When New York Jets coach Todd Bowles announced Friday that Muhammad Wilkerson would not travel with the team to New Orleans, it essentially marked the inevitable ending to Wilkerson’s tenure with the franchise.
That’s right. Muhammad Wilkerson, the 2011 first-round pick who was revered by his team and fans not long ago, won’t be wearing the green and white much longer. I don’t know it for a fact, I just know it’s true.
This is the fourth time in three years Wilkerson has been disciplined by Bowles, a no-nonsense coach who hasn’t been afraid to reprimand stars. The last three infractions were related to tardiness and negligence. This one probably isn’t any different.
Like many Jets tales of recent memory, Wilkerson’s journey in The Big Apple will end on a tragic note after spurring so much hope.
I vouched heavily for the team to pay him in the summer of 2016 after he posted a career high 12 sacks and broke his leg in the season finale against Buffalo. With Leonard Williams alongside him, I thought the Jets had reinvented the New York Sack Exchange. As a balanced 3-4 defensive end, I truly thought the Jets had a franchise cornerstone to build around.
Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan ultimately agreed and handed “Big Mo,” a five-year, $86 million contract just before the deadline to reach contract extensions with franchise-tagged players hit. It was a jubilant day for the Jets, one that would pay off in the long run.
Wilkerson struggled mightily during the 2016 season, racking up only 4.5 sacks in 15 games. Some (including myself) excused the lackluster play, suggesting Wilkerson wasn’t fully healed from his injury.
But Wilkerson’s play in 2017 has worsened. He has only 3.5 sacks with only two games left to play (remember, he won’t play against New Orleans Sunday). It’s fair to wonder if Bowles, who seems to be fed up with Wilkerson’s act, will even give him much playing time over the final two weeks.
The Wilkerson contract will be another blemish on Maccagnan’s spotty tenure as New York’s GM. But Maccagnan gave himself an escape hatch to get out of the contract, although it isn’t a perfect alternative.
The Jets could designate Wilkerson as a post-June 1 cut and mitigate his cap hit to only $3 million per year over the next three years. Doing so would save the Jets $17 million in 2018. Given Wilkerson’s underwhelming production and questionable work ethic, the team might be better off cutting ties and adding more money to their towering heap of salary cap space.
The Jets have ushered far more decorated veteran contributors out the door in the past couple of years. Wilkerson doesn’t deserve a ceremonious departure. Mo just needs to go, fast.