The New York Jets received a gift from the NFL draft gods on its first night, having the uber-talented Leonard Williams slide all the way to the sixth overall selection. Possibly the best overall player in the draft, Jets fan should be eager to see what Williams can bring to the field. However, with Williams on board, Muhammad Wilkerson may be closer than ever to leaving the New York Jets.
In a perfect world, the Jets wouldn’t need to find a new home for Wilkerson. Ideally, the pass-rush team of Sheldon Richardson, Quinton Coples, Damon Harrison, Williams, and Wilkerson could co-exist and wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines.
But with his name already coming up in trade talks, drafting Williams may have been the final push to get Wilkerson out the door.
Of course, the Jets would much better with Wilkerson on their roster next year. The ability to switch out multiple pass-rushing machines is a true luxury, and the Jets would have one of the NFL’s most ferocious defenses. However, it’s important the Jets look towards the future with Wilkerson.
Wilkerson, 25, is entering the contract year of his rookie deal after being selected 30th overall in the 2011 NFL draft. With 24.0 career sacks under his belt, including an impressive 16.0 in the past two seasons, Wilkerson will be looking to cash in this offseason with a lucrative deal. At that point, the Jets simply may not have the cap space to tie up in a position that would remain loaded assuming Williams pans out in the NFL.
In other words, while Wilkerson brings a tremendous amount to the table this year, it’s likely the Jets let him walk in free agency. If he’s not destined to be a Jet next year either way, why not ship him off earlier for some compensation?
The best-case scenario is a pass-rush hungry team that missed out on the likes of Williams, Vic Beasley, Bud Dupree and Dante Fowler Jr, pulls the trigger on the second day of the draft and flips their second-round selection to the Jets for the fifth year defensive end.
More likely is a team giving up it’s third round selection or a couple fourth round selections to the Jets. Third-round compensation would be just about ideal for both parties involved. Lacking some picks in the back half of the draft this year, an extra third-round selection could do wonders for the Jets. Perhaps they can take a risk on a young quarterback, receiver, or running back to jumpstart their offense. Or they could just go with the best player available at the time, as they did with Williams in the first round.
Early word from first-year general manager Mike Maccagnan hints that a Wilkerson trade may not been imminent.
While the Jets may not be actively trying to make a Wilkerson trade happen, they must be open to at least entertaining offers from other teams. Even if a deal isn’t reached by the end of NFL draft weekend, there’s still months to find a trade partner for draft picks in next year’s draft.
The alternatives for Wilkerson include striking a long-term deal over the summer or using the franchise tag in 2016. However, the franchise tag would carry a huge cap hit and should not be considered a viable option.
Letting Wilkerson play out his contract is foolish because the signs point to him bolting in free agency. In this offseason already, Wilkerson has skipped the Jets OTA’s, a sign he may already have a foot out the door.
It’s understandable that Maccagnan isn’t actively trying to get rid of Wilkerson, as the team is better with him on the roster. But in all likelihood the Jets will not be contending for the Super Bowl next season, and turning Wilkerson into future assets should be an offseason priority.