The long-running contract standoff between the New York Jets and Muhammad Wilkerson has taken an expected turn, as the team has decided to use its franchise tag on the Pro Bowl defensive end, a league source said Monday.
The Jets haven't announced their plans, but they have until 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
Wilkerson will receive the nonexclusive tag (worth $15.7 million), meaning he's allowed to negotiate with other teams. By rule, the Jets would receive two first-round picks as compensation if they decline to match an offer sheet.
It's highly unlikely that any team would surrender that much, but the Jets might be willing to take less in a tag-and-trade scenario. The idea of trading their top defensive player in 2015 might seem unthinkable, but the Jets haven't ruled it out because of a tight cap situation and a surplus of young defensive linemen.
The two sides have until July 15 to negotiate a long-term contract. Failing that, he will play in 2016 for the franchise tender.
"Mo is a very good player and, obviously, we'd like to have him with the organization going forward, but ... all options are on the table," general manager Mike Maccagnan said last week at the scouting combine.
The Jets have been planning for weeks, perhaps months, to use to tag on Wilkerson, as ESPN reported recently. Maccagnan floated the possibility of using the tag on highly regarded nose tackle Damon Harrison, also a pending free agent. By opting for Wilkerson, it means Harrison can negotiate with other teams starting Monday.
The Jets still are hopeful of signing Harrison to a long-term contract before then.
Wilkerson, who played last season for the amount of his fifth-year option ($7 million), has been seeking an extension for more than a year. Frustrated by the lack of progress, he skipped the voluntary portion of last offseason.
His leverage was hurt last spring, when the Jets chose defensive end Leonard Williams with the sixth overall pick in the draft. Williams joined a talented group that included former first-rounder Sheldon Richardson, whose rookie deal expires after the 2016 season.
It'll be difficult to keep Wilkerson and Harrison together with Richardson and Williams, but "it's not outside the realm of possibility," Maccagnan said.
Wilkerson, who led the Jets with a career-high 12 sacks last season, is recovering from a surgically repaired broken leg, suffered in the final game. He probably will miss the entire offseason, but he tweeted recently that he's ahead of schedule in his rehab.