Yesterday during his press conference, New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan seemed to strongly hint that the team would put the franchise tag on Muhammad Wilkerson if the two sides could not work out a long-term contract.
One thing to remember is that simply putting the franchise tag on Wilkerson will not necessarily prevent the two sides from still working out a contract. Gang Green can franchise Wilkerson as early as February 22. Teams cannot begin contacting free agents until March 12 and cannot begin signing free agents until March 15.
It would make all the sense in the world for both sides to work out a new contract during that window. The Jets could lower Wilkerson's cap hit in 2016, giving them more spending room once free agency begins. For Wilkerson, he would likely get a contract that would double the guaranteed money he would receive from the franchise tag. You might say that Wilkerson can just play out 2016 under the franchise tag and become a free agent again next year. That is a risky strategy. His Week 17 injury shows why. If he had torn a ligament instead of breaking a bone, a monster contract might not have been there.
The way to view the franchise tag is as a worst case scenario, not as the ultimate final decision on his 2016 status. It is insurance in case the two sides cannot reach a deal. Both sides will have plenty of incentive to get something done, though. Tagging Wilkerson would not prevent that.