Why the Jets should try to lock up Wilkerson right now

In a contract negotiation, it's all about leverage.

We keep hearing how there's "no hurry" to sign Wilkerson since he's under contract through 2015 at relatively modest salaries, and that since Idzik doesn't seem to be in a hurry to do anything at all, then we should expect not to hear anything for another year.

My opinion is that things are already happening behind the scenes (or will be very soon). Why do I think this?


Let's use an example that hits close to home. During Revis' holdout, we saw over and over again in the news that Revis wanted "Nnamdi money" ($28.5 million fully guaranteed over 2 years, with a team option for a third year at $16.875 million which was not exercised). Widely regarded as an aberration around the league, it was easy to attribute this record-breaking (at the time) contract to the eccentricities of Al Davis. However, that's actually not the case at all. The answer, of course, was leverage. Rewind to 2006: Nnamdi shows himself to be the best corner in the NFL. He doesn't extend his contract, bets on himself, and becomes a free agent in 2008. The Raiders, not wanting to lose, him, franchised him. Again betting on himself, Nnamdi had another great season. This was how Asomugha gained leverage. He put the Raiders in a position where they had no good choices. They could franchise him again, where his salary would be commensurate with the top QBs in the game. They could let him walk away for nothing, getting zero value for their best player, possibly the best defensive player in the NFL at the time. Door number three, which is what the Raiders chose, was to pay him enough money to convince him to stay, at a time when his other options were either quarterback money or 31 teams bidding for his services.

That, my friends, is leverage.

Why don't all players go this route? Because as you gain leverage, you lose security. Consider the case of Leon Washington. He balked at the team-friendly contract extension Mike Tannenbaum offered to him when he still had a year left on his rookie deal. Tannenbaum was under no pressure to offer Washington full market value -- he had leverage. He offered Washington security. As we know, Washington attempted to gain more leverage by betting on himself, but tragically suffered a gruesome injury. As a result, instead of getting the multi-year deal Tannenbaum offered with multiple millions of dollars guaranteed (which was nevertheless below market value), Leon Washington signed a contract for one year at $1.759 million.

These are two examples at both ends of the spectrum, with the majority of cases falling somewhere in the middle, where a player gives up some leverage in order to gain more security.

Which brings us to the case of Wilkerson, who has 2 years left on his rookie contract. Right now, the Jets have the leverage. Wilkerson is already one of the best in the NFL at what he does, but what if he suffers a serious injury? He doesn't get paid like one of the best -- he gets paid like a first round rookie. If the Jets offer him a below-market deal that nevertheless gives him many more guaranteed millions than what he's currently slated to earn, then he (and his agent) have a decision to make. The other option is to play out this year (which would give him more leverage), re-evaluate his situation, and then decide what to do given that the offer from the Jets would certainly increase. With each snap he plays, the closer he gets to free agency, and the larger his potential payout. Every snap, however, has the possibility of being his last, and thereby watching his payday evaporate.

The Jets, therefore, should be taking steps to sign Wilkerson to a long-term deal while they still have the leverage. It is up to the player (with the help of his agent) to manage risk appropriately in order to make the best decision possible. This, in my opinion, is why more talented players sign extensions than hit free agency. I'd rather have $5 million dollars right now than $20 million dollars a year from now, with the money being contingent on me playing at a high level in the NFL and avoiding injury -- neither of those is a given for any player.

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