Daily Focus: Why Muhammad Wilkerson franchise tag works for Jets

New York has reason to hold off on locking up its star DE. Plus, Doug Baldwin's rank among top WRs, and the Rams' QB battle.

| 4 months ago
(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Daily Focus: Why Muhammad Wilkerson franchise tag works for Jets

Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.

Why the Muhammad Wilkerson franchise tag makes sense for Jets: After various trade and other rumors this offseason, Muhammad Wilkerson is still a Jet on the franchise tag, and the team has said it remains committed to re-signing the veteran defensive end. However, Wilkerson apparently feels differently, as the extension deadline approaches without any progress in negotiations.

It is a difficult decision for New York. In a vacuum, Wilkerson is the caliber of player teams want to keep long-term. Over the past four seasons, he has finished among the top five 3-4 defensive ends in overall grades, and as high as second, with the low only being 15th. He’s been productive every year as both a pass-rusher and a run stopper, and his 80 total pressures last season were second-most for his position.

However, the Jets are already fairly tight on cap space, and with Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams also on the roster, the team has a significant amount of money and draft value invested into the position long-term already. Fletcher Cox’s mega-deal earlier this week will only make negotiations even more difficult, as Wilkerson could command a similar dollar figure as a free agent on the open market next offseason.

Although the defensive line has been very successful with the trio of players on the field, often at the same time, the Jets still may be better off as a whole by using that money to upgrade other positions on the team. And while Wilkerson understandably wants to sign a new deal as soon as possible, particularly following last year’s season-ending injury, he would probably end up being offered more money by other teams as a free agent after the season.

Case Keenum is the Rams’ starter for now, but probably not for long: Los Angeles Rams head coach Jeff Fisher announced Thursday that fourth-year quarterback Case Keenum is going to be the team’s starter heading into training camp, while No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff will initially be below Keenum on the depth chart, but still get some first-team reps.

The news is not surprising and is a smart move by the Rams. Most expect Goff to be the starter by the time the regular season rolls around, and this still gives him the entire camp and preseason to surpass Keenum on the depth chart. In 15 games as a starter over his three-year career, Keenum has graded above-average in just two games. He was fine in limited time last year (his -0.9 overall grade was basically average), but he has a -9.4 overall grade for his career and never finished a season with a positive passing grade.

Goff is still the favorite to win the job, and we believe he will. He was the top-ranked quarterback in college in 2015, even surpassing Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston’s overall grades from 2014. He has already had to deal with a poor offensive line at California, and fared well under pressure. He was tied for second in the nation with 12 touchdowns when under pressure, and he has shown the pocket presence and willingness to stand in the pocket that it takes to succeed.

Letting him get first-team reps while not yet being named the starter may ease the pressure on him a bit, and it still gives Los Angeles the option to go with either quarterback if for some reason Goff does struggle in the preseason.

Seattle will be wise to lock up Doug Baldwin to a long-term deal: Seahawks’ head coach Pete Carroll addressed questions this week about wide receiver Doug Baldwin’s future with the team, whose contract is up after this coming season. Carroll said that they have been in meetings for a contract extension and “The intent is to get him signed and secured for a good while.”

Baldwin ranked 79th in colleague Sam Monson’s ranking of the top 101 players heading into 2016, and earlier this week our lead analyst Ben Stockwell touched on how Baldwin is still underrated after a career year in 2015. Baldwin had career-highs in most statistical categories as well as overall and receiving grades, and has graded well above average in each of his five seasons.

Baldwin finished the regular season ranked seventh among wide receivers in overall grade and did not have a single game, including the postseason, with a below-average grade. Russell Wilson’s passer rating when targeting Baldwin was 142.8, the highest for a quarterback-receiver pairing last year. In addition to leading the league in touchdowns (14), Baldwin also had the second-lowest drop rate (2.5 percent) and the seventh-most missed tackles forced (18) during the regular season among wide receivers.

The former undrafted free agent continues to blossom as a receiver, and we are getting to the point where he needs to be mentioned in the discussion of the best 10-15 receivers in the league. He may not have the prototypical size or speed teams look for in a receiver, but Baldwin has proven time and again how effective and productive he can be for the Seahawk offense, and he’s a playmaker whom Seattle needs to keep around.


| Analyst

Matt has been an analyst for PFF since 2013. He is also a contributor to 120 Sports and a former NCAA Division-III football player.

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