I didn't think it would happen. It doesn't seem like many did. Muhammad Wilkerson is staying with the Jets, however, after he agreed to a new five year contract with the team today right before the deadline for franchise tagged players to sign long-term deals.
Here are a few scattered thoughts I have at this early hour.
A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.
One of the biggest questions about giving Wilkerson big money has been whether it was the best use of the team's resources. There was a school of thought that since the Jets had talented players who could fill similar roles to Wilkerson, the team could use the money to improve other parts of the roster.
I understood the argument, but it seemed to me like one that works better in theory more often than it does in practice.
It isn't easy to import impact players. The guy who has been on my mind all offseason is Olivier Vernon, the edge rusher who left the Dolphins for the Giants in free agency. Vernon to me is the epitome of the typical free agent.
He's a nice player. In his best year he had 11.5 sacks. He isn't an overwhelmingly dominant force, though. 11.5 sacks in a career year isn't a top level talent. And he only did the 11.5 once in four years. In the last two seasons, he had 6.5 and 7.5 respectively. The Giants gave him a 5 year, $85 million contract.
How does a player like Vernon get a deal like that? Well, to start, the legitimate game-changing stars seldom get to free agency because their teams lock them up. The reason for that is obvious.
Then in free agency, you end up with desperate general managers like Jerry Reese of the Giants. Reese is going to be fired if he doesn't improve his pass rush. Even if Vernon isn't worth $17 million a year, what does Reese care? The alternative is losing his job if he doesn't do anything. So you end up bidding against guys like Reese for talents like Vernon.
This isn't to say Vernon is a bad player, but he is being paid like one of the very best in the league. Let me ask you these questions, though. Aren't you scared of the Jets facing A.J. Green in Week 1? You might be because he's an elite, game-changing force. If you aren't it's because you have confidence the Jets have their own such force in Darrelle Revis to counter him. Looking ahead to the Seahawks game, don't you fear FitzGeno being baited by Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman? Weren't you nervous about J.J. Watt wrecking the game last year when the Jets took on the Texans?
The Jets played Vernon twice a year for four season. Can you ever once remember going into those games scared that Vernon was going to take over the game and carry the Dolphins to a win?
I doubt you ever thought that.
This isn't to bash Vernon, but it shows how difficult it is to spend money effectively. Yes, the Jets did it when they landed Brandon Marshall, but that trade sticks out for a reason. It isn't easy to do, even for really good general managers. The easiest way to have stars on your roster is to keep the ones you already have.
Even if you want to spread the money out, it isn't easy to spend. Vernon shows that good players get paid like superstars, but that also raises average players up to good player salaries and so forth.
It's kind of funny to me how fans view flexibility only in financial terms. If a team has a lot of cap room, it definitely has financial flexibility, but there are other types of flexibility.
Take the Wilkerson deal. It gives the Jets more flexibility in their dealings with Sheldon Richardson. Richardson has All Pro talent, but this is the second straight season he is going to start with a suspension. At this point, I doubt the Jets know for sure whether they will want to commit to him long-term. There are valid reasons for either case.
If Wilkerson was gone, it would be a lot tougher for the Jets to part with Richardson. With Wilkerson still around, they have more options since there will be a third talented lineman, Leonard Williams in the mix.
If Richardson thrives over the next two years, the Jets could still lock him up. They could trade Wilkerson. They could even figure out a way to keep both Wilkerson and Richardson. Remember, even if Williams turns into a star, he will not be making big money until 2020 because of his rookie contract.
Meanwhile if Richardson shows he would be a risky investment, it will be much less painful to move on with Wilkerson still part of the mix.
Finally a star stays
The Jets have let a number of star level players go through the years for financial reasons from Keyshawn Johnson to John Abraham to Darrelle Revis. It's nice to see the team actually lock up a homegrown star. Yes, I know. The three guys I mentioned were all traded for Draft picks the Jets used to get a successful player. I'm still happy the team is finally investing in keeping a top talent.