick next?
Wilkerson’s deal should create more flexibility in the Fitzpatrick negotiations because it opens the possibility of a one-year deal. The Jets had only $3.4 million in cap space before the Wilkerson contract, but that should grow by a few million because they no longer have to carry his bloated franchise tag ($15.7 million). The Jets haven’t been keen on the idea of a one-year deal; perhaps this changes things.
3. This raises questions about Sheldon Richardson’s long-term future with the team.
Suddenly, Richardson becomes a valuable bargaining chip. They can put him on the trading block next offseason if they don’t think a long-term extension is reachable. The time to trade him would be next year, when his fifth-year option kicks in. If they wait until 2018, when he’d likely have the franchise tag, it would be a repeat of the Wilkerson drama. Richardson has his eye on big, big money (assuming he stays out of trouble), and you can bet he’ll be looking for Mo money — for starters.
4. Wild things happen in the NFL when there’s a deadline.
After long periods of silence, the two sides reached a compromise. Wilkerson’s deal is strong ($37 million fully guaranteed, $54 million in the first three years), but it’s not outrageous. In fact, he’ll get only $2.5 million more in 2016 and 2017 than he would’ve received under two franchise tags — which would’ve been a possibility. Maybe Wilkerson, coming off a broken leg, recognized the injury risk. The Jets did a nice job of maximizing the leverage afforded by the franchise tag, and Wilkerson walks away with the highest average-per-year pay ($17 million) in franchise history. Everybody wins.