Muhammad Wilkerson rejoins Jets for mandatory minicamp

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Tuesday, June 9, 2015

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. --New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson rejoined the team Tuesday for the start of a mandatory minicamp, admitting that he is "frustrated" with his contract situation but "very confident" a new deal can be reached.

Wilkerson, seeking a long-term contract extension, skipped the voluntary portion of the Jets' offseason program. Talks are moving slowly, but he expressed a hint of optimism.

"All I know is, I heard the talks will start [progressing] ... that's all I know from my agent," he said.

Speaking to reporters before the first practice, Wilkerson said he wasn't sure how much he'd be able to participate because of a lingering turf-toe injury from last season that's "still bothering me a little bit."

Curiously, Wilkerson said last Friday night at a charity event that his toe, which caused him to miss three games, was "good." Disgruntled players have been known to sit out drills as a form of protest and/or to avoid potential injury.

As it turned out, Wilkerson didn't sit out any drills, although his reps were monitored. Coach Todd Bowles said he didn't see any lingering effects from the old injury.

"It's great to see him," Bowles said. "He weighed in well and he looked good. ... Mo is a pro. This isn't street ball coming in. He understands what his job is and he understands what he has to do. He's ready to go."

Bowles joked that Wilkerson has "special privileges" because they share an alma mater (Temple) and the same hometown (Elizabeth, New Jersey).

Because the minicamp is mandatory, Wilkerson would have been subject to $72,000 in fines if he was a no-show for the three-day event, according to the collective bargaining agreement.

Wilkerson said as recently as last Friday that he wasn't sure if he was going to attend the minicamp, although he informed teammates a week ago that he'd show up, sources said.

"Mo is and has always been a team-first player, and is willing to put the team ahead of his own contractual status," his agent, Chad Wiestling, said in a statement. "Mo loves being a member of the Jets and would prefer to finish his career in New York."

Wilkerson gave a terse response when asked if he'd consider a training camp holdout.

"I'm not going to answer that question," he said.

Later, Wilkerson seemed to downplay the possibility of a holdout, saying, "If I have to play [the season] under my contract, so be it."

Entering the final year of his contract, Wilkerson is due to make $6.97 million, the amount of his fifth-year option. The Jets have said they'd like to re-sign him, but they don't appear to be in a rush, especially after drafting defensive end Leonard Williams with the sixth overall pick in May.

Three first-round defensive linemen from Wilkerson's draft class (2011) already have received long-term extensions.Corey Liugetof the San Diego Chargers is on the verge of becoming the fourth.

"Frustrated, yeah," Wilkerson said of his own situation. "I thought a deal would be made, but at the end of the day, it's a business. These things take time."

Wilkerson said he's happy for his peers, adding, "It's good to see their teams are taking care of them" -- an obvious message to the Jets' front office.

A four-year starter, Wilkerson has played in 61 of 64 games, with 24 career sacks. He has no Pro Bowl appearances, but he was generally regarded as the Jets' best player over the past two seasons.

"He's very important to our defense," cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "He's a special player. He's going to be a big part of our success this year on defense."

The Jets have huge expectations for the defense, which practiced together for the first time Tuesday. The line included Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and rookieLeonard Williams, and the rebuilt secondary is led by cornerbacks Revis and Antonio Cromartie.

During Tuesday's walk-through, Cromartie and safetyMarcus Gilchristgot into a conversation about the potential on defense.

"We stood back and looked at the defense, like, 'Man, this defense is crazy -- all the talent that's out there, all the first-round picks on the front line,'" Cromartie said. "We have guys that can really play this game. And the way Todd calls this defense, it's going to be fun."