Muhammed Wilkerson and the New York Jets shocked everyone by coming to a long-term agreement yesterday. It was the best thing that could happen to the Jets who have been at an impasse with free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Wilkerson’s five-year, $86 million deal should give the Jets enough money to at least come close to giving Fitzpatrick what he is looking for. The Jets had $3.425 million in cap space before the Wilkerson deal. That was, of course, with Wilkerson’s franchise tag hit on the books. Despite the size of the deal, the Jets now have a little over $15 million in cap space. Remember, only the 51 largest contracts count against the cap in the NFL.
Not only does bringing Wilkerson, who was the second best 3-4 DE in football last year behind J.J. Watt, add stability to the Jets’ locker room it brings stability to a defense that will be adding in youth at key spots this season.
Most importantly, the Wilkerson deal means Fitzpatrick and the Jets could be due for a reunion. In what has been one of the strangest negotiations in the history of NFL free agency, the Jets and Fitzpatrick have refused to budge from equally silly demands. The Jets have offered him a three-year, $24 million deal, or roughly equivalent to what the Philadelphia Eagles paid backup quarterback Chase Daniel (he signed for three years and $21 million). One can see why Fitzpatrick, who set franchise records last season in TD passes and finished with the second-highest yardage total in team history, was upset.
If the Jets were seriously considering Geno Smith to replace Fitzpatrick it would have been a huge blow to the offense. While Fitzpatrick is far from a franchise quarterback he is the team’s best option and the Jets, who are a veteran team, need him at the helm. The Jets are a borderline playoff team with Fitzpatrick. He proved that much last season. They should be just as good this season but they need Fitzpatrick. Smith has not proven anything in the NFL except to show he is far from being an option.
Of course, one does have to wonder if Fitzpatrick’s heart is really into playing football. It is easy to see he wants to be paid what he thinks he is worth but there were no other teams showing interest in him at all this offseason. Would he really sit out instead of take the Jets’ offer? Hopefully they don’t have to find out. The Jets should up their offer to Fitzpatrick, even if it is a one-year deal, and hope that this year they make the playoffs. With their defense, anything can happen in the playoffs and a trip to the Super Bowl wouldn’t be that shocking. However, given their age on defense, that playoff window might be closing which is why Fitzpatrick and the Jets need to reunite.