FLORHAM PARK, N.J —Just when you thought all was quiet with Muhammad Wilkerson, things erupted again.
Jets coach Todd Bowles suspended the starting defensive end for Sunday’s game at New Orleans because he was late to a team meeting Friday morning, according to a source.
It was the second time this season that Wilkerson was late to a meeting. He was tardy the day before a Dec. 3 game against the Chiefs and was benched for the majority of the first quarter.
Wilkerson played the next week at Denver without further incident. But he again was late to the Jets’ facility on Friday, and Bowles had had enough.
“I’m worried about the guys that I’m coaching,” he said when asked about Wilkerson. “I’m not worried about Mo right now.”
Wilkerson’s continuing lateness raises questions about his long-term status with the club. He has been benched in each of the last three seasons for being late to a meeting.
After last week’s game against the Broncos, Wilkerson was asked about his future and said, “You have to ask Todd.”
Bowles would not go into specifics regarding Wilkerson’s future with the team.
Wilkerson earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2015 after a 64-tackle, 12-sack season, but he suffered a fractured fibula in the regular-season finale. Instead of putting the franchise tag on Wilkerson, the Jets signed him to a five-year, $86-million deal with $36.7 million guaranteed, making him the team’s highest-paid player. After signing that contract, Wilkerson dealt with leg, toe and shoulder issues and ineffective play.
Last season, he had 4½ sacks and 58 tackles. This season, he went seven weeks without picking up a sack but has compiled 3½ sacks and 46 total tackles.
Wilkerson’s 2018 salary of $16.75 million will be fully guaranteed on the third day of the league year in March. If he’s released before then, the Jets will save $11 million on the salary cap and will have $9 million in dead money.
The Jets will use a variety of players to replace him on the defensive line and could start Kony Ealy at end.
“I feel like we’re going to go down there and play really well,” Ealy said. “We’ve been working hard all week. Just stick to that.”
Wilkerson was not in the locker room after Friday’s practice.
Asked if it’s more frustrating that he has to discipline Wilkerson so late in the season, Bowles replied, “Part of the job.”
Bowles addressed the situation with his players on Friday and said the mission is the same: play the Saints.
“The game is always the next man up, so whoever is out there, you got to be ready,” linebacker Demario Davis said. “It’s a professional game, we got a very good group, so whoever is at the position, we got to be ready. It’s a tough challenge and we all got to be locked in. If you’re missing a certain player, everybody has to take their play up, and we have to be ready to do that.”
Notes & quotes: RB Matt Forte (knee) and RG Brian Winters (abdomen, ankle) are questionable . . . Bowles said the team will make a decision on WR Jeremy Kerley’s status next week. Kerley is on the exemption list after coming off a four-game suspension for violating the PED policy.