Jets coach Todd Bowles said it was his decision to sit starting defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson on Sunday.
Wilkerson was a healthy scratch after limited practice reps during the week. “I made him inactive, coach’s decision,” Bowles said after the Jets’ 14-7 loss to the Chargers. “Everybody healthy practices. He didn’t know he was going to play. I didn’t know he was going to play.”
Bowles said the decision was made the day before the game and that he did speak with general manager Mike Maccagnan before rendering a final verdict.
“We talk, but eventually it’s my decision,” Bowles said.
Bowles isn’t sure if Wilkerson will play in the regular-season finale at New England next week. One thing that could impact the decision is the health of the defensive line. The other starting defensive end, Leonard Williams, missed the second half with a lower back injury and his status is uncertain for the Patriots game.
The Jets utilize numerous linemen during a game, so missing one or two can cause some problems. “We’ll see how many healthy bodies we got and we’ll see next week,” Bowles said.
When Wilkerson was late for a meeting on Dec. 15 — apparently because of a child care issue — Bowles decided to suspend him for the Dec. 17 game against the Saints and made the announcement that day. Although he was given the reason that Wilkerson was late, the coach didn’t find it acceptable, given that he already had been late two weeks earlier. He also was tardy two days before a Dec. 3 game against the Chiefs, and Bowles benched him for the majority of the first quarter of that game.
Wilkerson attended practices and meetings with no issues this past week, but it’s clear that Jets officials remain upset with him. The end of the relationship between the defensive end and the team appears imminent.
The Jets could release him after the 2017 season and save $11 million on the salary cap, but they would have to do that before the third day of the league year in March. Otherwise, Wilkerson’s 2018 salary of $16.7 million will become fully guaranteed.
Wilkerson was a Pro Bowl selection for the 2015 season after recording 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 have declined since, though.
Last week, when Wilkerson was asked if he had earned his pay, he said, “I feel like I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”
Why? “Because I feel like I earned it.”
Wilkerson was on the sideline for Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium and even posed for pictures with some fans before the game. It might be the last time he gets to do that.