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.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc