Wilkerson Ready To Lead Jets Defense

Muhammad Wilkerson has his money and the New York Jets have the leader of their defensive line back just in time for the start of training camp.

It came down to the last minutes, before a league-wide deadline for franchise-tagged NFL players to sign, but the Jets were able to come to terms with Wilkerson on a contract extension worth $86 million over five years, including $53.5 guaranteed. The new deal lifts the franchise-tag, which the Jets had on the bargaining table, off Wilkerson.

When it comes to peace of mind, both sides benefit greatly. Wilkerson gets the financial stability he was looking for, and can now concentrate on playing football again. The Jets get back the anchor of their monster defensive line, which includes Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams.

If Wilkerson were to have played under the franchise tag, for $15.7 million, it would have been a major body blow to the team’s fragile salary cap. Wilkerson’s new deal should help provide Jets’ general manager Mike Maccagnan more flexibility for contract negotiations with last year’s starting quarterback, and current free agent, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The Jets still have to figure out their dilemma at quarterback before it becomes a major distraction in training camp. Wilkerson’s signing, however, provides a much-needed boost of morale the team will need as they prepare for the upcoming season.

It’s amazing how quickly thoughts can turn once both sides agree to terms which work out mutually. It wasn’t long ago that the 26-year old Wilkerson, a native of New Jersey, felt unwanted by the team which drafted him in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

“It’s part of the business,” Wilkerson said when asked if there were hard feelings from the tough negotiations. “That’s how the NFL works. Now that it’s over with, I can focus on football and the locker room and be the leader of this team that I am.”

The Jets, without Wilkerson, arguably still would have put a formidable defensive line on the field. Wilkerson’s presence, however, makes them an elite group. He led the Jets with a career-high 12 sacks last season and earned his first Pro Bowl selection.

Wilkerson’s 2015 season ended with a broken leg in the season finale against the Buffalo BIlls. He most likely will not be ready in time for the start of training camp, and it’s a no-brainer to conclude that the Jets will be extra careful with him in preseason. Wilkerson, despite all of that, fully expects to be on the field and ready to go for the new campaign.

“I’ll be ready for Week 1,” Wilkerson vowed.

That has to feel good for Jets’ fans to know.

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