Drafting Darrelle Revis was the crowning achievement of Mike Tannebaum’s tenure as general manager of the New York Jets, as Revis blossomed into the best corner in the NFL shortly after being drafted with the 14th pick in the 2008 draft. After his third season, Revis famously held out from training camp while seeking a new contract. He eventually got a 4-year, $32 million deal that was referred to as a “Band-Aid contract”, meaning a bigger extension would be coming soon. However, all negotiations on that front failed, and Revis was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past offseason.
The Jets are now facing a similar situation with a new defensive star, third year defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. Wilkerson has become one of the best 3-4 ends in the NFL, and he is arguably the single biggest Pro Bowl snub this season. The Jets took Wilkerson with the 30th pick in the 2011 draft, and his rookie contract expires after next season. The Jets need to get a long term deal done with Wilkerson, and they cannot afford to make the same mistakes they did with Revis.
John Idzik is the man who must face this challenge, and how he handles it could define his tenure as Jets’ GM. Wilkerson is just 24 years old, and he is just scratching the surface of his exceptional abilities. He recorded 64 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 1 interception this year, and he was the leading force behind the Jets’ 3rd ranked run defense. He is by far and away the Jets’ best and most valuable player, and there is no doubt that his agent, Chad Wiestling, will see that he is paid like it.
The parameters for such an extension are not entirely clear, and it would not be surprising if both the Jets and Wilkerson are content to wait and allow the Houston Texans and J.J. Watt to set the market for extensions for outstanding young 3-4 ends. Wilkerson would slot in just below Watt on the pay scale, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a 5 year contract worth about $10-$12 million annually. I don’t believe the Jets have any interest in handing out a Charles Johnson type deal (6-years, $72 million), but the contracts of Calais Campbell (5-years, $55 million) and Chris Long (4-years, $48 million) could be a good blueprint.
No matter what the final financial details turn out to be, the Jets cannot lose another elite defensive player over a contract issue. The loss of Revis is a black mark on the franchise, and they noticeably missed his presence this season. If the Jets were to fail to get a deal done with Wilkerson, it would damage their credibility around the league and with their fans. This situation will loom large over the franchise until it is resolved, and the Jets need to ensure that Wilkerson remains in New York for a long time. This will be one of the most important negotiations of Idzik’s career, and it is vital for the Jets that he meet with success.