By Harrison Peltz
Ah, the New York Jets. They never cease to amaze me. Every offseason, the unconvincing hype begins, as Woody Johnson talks up his recently signed thrift-shop caliber veterans. Some third string wide receiver makes a great hit on special teams, and Johnson and Co. are immediately thinking super bowl. Then the season starts. The Jets suck, yet again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
As the Jets saunter into the offseason with, once again, quite a bit of work to do, every New Yorker develops their own foolproof solution to all of the Jets’ problems. New Yorkers claim that even their little cousin could do a better job than the general manager. People forget that it’s not easy being a general manager in the National Football League (although your cousin probably could’ve done a better job than Idzik). Those plans, however, usually violate salary cap restrictions or are outright unrealistic. To be frank, they’re stupid.
Brace yourselves: this is one of those plans. But it’s not stupid. I swear.
While the Jets have very inconsistent and talentless positional groups across the board, even the most obnoxious Patriot fan must admit that the defensive line is a squad of absolute beasts (especially after they sacked Brady’s ass four times a few weeks ago). They finished fifth overall in rush defense and sixth overall in sacks, bringing opposing quarterbacks down 46 times throughout the season. In the middle of this dominant defensive-line is Muhammad Wilkerson, who is arguably the best player on the team and the main reason why this d-line is so formidable.
We’ve got tons of money. Wilkerson’s rookie contract is up soon. Lock him up ‘til 2020, right Woody?! Wrong. While Wilkerson’s talents are undeniable and his contributions to this team cannot be ignored, trading him away before he has the chance to go play for a winning team is certainly the way to go.
A former-first round pick out of Temple, Wilkerson was Mike Tannenbaum’s going-away-gift to the Jets organization. Wilkerson was an absolute home-run-of-a pick; if the NFL were to re-draft, he would go top-five without question. A six-foot-four, 315 pound manimal, Wilkerson has had an immediate impact since the first day he suited up in green and white. His sack totals have been improving every year until this past year. He accumulated 10.5 sacks in 2013 — an incredibly impressive number given the double-teams he attracts and the lack of opportunity for defensive linemen to pass rush in the 3-4 system that the Jets run. Not only is his pass rushing ability notable, but so, too, is his ability to stuff the run. He’s had over sixty tackles in two of his four pro seasons — a ridiculous stat for any 3-4 big boy. He even picked off Andy Dalton, which is really freakin’ cool. I know what you’re thinking. If he’s so freakin’ good, why trade him? Essentially, his value in a trade simply outweighs what he contributes on the field.
Although Wilkerson plays like a seasoned veteran, he is only twenty-five. This fact, along with his sheer talent, makes his trade value sky-high — arguably the highest of all defensive linemen not named J.J. Watt.
Jared Allen, a player with similar abilities to Wilkerson, was traded at the same age for a first round pick and two third round picks. So, for argument’s sake, we’ll say that Wilkerson is worth around that.
A first round pick would be huge for the Jets. The Jets are team with gaps all over the roster, especially at the quarterback, cornerback, and guard positions. Selecting a first-round stud at any of those positions, or even any others, would improve the team greatly. Already having the sixth overall pick, the Jets could make some nasty combinations with two first-rounders, especially given the loaded talent featured in the upcoming draft. They could possibly pair Jameis with a big-time receiver, namely Kevin White or DeVante Parker (let’s be real, Cooper won’t even be available at six), or they could take one of the many enticing corners, such as Trae Waynes or Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The concoctions are endless.
Not only would a first round pick be of great help to the Jets’ needy roster, but the two third round picks would also be very beneficial. These picks would most likely be used to snag an under-the-radar guard and a cornerback, depending on how they pick the first round.
Let’s not forget that dozens of Hall-of-Famers have been found later in the draft. I’m sure all Jets fans are quite aware of that fact, having watched Tom Brady, a former sixth round pick, dominate the AFC East as well as earn three championship rings. More recently, Richard Sherman — one of the best corners in the game — was selected in the fifth round. That being said, third round picks are evidently valuable, especially to a team that needs a lot of help. The Jets roster is depleted and a Wilkerson trade could be the quickest, most efficient way to revitalize it.
Also, Wilkerson is due for a great pay raise very soon, and the Jets would be better off spending their money on more needy positional groups, as opposed to their best one(the defensive line). Wilkerson will probably ask for upwards of twelve-million dollars a year, therefore, trading Wilkerson would not only result in value through picks, but also through freeing up cap room. Rather than having to re-sign him, the Jets could use that twelve million on the positional groups in need. If they’re looking for a bona fide quarterback competition, not a Michael Vick one, in which respectable signal callers are brought in to give Geno a run for his money, they’re going to be in dire need of money; quarterbacks are not cheap these days. Thus, Wilkerson’s value runs deeper than just the draft.
The D-Line without Him
While Wilkerson will be missed, the defensive line will still be dominant without him. This year, number ninety-six missed games against both the Dolphins and Vikings, which gave us a glimpse of a Wilkerson-less Jets front. Against the Dolphins, the Jets line played very well, only allowing 74 net yards rushing and bringing Tannehill to the ground twice. Against the Vikings, however, the d-line absolutely exploded. The stats say that the Jets gave up over 120 yards rushing, however, that stat is not very telling of how the d-line played, as Jarius Wright broke off a long rush on a gimmick play. Sheldon Richardson had the best game of his young career, compiling three sacks, seven tackles, and a safety. The d-line played exceptionally well without Wilkerson, which further proves the fact that the front does not necessarily need their defensive captain. Furthermore, when Wilkerson was gone, Sheldon Richardson was able to find his stride as a top-end pass rusher.
Richardson has always been good against the run. As a rookie, he led all defensive linemen in tackles with 78. However, with Wilkerson gone, Richardson was able to prove how good he can be as a pass rusher, too. He sacked the opposing quarterback three times — something Wilkerson has never done. While not quite as good yet, Richardson is still only 24 years old, and will likely be just as good if not better than Wilkerson very soon.
The defensive line will certainly have a leader if Wilkerson is dealt. However, will the others be able to step in and produce without Mo?
Yes. Damon Harrison is a premier run stuffing defensive tackle who is only twenty-six. His tackles statistics fly off the page, as he posted 115 tackles in two seasons — a ridiculous sum for a run stuffer. There are other defensive linemen who, while they may not have the stats to prove it just yet, have shown great potential. Among these names are: Leger Douzable, a 28 year old pro who has been all over the field in limited time; Jason Babin, a proven pass rusher who still has some sacks left in him; and Kenrick Ellis, a player who never quite hit his stride, but certainly has shown signs of having the ability to do so. To conclude: yeah, the Jets will be more than okay without him.
What are you waiting for, Woody? Wilkerson is a damn good player, but the benefits associated with trading him can and will outweigh the positives of keeping him. Sure, Wilkerson will be missed, but I’m sure Jets fans will forget all about him after Jameis throws an eighty yard bomb to Kevin White, or after Trae Waynes picks off Brady for six. The fact of the matter is that the Jets need picks and money. Trading Wilkerson is a surefire way to get ‘em. Go ahead, Woody, we’re waiting.