The Jets and star defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson remain far apart on a contract extension with the season’s kickoff just a few hours away and it's very unlikely that talks continue when the regular season begins, sources said. There has been minimal progress dating back to the combine, and Wilkerson is set to make roughly $7 million this season in the final year of his rookie deal (on a fifth-year option) and then is eligible for potential free agency in March, when the stalwart would still be just 26 years old.
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Jets have been unwilling to compensate Wilkerson with the guaranteed money of other recent defensive linemen to sign deals, including what the Saints gave end Cameron Jordan or what the Steelers gave end Cameron Heyward, while several execs from others teams have indicated to me that they view Wilkerson as a far more valuable and impactful player. The defensive-line market had been fairly stagnant, in terms of big signings, but the Bills’ signing of Marcell Dareus to a $100-million deal late last week should serve as a boost to Wilkerson and Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe, among others. That leap in the market -- Dareus’s deal averages $15 million a year in new money and includes a $25-million signing bonus -- has made the Jets’ offers to Wilkerson seem even less appealing than they already were, sources said, and to this point there has been nothing put in front of the player that his camp has had to seriously consider.
Wilkerson’s representative has made at least two proposals, the source said, both well under the deal Texans’ superstar J.J. Watt received in 2014 (there have been erroneous rumblings that Wilkerson is seeking Watt’s level of compensation). Then, within hours of Dareus’s extension becoming official on Thursday, the Jets presented a new proposal that the source said was still less than half of what Dareus will receive in terms of total dollars and guaranteed money, and was not close to the $23 million in full guarantees at the time of signing that Jordan received this summer, either.
While Jets officials spoke this offseason of extending Wilkerson as a priority, the lack of progress in talks has left his camp wondering if they ever truly intend to complete a contract, and whether the team views his worth the way other clubs might should Wilkerson reach free agency. The Jets could -- and most team suspect, would -- franchise Wilkerson in 2016, even with them having young top draft picks Leonard Williams and the troubled Sheldon Richardson in the fold. That tag, which would be applied in February, is likely to cost $16 million. Franchising Wilkerson twice (again in 2017) would cost the Jets roughly $44 million over three years (2015-17), which would be money no player could scoff at, and there is always the possibility of a trade as well -- several teams inquired about his availability in March, though the Jets maintained they would not seriously consider deal him.
Wilkerson’s agent, Chad Wiestling, declined to comment on any specifics of the negotiations other than to refute any notion that he was seeking Watt’s deal ($100 million with $52 million guaranteed for injury) or is looking to set a new benchmark with the contract.
"We made fair proposals based upon the current market for comparable defensive linemen, unfortunately, the Jets view Mo much differently," Wiestling said.
While some have wondered if this might end up being Wilkerson’s final year as a Jet -- he has been with them since being selected in the first round in 2011 -- Wiestling said, "Mo loves being a Jet, and nothing less than a Super Bowl for New York will satisfy him this season. He will play his heart out for this team regardless of his contract situation."