Thoughts on Wilkersons new contract

I’m as stunned as anyone today that Muhammad Wilkerson signed an extension with the Jets. Of all the franchise players I felt he was the least likely of all to sign a new contract. After all these negotiations began over two years ago when John Idzik was the GM and it was hard to imagine after all that time a last ditch offer getting it done but somehow it did. We don’t have any firm numbers on the Wilkerson deal yet besides a report of a $15 million signing bonus and $37M two year total, but as a Jets fan I wanted to write about the contract anyway even with limited info.

The Jets backed themselves into a corner with this contract. No matter what the outcome today they were coming out of this one with egg on their face. Had they done this deal a few years ago when they should have signed the contract they would have likely saved themselves $3 million a year in overall contract value and more importantly millions in guarantees and cap charges.

The Jets basically seemed to concede the Olivier Vernon contract to get Wilkerson to sign his contract. Vernon signed an $85 million contract this offseason with the Giants with a $40 million two year payout and $52.5 million vesting guarantee. Based on the initial leaks it sounds as if Wilkerson will make $3 million less over two years with the chance to earn $1.5 million more over three years. Contracts like this did not exist when the Jets opened negotiations a few years ago.

What happened is the Jets could never come up to what Wilkerson wanted (my guess is as the time $14M per year with $28M guaranteed would have been the number) and each year the number grew as the cap grew. The Jets tried to make the best of a bad situation by trading him this offseason but found no takers at a price that they could justify. Now he became a burden on the Jets salary cap because of a $15.7 million cap hit with no end game for the team.

The Jets lost two years of proration and over $8 million in guarantees that they could have rolled into this contract by waiting so long here.  Basically at this point the Jets would have finished paying all of Wilkersons guarantees by the end of this season and in 2017 they would have the option of trading, cutting, restructuring or anything else. When you consider the presence of Sheldon Richardson and later Leonard Williams that early extension was the feasible way to spread out the cap hits and have the roster flexibility to allow that massive D-line investment. Now they are either going to spend a mini-fortune on the line or going to trade Richardson, who is extension eligible.  I don’t get that logic at all.

It’s possible that negotiations with Richardson also went in circles this offseason and he has now taken Wilkerson’s place as potential trade bait. Richardson has some off the field issues that Wilkerson has never had which makes his status far less certain. It would not surprise me if in the coming days something about Richardson’s future comes out that was a catalyst for this contract.

I have seen a number of people categorize this contract as two years and an option. I really don’t see it that way. While the signing bonus isn’t massive at $15 million, it is rare that contracts this size don’t see three years happen. Far too often we get wrapped up in guarantees but the sunk cost or belief in a player is generally a bigger factor.  Look at players like Ryan Clady and Victor Cruz who contributed very little because of injuries after signing new deals with their teams and they all saw three years.

If the Jets really wanted to move on from Mo in two years they would have saved themselves $2.5 million in salary by playing the franchise tag game. If you want to say that they are willing to trade him after two years I can buy that argument as $2.5M for a first round pick isn’t a bad investment but teams generally hold onto these players. Unless a team is using the all cash approach like the Raiders, Bucs and a few others a $9M dead charge in year 3 is pretty significant.

The other thing I see being written about is Ryan Fitzpatrick (Im as guilty as anyone as I tweeted the same) but Im not sure there is much correlation here. Wilkerson was set to count for $15.7M on the cap this year. We know he received a $15M signing bonus which will count $3M on the cap but beyond that I haven’t read anything or been told anything on the cash flows. The going rate for a player on this contract should be between $21.5M in year 1 (Justin Houston) and around $29M (Vernon and Fletcher Cox).

Those numbers should put Mo year 1 cap hit between $9.5M and $17M. Since the Jets had one of the worst cap positions in the NFL I think we can eliminate the $17M charge and estimate the charge between $9.5 and $13M. That would put the Jets cap room between $6.5M and $9.5M. When rosters expand to 53 that will likely cost the Jets around $1.5M and planning for injuries and other items likely means $2.5 to $3M. Those still are not significant numbers for a quarterback. It doesn’t mean it wont happen, but Wilkerson would have had to receive very little raise for this contract to really signal it is going to happen. All this did was ensure the Jets have room to function not really do anything else.

The one thing that this contract does accomplish is sending the message to the team about taking care of their own. It seemed pretty clear that the Mo and Fitzpatrick contract squabbles have left a negative impression with the rest of the players on the team. It’s a hard line for a team to walk because quite honestly the Jets have had no reason to extend anyone on a team that’s been pretty bad from 2011 through 2014. But between Fitzpatrick and Mo teammates were starting to question the front office and if rumors came out about Richardson not being given a great offer you can run into a bad situation.

As a fan am I excited Mo is back for the long haul? Sure. He’s a terrific player and I think its rare for 1st rounders to dog it on a second contract. If that’s in their system generally it shows itself early in their career and then they explode when its time for a new deal. Mo’s been great since day 1. But the Jets just botched the way they handled this whole thing. They should have been able to deal with all these D-line deals in a very different manner. I just hope they deal with Richardson far better than this whether it ends up an extension towards the end of the year or a trade next year. They can chalk this up as a mistake but this is their one mulligan. They cant have more of these and expect to compete for a title barring a draft miracle at QB.

  • a57se

    Great take on this Jason. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Macc’s work so far as GM…

    • Thanks. Ill do that later this summer once the Fitzpatrick decision is made one way or the other. I will say in hindsight the decision to not extend Mo last year to sign Cromartie for $8Mish looks incredibly foolish.

      • a57se

        Agreed. Cro was definitely a bad signing.
        I also thought not trying to extend Fitz didn’t show much foresight as he had zero leverage last year and a couple years security at $5 million per would have been smart.

      • McGeorge

        I was thinking that a year ago. That 8MM would pay for a year of Fitz, or soften the blow of signing Wilkerson.
        People keep saying “the cap always goes up, so don’t worry” don’t appreciate that extra saved cap money here and there.

  • McGeorge

    Jason, I generally agree with you.

    I don’t think Maccagnan is all the good as a GM. Putting off contracts = loss of leverage. He mishandled this. They would have been better off tagging him for a year or tow. Macc lost credibility the way he handled DBrick. He should have come to him the day after the season about renegotiating a pay cut, rather than strong arming him.

    Has Macc drafted well? He inherited a high draft pick and Leonard Williams fell into his lap, so I’m not going to give him full credit for that. Well see how Lorenzo Mauldin develops. As for Devin Smith, hopefully he’s not another Stephen Hill. It’s too early to judge this years picks, though Hackenberg is probably throwing away a #2 pick which the Jets can’t afford.

    Macc mismanaged a great salary cap. He inherited a huge amount of excess cap, and squandered all of it. He was forced to spend a lot, but he over spent it, leaving nothing for the next year.

    Richardson is going to want a huge payday. Will the Jets be able to reach a compromise early? Or will they let it go to the end, like they did with Wilkerson, and over pay him?

    I see plenty of fans who are happy. They don’t understand salary cap economics or surplus value. I may be overly pessimistic, but I am really down on Macc and the Jets.
    I think they are going to be a 500ish team (+/- 1 or 2) for years. It’s as if the Jets (Macc) don’t pay attention to other teams mistakes, or try and learn from the well run teams (Pats and Bengals).

    The only reason to be happy is the Jets don’t have many good younger players worth paying. Sop they may as well overpay Wilkerson rather than spending 8MM on a washed up corner back or some scrub free agent.

    • a57se

      McGeorge, I was skeptical of Macc when we hired him but happy he was at least from the scouting side of the business rather then another cap guy a la Tanny and Idzik.
      My skepticism was based on the poor drafting record of the team he came from rather than anything specifically lacking about Macc.
      As you rightly point out, his drafting has left a little (perhaps a lot) to be desired these two years and his handling of the cap has not been very judicious. If he doesn’t improve soon, we’ll be going through more changes and I am afraid that this will just become (perhaps it already is) a vicious cycle we keep repeating because Woody just doesn’t have the ability to pick the right people.

      • McGeorge

        I hope I’m wrong about Macc, and that he learns from his mistakes and improves.
        I hope his drafts are above average.
        The thing is – this is an old team, with not that many good young players. Fans seem to think the Jets are a player or two away, and I don’t agree with that. The Jets need a lot.

        • I think this is accurate but in fairness to him this goes back to Idzik and even to some extent Tannenbaum. Woody wasnt going to stand for the Idzik style rebuild so he hired someone to make the moves to try to be competitive which they surprisingly were last year.

          But the fanbase I think has bought in far too much to last years record. The Jets werent necessarily a good team. The AFC was way down in general and guys had career years but it was and is an old team. Ive already compared this year to the Jets 2007 season where you try to keep it together but with an eye on the future knowing it probably wont end well. As long a Mac is well awre that they are building for 2017 its ok. The problem is if we get in this bad loop of trying to compete year after year with guys in their 30s signed as free agents. The normal result of that is like the 90s Jets with the Boomers, Monks, and Lotts at the end.

          • a57se

            Again, spot on about last years team not really being that good but everything goes back to Woody and his inability to select quality people to run this team. If Macc can’t draft better then the cycle you mentioned is all we have…I watched that kind of crap for 40+ years…it gets old.

  • LM

    The Jets could have played the franchise tag game for the next two years with Wilkerson. Make him prove himself again in 2016 and then tag him and make him do it again in 2017 if they didn’t trade him. They could have done these things but at what cost.

    For one thing financially, By extending Mo now vs him being on franchise tags the next two years. The Jets just free up cap space for this year and next year. His cap figure is less in the next two years than it would have been if he was a franchise tag player. Make no mistake if Mo had another great year in 2016. He would have been tagged yet again. Back to square one of having a hard time trading him and at a higher tag number.

    Second, You can’t put a value on team chemistry. Wilkerson is the Jets best player period.In his prime. This needed to get done. He is an elite player. Of which, The Jets do not have a lot of elite players on their roster in their 20’s.

    Lastly, Sheldon Richardson is under the Jets control for the next two seasons. They don’t have to extend him if they don’t want to and based on his off the field stupidity. He shouldn’t get a big extension. By the time, The 2018 offseason arrives, The roster could be very different. Two years is like 5 in the NFL. We don’t know that guys like Marshall and Mangold will even be Jets by then. No guarantees. Let Richardson earn the big money. Leonard Williams, You need not worry about his contract expiring until 2020 and he is on a rookie deal.. That’s so far down the road. You cross that bridge when you get there. By the time, Leonard’s deal is up. Whose to say that Mo is still a Jet by then. That’s like 4 years into the new 5 year deal he just signed.

    • McGeorge

      On the other hand – maybe they can negotiate a home team discount with Richardson, given that they have him for 2 more years.
      If he commits any infractions that result in suspension, that voids guarantees and the Jets can recover signing bonuses.
      So it may be worth a long term (6 year) contract, with more guarantees, since there is a chance those will be voided.

      The other thing is the Jets don’t have many good young players, and I’d rather spend cap money on home grown players than expensive free agents whose team let them walk.

  • eddiea

    With Mo now signed,I’m almost sure Richardson is gone. The thing is he won’t/shouldn’t bring what Mac/Jets think they’ll get,but he also isn’t worth being Franchised. I can’t remember if he’s been punished for his racing/weed transgressions,but IMHO he’s not a player a team can trust.

    • McGeorge

      You could be right about Richardson leaving.
      I can see franchising him for a year, if it comes to that.

      I would hope the Jets are more proactive and try and negotiate well in advance of that, and not let it go to the last minute, which I consider poor planning.