When the New York Jets selected USC defensive end Leonard Williams with the sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft two things instantly became apparent. The Jets would have a dominant defensive line and now a contingency plan for star defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.
Since being drafted by the Jets in 2011, Wilkerson has emerged as one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL. In four seasons Wilkerson has started in all but four games for New York and has been the stalwart of the defense tallying 145 tackles, 24.5 sacks, and seven forced fumbles. His reputation in the trenches has earned the admiration of his peers as for the second straight year Wilkerson has made the NFL Top 100 players list.
With that track record in mind the defensive end is looking to cash in. Wilkerson could look seek a deal that would pay him at least $ 10 Million per year after J.J. Watt received his $16 Million per year contract. While Wilkerson will earn $ 6.49 Million this season, this will be the first time he has earned $ 1.5 Million for a season. By most standards Wilkerson has been underpaid and at the age of 25 is ripe for a long-term deal. However, Wilkerson finds himself in a difficult situation with the depth on the defensive line for the Jets when it comes to negotiating a new contract.
Sheldon Richardson is emerging as a superstar at defensive end earning the defensive rookie of the year in 2013 and following up with a sophomore campaign where he had 8 sacks. With Leonard Williams now in the fold after New York selected him in the First Round of the Draft, the Jets now have a surplus of young talented defensive ends.
Don’t get me wrong the Jets would be a better team if they could keep Wilkerson. While the team will play a base 3-4, new head coach Todd Bowles has been known to adjust his defensive scheme for an opponent and handled a similar situation with getting talented defensive linemen on the field in Arizona. There have even been times where Bowles will play five defensive linemen and given their versatility it would not be surprising to see the three talented ends play different positions along the line for New York.
However, considering the Jets depth at the position if another team gives the Jets a great trade offer, Wilkerson may have played his last down as a Jets.
One team to keep an eye on for Wilkerson could be the Cleveland Browns. Mike Pettine was Wilkerson’s defense coordinator under Rex Ryan and could use Wilkerson’s versatility in his defense.
The only thing for certain is that this will be the biggest story that surrounds Florham Park this offseason.