The New York Jets are starting off their offseason by making sure they retain one of their biggest stars. The Jets have a lot of moves to make this offseason and not a lot of money to do so which means the franchise tag will come into play for at least one player on the roster. While he might not want it, Muhammad Wilkerson is staying put in New York for the time being thanks to the one-year deal.
According to ESPN's Rich Cimini, Wilkerson will be handed the one-year contract worth more than $15 million for 2015. However, that does not mean the defensive end cannot sign a new deal before the July deadline, it just means the Jets do not risk losing him to free agency. Wilkerson has been one of the cornerstone pieces on the Jets defense since his arrival to the team and the franchise knows they cannot afford to lose him. Looking to get paid like one of the top players of his position, the Jets are buying themselves more time with the franchise tag as Cimini reports negotiations are not going well at the moment.
The issue is what this means for Damon Harrison. The nose tackle is another player the Jets cannot afford to try and replace. Harrison started every game last season and finished with 39 solo tackles and a forced fumble. He also recorded nine tackles for a loss. Some might say he is more important than Wilkerson. The Jets cannot keep both players. Harrison and Wilkerson want top-dollar contracts. A franchise tag to Wilkerson means the Jets already have $22.7 million wrapped up in three players including Leonard Williams and Sheldon Richardson. That means Harrison is on the outside looking in. However, replacing him will be easier said than done.
Solid nose tackles might be harder to find than defensive ends. Cimini makes the case that the Jets could attempt to trade Wilkerson at some point rather than signing him to an extension and then draft his replacement this year. The Jets have been linked to players like Shaq Lawson, Joey Bosa and Myles Jack. If they favor the younger line, Wilkerson could be sent packing at some point.
The Jets have to get creative with their offseason moves. The team needs a top running back on the roster while also getting Ryan Fitzpatrick signed to a new contract. Trading someone could give the Jets more cap space while filling other needs and not costing them much. Wilkerson could be at the forefront of those talks.