As the deadline rapidly approached, Jets fans prepared for what appeared to be the inevitable: defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, the anchor of arguably the Jets’ strongest positional group, would not be signed to a long-term contract before the upcoming season. Earlier in the offseason the Jets’ franchise tag was placed on Wilkerson, who earned his first career Pro Bowl honors last season, upsetting Wilkerson as he had requested a long term deal each of the past two years.
In a surprise announcement, the Jets confirmed a five year $86 million deal with Wilkerson was finalized just minutes before the deadline for teams and franchised players to agree to long term deals. Had they not come to an agreement, Wilkerson would have played the season under a $15.7 million franchise tag and likely hit the free agency market at the end of the season.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Wilkerson played college football at nearby Temple University and has often said he always dreamed of playing for the Jets. In 2011 the Jets made that dream a reality, taking him in the first round. Almost immediately Wilkerson became a cornerstone of the Jets defense and a fan favorite.
In a league where headlines are often dominated by off-field issues and frivolous investigations regarding PSI readings, Wilkerson tends to fly under the radar. Often soft spoken off the field, he prefers to let his play do the talking. In 2015 Wilkerson recorded 64 tackles and career-highs in sacks (12) and passes defended (seven). Last season, the Jets were fourth best in the NFL in total yards allowed per game due in large part to the disruptive force that is Muhammad Wilkerson. Throughout his career he has shown great versatility in his ability to play all three positions in across the Jets’ defensive front and an knack for getting to the quarterback regardless of where he lines up.
Although his season ended abruptly in week 16 when he broke his leg in a game against the Buffalo Bills, he appears to be on schedule to make a full recovery by the time the season kicks off, which is a good thing as five of the Jets first six games are against playoff teams from a year ago. The other game is against former Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan which guarantees to be full of subplots and bulletin board material.
Aside from locking up one of their best players for the next few years, Wilkerson’s contract gives the Jets more flexibility in both the short and long term. By signing a long term deal, the Jets were able to free up $5.7 million in cap space this season. Could that money be used to sign free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick? We will soon find out, especially with training camp rapidly approaching.