There have been many factors behind the Jets’ 3-9 season, with Ryan Fitzpatrick’s poor play topping the list and Darrelle Revis’ sudden free fall at age 31 not far behind. But of all the underlying reasons for the team’s disappointing performance, the status of Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson are perhaps the most troublesome.
Two players who should be in their prime have underachieved to the point that a defensive line that once was the team’s greatest strength has become its greatest disappointment.
Wilkerson and Richardson were benched for the first quarter of a game against the Dolphins last month — punishment for being late to a team meeting.
Richardson recently told Newsday’s Kimberley Martin that he wants “to be great” and aspires to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday. “I just want to be remembered,” he said.
Richardson began his career with Hall of Fame potential, earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2013 and making the Pro Bowl a year later after producing a career-high 8 1⁄2 sacks. But the 26-year-old lineman has been suspended twice in the last two seasons — once for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy and another for violating the personal-conduct policy after being charged in 2015 for driving at 143 mph, having a loaded gun in his vehicle and resisting arrest.
Richardson has done little to improve his stock this season. Coach Todd Bowles went so far as to essentially exclude him from the defense in the second half of Monday night’s 41-10 loss to the Colts at MetLife Stadium. Bowles called his decision to use Richardson on only six snaps in the second half a scheme-related move, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the coach was not pleased with him.
“It’s not my call,” Richardson said. “When my number’s called, I’m out there. Simple as that.” Richardson said there were some packages he wouldn’t be involved in, “but I didn’t think I was not going to play the whole second half.”
It’s likely that Richardson has played his way out of the Jets’ plans and that the team will look to trade him in the offseason. General manager Mike Mac cag nan had discussions with teams shortly before last month’s trade deadline, but his asking price of a first-round pick was prohibitively high. Richardson will enter the final year of his contract in 2017 and has an $8-million salary next season after making $1.78 million this year. Do the math and you realize that an underperforming player will soon equal an unwanted player.
Look for Maccagnan to pull off a deal in the offseason. Add in the fact that the Jets drafted defensive lineman Leonard Williams last year, and Williams is a star in the making. Richardson is not part of the solution.
Wilkerson likely remains a part of the Jets’ plans, having signed a five-year, $86-million deal that included $53.5 million in guaranteed money.
Though his performance leaves much to be desired, part of his problem can be traced to lingering discomfort from a broken leg suffered in 2015. He has 2 1⁄2 sacks, 25 tackles and 17 assists this year and has been far less impactful than last year, when he had a career-high 12 sacks. Wilkerson is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
There doesn’t appear much left for Richardson to do, because the Jets appear intent on moving him in the offseason. In this case, it will be addition by subtraction.