FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Muhammad Wilkerson returned to the Jets’ practice fields on a windy Wednesday afternoon, and that was probably the only thing everybody knows.
The defensive end, who was suspended for last week’s game against the Saints for being late to a meeting again, isn’t guaranteed to play Sunday against the Chargers. On a day of many unanswered questions, Todd Bowles said Wilkerson will be a game-time decision. Many factors will go into it.
“I’ll leave those things to keeping inside,” Bowles said, sticking with his “less is more” theme to answers about his highest-paid player. “We talk about a lot of things. He’s served his sentence.”
Bowles wouldn’t say he’s punishing Wilkerson further by not starting him or even not playing him, but it’s clear the coach would like to move on.
“Guys make mistakes during the year,” Bowles said. “To say that Mo was the only one late during the year or anything else like that, you would be sitting here lying. But you discipline players as you see fit and they serve their punishment and you move on. It’s nothing personal.”
Wilkerson spoke with reporters after practice and refused to answer questions about what fans thought of his tardiness and if he wants to return in 2018. He did express regret.
“It’s about respect, I let the team down,” he said. “I respect what Coach did and I’m ready to move forward and getting ready for the next opponent.”
After the suspension, Wilkerson attended Monday meetings and addressed his teammates. “It was rough, it was rough watching them,” he said.
He was a Pro Bowl selection for the 2015 season after having 12 sacks and seven passes defended. The Jets signed him to a five-year, $86-million deal with $36.7 million guaranteed. His play and health declined since, and it’s given the Jets pause about the future.
They could release Wilkerson after this season and save $11 million on the salary cap, with $9 million in dead money. But the Jets must do this before the third day of the league year next March. If not, Wilkerson’s 2018 salary of $16.7 million becomes fully guaranteed.
Asked if he thought he has earned the contract, Wilkerson said, “I feel like I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”
“Because I feel like I earned it.”
Yet the Jets must be tired of the lateness and are looking for more leadership from the seven-year veteran. Wilkerson has been disciplined the last three seasons for being late to meetings. It happened this year on Dec. 1, two days before a game against the Chiefs, and Bowles benched Wilkerson for most of the first quarter. Last Friday, Wilkerson again arrived late to a meeting.
Bowles announced his suspension that day. Wilkerson explained he was late because of a child-care issue. “That’s what he said,” Bowles said. The excuse wasn’t acceptable, considering it happened only two weeks before.
It’s unsettled where the Jets go with Wilkerson. He’s on the active roster and is expected to practice the rest of this week. The Jets could release him with two games left in the season or deactivate him and pay the rest of his $14.7-million base salary. But if Wilkerson got hurt, the Jets would be on the hook for his entire 2018 salary, unless an injury settlement could be worked out.
“Of course I want to be out there with my teammates, practiced out there today,” Wilkerson said. “I’m happy to be back in the building. At the end of the day, it’s up to the coaches.”