We are about one week out from the league year opening. It should be a busy week for the New York Jets, let’s quickly review a few dominoes that have already started to fall and what could be next…
1. Muhammad Wilkerson has received a long expected franchise tag. The topic of Wilkerson has become a time is a flat circle debate on Jets Twitter. To sum up the reality of the situation:
Wilkerson and the Jets remain far apart on a long term contract. The new regime has been working at it for over a year and has made no tangible progress. They will now field trade offers because keeping him on the salary cap at 16 million limits their flexibility for the upcoming offseason and it doesn’t appear likely a long term deal will happen here. If the Jets franchise him again for 2017, they would have to pay 120% of what they paid him this season.
Compensation for Wilkerson is a sore spot for many Jets fans, along with the notion of trading him. A good question on Twitter today by fellow TOJ writer David Aitken was this, if the Jets had their current roster and Wilkerson was a free agent from another team, would you consider chasing him and paying 16 million dollars this year? The answer is no. You would say focus on other areas of the roster with Leonard Williams and Sheldon Richardson under contract and Damon Harrison facing free agency.
This gets to the main point on Wilkerson and why being amendable to trading him is not an insult to his talent level or what he has done here. Spreading resources around the roster to improve linebacker, cornerback, offensive line, running back and other positions is logical. The question is will the Jets receive an offer they deem acceptable? That is a coin toss at this point.
There isn’t a team in the top 15 giving up a first rounder to pay Wilkerson 100 million dollars. He is not that type of player. Do not compare it the Darrelle Revis situation. Revis was arguably the best defensive player in the NFL at that time and may go down as the top corner of all-time. Wilkerson is somewhere around the 20th best defensive player in the NFL and is coming off major surgery. He is a great all-around 3-4 defensive end but he is not JJ Watt. He is not Von Miller.
The Jets may get a package that looks something like a 2nd and 4th round pick or one built around swapping first round picks with another middle round pick thrown in. A package like that could make sense considering the cap and draft flexibility it would provide to spread resources around the roster.
Yes, the Jets have a great defensive line. They had it for three straight years now. They do not have a great edge rusher or any depth there. They do not have a great left tackle or offensive line. They do not have a great quarterback or a long term answer at the position. They are slow at linebacker and have questions at corner. It is naive to think trading Wilkerson for something besides a first round pick this year should not be a consideration.
2. As for Wilkerson’s line mate, Damon Harrison. It sounds like he will hit the open market. He is going to get more money offered to him by another team, the question becomes how much and if the Jets are willing to match an external offer for a player who has expressed a desire to stay in New York.
3. The defensive lineman are dominating the conversation but expect the Jets to make a strong push to sign Ryan Fitzpatrick before free agency opens. They want the table set internally before chasing external free agents. If Fitzpatrick isn’t signed by March 9th, it may hamper the team’s early days of free agency.
4. Another player the Jets are going to push to sign before the 9th, running back Bilal Powell. They will gauge how the market treats Chris Ivory but with Powell they will work to act quicker.
5. The most immediate ramifications of signing Wilkerson to the franchise tag may be cutting further fat off the salary cap, which means Jeff Cumberland, Jeremy Kerley and Breno Giacomini’s days may be numbered. To be more blunt, they should be gone any second now.
6. A lower profile priority free agent for the team is inside linebacker Erin Henderson, who the team will work on a short term deal with, as Demario Davis isn’t going to receive an offer from them in the coming weeks.
7. Unless a trade for Wilkerson does go through, the Jets will have to get creative when chasing external free agents and may not be in play for many of the larger names out there. A player like Shea McClellin of the Chicago Bears, who Tony Pauline had mentioned could be on their radar, makes sense. They will look for lower cost, younger options who they feel could fully reach their potential in New York. Another player who could fit in this bucket is Patrick Robinson.
8. A few other second and third tier options who could be logical targets: Joe Barksdale, Stefen Wisniewski, Tahir Whitehead, Zach Miller and James Starks,
9. Let’s say the Jets did acquire a pair of middle round picks for Wilkerson, does that increase the speculation or likelihood they will package picks to move up for a quarterback like Carson Wentz, Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch? Also worth pondering, how many new starters or key contributors could the Jets add via free agency with the 16 million currently allocated to Wilkerson?
10. If the Jets lose Harrison to free agency, it is hard to see them not taking advantage of the defensive tackle depth in this draft in the second or third round.
11. When will the Jets sign Calvin Pace to his annual one year, veteran minimum contract? It isn’t a matter of if, but a matter of when.
12. It will be interesting to see the market for some of the Jets lower priority internal free agents, namely Leger Douzable, Darrin Walls, Kenbrell Thompkins, Stephen Bowen and Antonio Allen.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com