A Pro Bowl, 6-4, 315-pound defensive lineman with 36.5 sacks and two double-digit-sack seasons in his first five years is about to hit the open market at 28 years old? What’s the catch here?
Somewhere along the line, Muhammad Wilkerson stopped caring about being great and committing to the New York Jets‘ program. He became a locker-room cancer in New York. The talent of the hulking defensive lineman is undeniable, but he has never hesitated to speak his mind, and his constant antics have finally worn thin with the Jets, who seem poised to cut him after Wilkerson was inactive for the final three games of the season due to violations of team rules.
Of course, in a new environment, Wilkerson is still young and talented enough to be a legitimate reclamation project; it’s just a matter of what a team will pay him and how strong the locker room is. The Jets didn’t have a bunch of veteran leaders on their team and especially their defense, and it wasn’t the proper environment to keep Wilkerson’s antics at bay and produce more maturity from the seven-year pro.
Despite playing in a 3-4 most of his time in New York, I’m a big believer that Wilkerson is a fit in any scheme, and can play 3-technique in a four-man front and be very good at it. I’m less convinced that he isn’t solely about himself at this point in his NFL journey; his play and production the past two seasons have fallen off a cliff.
Here are three teams that could use Wilkerson’s services and might have the right environment to bring him into the fold.
1. New England Patriots
We’ve seen the Patriots do this before: Acquire talented castoffs while their price tag is low and turn them into suitable players once again. There isn’t a huge need in New England for interior defensive line play, but pass rush packages with Trey Flowers and Wilkerson next to each other inside are a lot better than Malcom Brown and Alan Branch.
New England must improve its pass rush next season; Wilkerson would give the Pats an athletic upgrade over their current defensive linemen that they desperately need. The Patriots have prioritized run defense for years with that group, but Wilkerson would provide the full package, provided they can get him back to the player he once was.
2. Houston Texans
The Texans are a wild card in this, but I think Wilkerson could be a great fit here. With J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, the Texans have three diligent workers on their defensive front seven who would also control the locker room. Imagine rush packages with Clowney and Wilkerson inside and Watt and Mercilus off the edge!
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has a history of getting the most out of his players, and Wilkerson would be joining a talented group where he wouldn’t have to play every down, keeping him fresher and healthier. It might be the environment he needs to get back on track.
3. Minnesota Vikings
With Tom Johnson coming off a career year and in line to get paid, the Vikings have a hole at 3 technique that needs to be filled this offseason. Jaleel Johnson will contribute, but he is less of a pass rush presence and more of a run stuffer, which means the Vikings will be in the market for a long and late downs inside option if they can’t retain Tom Johnson.
Wilkerson could be that and more if the Vikings can get him right, and what better spot than one of the strongest organizations in the NFL with a masterful head coach who will know exactly how to use him. Mike Zimmer is terrific to play for — he instills strong discipline in his players, and Wilkerson won’t be kept for a minute if he doesn’t stay committed to the program. It could be the best possible fit for him personally and professionally.