Jets' options still open after tagging Muhammad Wilkerson
Unable to reach a long-term deal with Muhammad Wilkerson, the New York Jets have reportedly elected to use the franchise tag to ensure they will not lose his rights in free agency. While the Jets also have other free agents, such as Damon Harrison, that they could have tagged instead, Wilkerson is by far the best use.
The former 30th-overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft quickly developed into one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the league. Over the past four seasons, Wilkerson has graded among the top five 3-4 DEs three times, with 2013 as the lone exception. Typically, he’s been better in run defense than as a pass rusher, but that does not diminish what he has accomplished as a rusher. In fact, Wilkerson is coming off a 10.7 pass rushing productivity that ranked fifth at his position in 2015, along with 78 total pressures, both of which are career-highs.
Although Wilkerson is now tagged, the Jets still have to decisions to make regarding his future. The first of their options is that they can let him play out the 2016 season on his one-year deal. Wilkerson did suffer a broken leg in Week 17 that he is recovering from, although reports are that he is progressing well. But if the team is considering keeping him long-term and wants to see how he plays prior to re-signing him, they do have that option.
New York could also still try to re-sign him for the long-term prior to the start of the season. While they would definitely want to keep a player of his caliber, the Jets have already invested a lot into Sheldon Richardson and last year’s first-round pick Leonard Williams. The Jets will have to commit a significant amount of money to a single position group, especially if they also keep NT Damon Williams. It would be unlikely they could—or would—want to keep both players, and will likely have to choose between the two.
The last option, which also seems to be the most-rumored, is that the Jets trade him prior to the draft. There should be no shortage of teams interested in Wilkerson. While he’s primarily been an interior defender, he played significantly more as an edge defender last season, and did exceptionally well. He’s also only 26 years old, plenty young enough for another team with cap space to heavily invest in a long-term contract for the All-Pro. A first-round pick (or more) in return for Wilkerson may be a difficult offer to turn down.
Regardless of what the Jets decide, the tag will allow New York to either retain the All-Pro or trade for draft picks, as they try to improve upon their 10-6 record heading into their second season under head coach Todd Bowles.