Less than two years after making Muhammad Wilkerson the highest paid 34 defensive end in the NFL, the Jets are moving in a different direction. According to multiple outlets the Jets have informed Wilkerson that he will be released from his contract after completing just two years of a five year, $86 million mega contract signed in the summer of 2016. The move will create $11 million in cap room while leaving the Jets with $9 million in dead money from his $15 million signing bonus. Once the release is made official the Jets should have slightly over $90 million in cap room, which will be second in the NFL to only the Cleveland Browns.
Wilkerson and the Jets struggled to come to a contract agreement for years, negotiations that spanned two general managers and three seasons. The Jets looked as if they were prepared to move on from Wilkerson when they drafted Leonard Williams in 2015, but changed course at the last minute, first franchise tagging Wilkerson and then signing him to a big contract on the last possible day, by NFL rule, they could do such a deal with a franchise player. The deal came down so late in the process that almost every reporter- national and local- reported that Wilkerson would play the season out on the one year franchise tag.
Wilkerson struggled the minute he signed the contract. His on field impact declined and while he did have nagging injuries that slowed him down, there was significant speculation about his effort on and off the field. Wilkerson reportedly missed multiple team meetings through the last two seasons and was benched for a quarter on an occasion or two. By the end of 2017 the Jets no longer were activating Wilkerson on Sunday for fear he would get injured and kick in another $16.75 million in guarantees on top of the $37 million already earned.
In many ways the Wilkerson situation is one of the reasons teams are hesitant about long term guarantees in contracts or even high end salaries. While there are plenty of studies that can be done on expected values and performance and injuries are always a risk, how the effort level changes before and after a contract is something that cant really be quantified. Still Wilkerson is a big name player and those players usually get other chances. I would guesstimate that he could land a two year contract in the $15-$16 million range with some high end incentives that can make it a bit higher.