As the clock keeps ticking closer to Friday’s Franchise tender deadline at 4pm, the Jets appear to be locked in a game of chicken with Pro Bowl Defensive End Muhammad Wilkerson with neither side looking to cede. For Wilkerson, who was given the Franchise tag by he Jets in March, he is among a group of talented players around the league who have until that deadline on Friday to sign a long term contract extension or wait until after the 2016 season. It is widely believed, and reported (Adam Schefter from ESPN) that Wilkerson and the Jets will not reach an agreement by the deadline Friday.
This high stakes game of chicken looks to carry on well into training camp for both the Jets and Wilkerson. With Wilkerson having no incentive to show up to training camp, until the day he signs the franchise tender, the Jets could be without their Pro Bowl D-Lineman up until week 1 against the Bengals. The prospect of being without Wilkerson past 2016 is an all too real possibility. So lets look at who The Jets would turn to, to replace Wilkerson if they let him walk after the 2016 season.
The first and most obvious choice is former All-Pro Defensive End Sheldon Richardson. Currently facing a 1-game suspension stemming from a July 2015 arrest under the league’s Personal Conduct policy, Richardson will be unavailable until Week 2 at the Bills on Thursday night. 2015 was an up and down season for Richardson after missing the first 4 games of the 2015 season due to suspension from violating the substance abuse policy. Richardson finished the season with 35 tackles and 5 sacks starting every game after his 4-game suspension. As Richardson looks to move on from past legal issues, he appears primed for a big season in 2016 for Gang Green. Heading into the 4th year of a 5-year rookie contract with eyes on landing a contract extension prior to his fifth-year player option in 2017. With positionally flexibility along the defensive line, look for Richardson to take over that left defensive end spot if the Jets let Wilkerson walk after the 2016 season.
The other option is 2015 1st Round Pick, Leonard Williams who enters his second year of his rookie contract and appeared to get better for Todd Bowles defense as the season went on. With another offseason training under coach Bowles and this complicated defense and a starter’s role with this defense during training camp and the preseason look for Williams to potentially take the next step forward in 2016. Drafted sixth overall by GM Mike Maccagnan and Bowles in 2015, it is Williams and not Richardson actually who has the measurable’s to matchup best with Wilkerson. Listed at 6’5” 302, with 4.95 speed off of the edge to attack the Quarterback. A big part in the Jets willingness to pay Wilkerson in the offseason will have as much to do with Williams’ play in 2016 as it does with Wilkerson’s.
The other two options are a little more off of the beaten path, but 2016 will go along way in dictating whether they are realistic options for Coach Bowles defense to replace Wilkerson.
The first is free agent signing of Defensive End Jarvis Jenkins from the Chicago Bears. Jenkins signing a 2-year $6million deal was one of the less heralded moves of the offseason for the Jets, but heading into his sixth season in the league, Jenkins is a man fit for the 3-4 defensive end position. A signing like this is a much for depth if anything else, but with two seasons to prove his value, Jenkins could see more snaps at the defensive end position if any injuries arise for the team. Listed directly behind Wilkerson on the depth chart at Left Defensive End he is coming off the best season of his career with 4 sacks, he may see potential starts in the preseason while Wilkerson is gone. Jenkins may not provide the same level of play, but with the rise of potential outside rushers from the 2016 draft and increased leadership roles given to Williams and Richardson, look for Jenkins to relish the role as an experienced veteran on this defensive line to make up for the potential loss for Wilkerson.
The second is a bit more out there, and that is none other than free agent Freddie Bishop. Much smaller than the other options, Bishop has a lot to prove in 2016. Coming over from the Calgary Stampede in the CFL where he recorded 10.5 sacks in 2015, Bishop’s speed and not size could translate over to the NFL once he learns the league in 2016. Signed to a 2-year 995,000 contract by Maccagnan and company in May, the team is hoping they could strike gold by finding such a hidden talent in Bishop. Bishop was signed as an Undrafted free agent out of Western Michigan by the Detroit Lions in 2013, but did not make the team out of training camp. In a 3-4 defense, Bishop will see most of his time at Oustide Linebacker and edge rusher, but he potentially could make up for the loss of Wilkerson after the 2016 season, though Bishop is least likely of all the options.