Muhammad Wilkerson’s contract situation wasn’t supposed to play out like this.
It was supposed to be a relatively simple transaction, a good-faith gesture involving an organization looking to lock up its homegrown talent. But fast forward two years and the saga continues, even with a new front office in charge.
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We may be fast approaching the end of Wilkerson’s time with the Jets. Soon we’ll know if his last game — against the Bills, in which he sobbed as he was carted away with a fractured fibula — also was his finale with the Jets.
The organization, which needs a quarterback, has been trying unsuccessfully this offseason to find a trade partner for Wilkerson, who can become a free agent after the upcoming season. The next best chance to deal the defensive lineman is before 8 p.m. Thursday, when the NFL Draft officially kicks off.
Why before the draft? It’s far too complicated to package Wilkerson in a trade during Day 1 of the draft. Not only would there be picks involved in the deal, but Wilkerson also is looking for a long-term extension worth between $40 million and $50 million in guaranteed money.
There’s also the issue of his right leg. Wilkerson has done a good job of publicizing his recovery post-surgery, but any team anxious to sign him must first ensure he is ahead of schedule and will be able to suit up in Week 1.
General manager Mike Maccagnan told reporters Friday that he doesn’t plan to rescind the $15.7-million franchise tag that Wilkerson has yet to sign. Although Maccagnan also confirmed the Jets called Tennessee about moving up to No. 1, he wouldn’t say whether Wilkerson was used as trade bait in those talks.
So what kept the Jets from making a deal in free agency? They had no takers.
“The asking price is really steep,” an AFC executive told Newsday during the NFL owners’ meetings last month. “Few teams have that kind of money left. You would have to work out his salary, plus you’re giving up picks for this year. If you have to give up two draft picks for him, that’s tough to swallow.”
With young, talented defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams, last year’s sixth overall pick, already in the fold, the Jets may not believe Wilkerson is worth the long-term investment.
“They believe the value for him is more than they want to pay,” the personnel executive said. “He’s seeing what going on [around the league]. He’s going to want a lot of money and rightfully so. He deserves it.”