Muhammad Wilkerson vents on contract impasse with Jets

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Thursday, June 16, 2016

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Locked in a contract stalemate for two years, Pro Bowl defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has vented his frustration, saying he feels unwanted by the New York Jets.

"Do I feel that they want me back? As of right now, no. I don't feel like they want me," Wilkerson told the New York Post on Wednesday. "I'm a talented guy. Everybody knows that. I feel like they're going to get the best they can out of me and just let me go. That's how I feel. Do I like that feeling? No. I'm a New Jersey guy, born and raised and would love to raise my family here."

Wilkerson's comments came two days after ESPN reported that he's so upset that he might not report to training camp on July 27. He confirmed to the Post that he's undecided on whether to report.

Wilkerson has the franchise tag, meaning the two sides have until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement. That is highly unlikely. Failing that, he would play the 2016 season for his franchise tender, which is $15.7 million.

"It's shocking. It's frustrating," Wilkerson, who notched a career-high 12 sacks in 2015, told the newspaper. "Because I feel like I've earned [a new contract] and I deserve it. It would be different if I was just a mediocre player. I feel like each and every week I'm dominating and it's showing. The stats speak for themselves. Basically, what more do I need to do? You know what I mean?"

Coach Todd Bowles declined to comment on the impasse, except to say he has no problem with Wilkerson speaking his mind.

"No, it doesn't bother me," Bowles said. "I was 20-something once, too, and I said a lot of things that I said or didn't want to say. When you're younger, you say things. But he said things he means, so he obviously meant them."

General manager Mike Maccagnan will have no comment on Wilkerson's remarks, the team said.

Jets teammate Brandon Marshall tweeted Thursday that the NFL should abandon the franchise tag.

Publicly, the Jets have stated their desire to keep Wilkerson, 26, arguably their top defensive player, but they were open to trading him before the past two drafts, sources said.

"That just shows they don't want me," Wilkerson said to the Post. "They are willing to let me walk or whatever the case may be."

Wilkerson wouldn't go so far as to demand a trade or guarantee a no-show at training camp. He skipped the mandatory minicamp, which concludes Thursday. Until he signs the franchise tender, he can't be fined for not attending mandatory team events because he's technically not under contract.

Oddly, Wilkerson shows up every morning to the team facility to rehabilitate his surgically repaired leg, which was fractured in the final game of the season.If he reports to training camp, he probably won't be able to practice immediately, Bowles said.

If Wilkerson is a no-show and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick remains unsigned, it'll be a controversy-laden training camp. Bowles claimed Wilkerson's contract situation won't be a distraction.

"You can ask any player in the league and they'll tell you they're underpaid," Bowles said. "It's not a distraction. It's just part of the business. People get frustrated. People vent out. It's no different than your kids. You get frustrated, you vent and you move on."

Wilkerson, who grew up in Linden, New Jersey, said he wants to finish his career with the Jets. But that will be difficult because of the soaring market for defensive linemen. Fletcher Coxsigned acontract extension with the Philadelphia Eaglesthat will make it harder for the Jets to re-sign Wilkerson.

Cox received a six-year, $103 million deal, including a reported $63 million in guarantees this week. Wilkerson is seeking a bigger contract than Cox, sources said.

The Jets are reluctant to give Wilkerson a long-term extension because they have a considerable amount of resources invested in the defensive line. Sheldon Richardson's contract will expire after the 2017 season, and he likely will be seeking a new deal after the season. Leonard Williams was drafted sixth overall in 2015.

The team hasn't ruled out the possibility of using the franchise tag again next year on Wilkerson. That would be $18.8 million.

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