Jets’ options still open after tagging Muhammad Wilkerson

PFF analyst Matt Claassen breaks down New York's decision to franchise tag Muhammad Wilkerson.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

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.

| 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.

  • JudoPrince

    “A first-round pick (or more) in return for Wilkerson may be a difficult offer to turn down”

    What team in their right mind would offer up a premium draft pick for a player that is only signed for one year? In that case Wilkerson would have to agree to a long term deal with the team he’d be traded to. Too complicated…I’m sure he would rather just wait until free agency next off season to sign a max level deal with a team of his choosing. I don’t see how a trade scenario with a 1st or 2nd round pick could possibly work here.

    • loso

      Im guessing you dont know how the NFL works. The Jets would give the team permission to negotiate a deal before they traded him

      • JudoPrince

        That’s not the point I was making. Obviously Wilkerson could negotiate accepting terms before being traded but the chances of that are minimal. He could maximize his earning potential by hitting free agency next year, demand a pay day comparable to Suh, while deciding on a team of his choosing. Very unlikely a team will step in and offer Wilkerson a monster contract while giving up a premium draft choice. That means you’re giving up a potentially top flight player on a rookie deal in exchange for a player that will take up enormous cap room, who will likely be available on the market a year from now anyway.

        • bluekaiser

          As much as I think getting some good picks for him now is a good idea, I agree with your assessment of teams waiting a year, signing him, and keeping their picks.

        • Foggy dad

          Wilkerson must also consider the risk of waiting a year and having another injury devalue him.

    • Hector Rodriguez II

      Like with the Revis case & others, it would be a sign & trade. The non- exclusive Franchise tag does not preclude a team to negotiate with Mo & his agent. Your right, draft picks (high ones) are viewed very differently in today’s NFL. But no draftee is a sure thing, even 1st rounders. Mo is viewed in league circles as an “elite” defensive player, that just turned 26. He hasn’t even reached his prime. Not saying its probable, but it is “certainly” not impossible. Plus, the fact that there are bad teams with boat loads of cap space. And by league rules, teams “must” use a high (I believe close to 95%) of said cap money. So all those facts must be factored into the equation. As one scout recently told me, and I’m paraphrasing, “most” Jets fans don’t realize how highly Mo is viewed around the league.

  • Yusef Toomer

    I say keep him because, you need a guy like that and also, you never can have enough pass rush as well! As much as I like Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams neither one of them are Muhammed Wilkerson so, I say keep him for this season and don’t trade him for draft picks!

  • Nicg4360

    Wilkerson had a career year this year. He may be able to improve on it but you never know. His broken leg probably will have no impact on his abilities but again something to consider. He may prefer some sort of deal happening this year than next although its correct when stating most teams would rather wait till he plays out his contract….maybe a team looking to win now mentality would be a suitor. A tag and trade is very difficult and very unlikely but it has happened.

  • Hector Rodriguez II

    This may very well be the best, most sensible & accurate article I have read regarding Mo (& most Jets players) in quite some time. Excellent work, sir! Not only is Mo young & dominant, but he has zero off field issues as well, and in today’s NFL that in itself is huge. This years draft class has far better defensive players available than on offense, scouts have mentioned that fact to me aplenty. And DL in particular is deep. But “none” of those draftees are as polished or accomplished as Mo. We all know the draft can be a crap shoot (pardon the phrase) & none are as sure a commodity as Big Mo Wilkerson. I’ve heard in certain circles to not be surprised that the Jets get either a 1st rounder this yr, with late rounder nxt. Or an early 2nd this season & a higher choice nxt. Either way, the ship may have sailed with Mo aboard here in NY. Great job, good article. Thanks.