- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Say this for Muhammad Wilkerson: He's consistent when it comes to discussing his future with the New York Jets. He's sticking with the "Jet-for-life" stance, which probably sends shivers through the fan base because Darrelle Revis used to say the same thing -- and look what happened to him.
"I told (the front office) at the end of the year last year that I want to be a Jet -- a Jet for life,” Wilkerson told the New York Post on Thursday. “I’m from the area (Linden, N.J.), I’m a local guy, so I would love to be here and finish my career here.”
Back in October, Wilkerson gave the same response, almost verbatim, in an interview with ESPNNewYork.com. Like we said, he's consistent. Some might say he's hurting his leverage by professing his devotion to the Jets, but that's not the case at all. It's actually a smart approach from a public-relations standpoint because it shifts the focus to the Jets, who, in terms of public perception, bear the onus of making him a Jet for life.
So what are the chances of them locking up their best player to a long-term extension before the start of the season? Let's examine the situation:
Wilkerson is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, due to make $1.2 million. By May 3, the Jets are expected to exercise a fifth-year option that will set his 2015 salary somewhere in the $5 million to $6 million range. (For players drafted from 11th through 32nd in 2011, the fifth-year salary is the average of the 25 highest-paid players at the position, excluding the top three.)
In essence, the Jets are under no sense of urgency to renegotiate Wilkerson's deal because they will have him under contract for two more years. Actually, you might say three years because they can slap him with the franchise tag in 2016. Do the math, and it comes out to three years for about $19.8 million, based on the current franchise-tag amount for a defensive end. For the Jets, that's a heck of a bargain for one of the top, young defensive players in the league.
The only motivation for the Jets to re-work his contract this year is if he accepts a team-friendly deal. Wilkerson's only leverage is to stage a holdout, but he reiterated in his interview with the New York Post that he has no intention of going that route. (Unlike his Jet-for-life comment, his recent no-holdout statements have weakened his bargaining power.) He'd be taking a risk by playing for $1.2 million because the fifth-year option isn't fully guaranteed until the fifth day of the 2015 league year. It's partially guaranteed (for injury only) as soon as the team picks up the option. General manager John Idzik hasn't revealed his plans, but it's a no-brainer.
Even though Wilkerson is operating under a different set of rules (the current collective bargaining agreement went into effect in 2011), his situation is similar to the Revis drama of 2010. Entering his fourth season, Revis refused to play for $1 million, staging a long and nasty holdout.
Wilkerson reiterated that he won't pull a Revis.
“I’m not holding out," he told the Post. "My agent is talking with Idzik, and that’s all I can say. I have nothing to do with that. I’m just going to let him take care of that. That’s his job. I’m just here to play ball."
The Jets should do the right thing and take care of Wilkerson before his contract becomes an issue, taking advantage of their significant cap space, but it's a bottom-line business. Teams are rarely motivated to make their players happy unless they get something out of it as well.
2dField Yates and Rich Cimini