Muhammad Wilkerson Should Be the NFL Free Agent Every Team Is After

Michael WhitlowFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2016

Muhammad Wilkerson remains one of the NFL's most underrated talents on the defensive line.
Muhammad Wilkerson remains one of the NFL's most underrated talents on the defensive line.Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

There's going to be some doubt over whether or not Muhammad Wilkerson will be able to start the 2015 season.

There shouldn't be any doubt that he's a complete and utter game-wrecker, and should be the free agent your team (and the 31 other teams in the NFL) is looking at during the free-agency period.

However, it would be difficult (and a bit of a risk) to pursue a star like Wilkerson in his current situation.

How so? Well, there's no guarantee that Wilkerson will be ready for Week 1 of the 2016 season.

The 2016 season will likely start on Sept. 11, which means it will be just over eight months since Wilkerson suffered the injury.

But, Wilkerson's recent injury update from his doctors should provide an encouraging sign toward his progress of starting the season:

In the New York Jets' Week 17 loss to the Buffalo Bills that led to them missing the postseason, Wilkerson fractured his right fibula. The injury couldn't have happened at a worse time for Wilkerson and the Jets.

Both sides couldn't come to an agreement on a new contract and with the injury (and depth on the defensive line), Wilkerson's days in New York could be done.

“Just can’t keep everybody on this defensive line,” Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson said after the Week 17 loss, via Seth Walder of the New York Daily News. “Just not realistic. Guys outplayed their contracts.”

Wilkerson was a Rex Ryan prodigy and was taken in the first round of the 2011 draft by Ryan and the Jets. Since entering the league, Wilkerson has been superb, racking up 36.5 sacks in his career.

In 2015, only five players in the NFL had more sacks than Wilkerson's 12.

Simply put, Wilkerson is a beast.

For those who didn't fully grasp this video, Wilkerson shoved—no, bullied—Indianapolis Colts center Todd Herremans into Andrew Luck on a seven-step drop by Luck.

"There [are] not a lot of guys that are made like him [Wilkerson]," LaDainian Tomlinson said during a segment on the NFL Network on the top free agents. "He can play inside and outside [on that defensive line]."

Wilkerson played 940 total snaps before the injury in Week 17. He's listed as a defensive end on the Jets depth chart, but as you saw above, Wilkerson has no issue playing the inside and beating interior linemen like a drum.

What also makes Wilkerson such a prized possession to have is his pure athleticism. This play against Tyrod Taylor and the Buffalo Bills from Wilkerson's highlight package on the NFL Network stood out.

(Slight reminder before you watch this: Wilkerson is 6'4", 315 pounds and is chasing down a really good athlete in Taylor.)

How does a man that big move that well? It doesn't add up.

Wilkerson is a complete player at his position. There isn't one thing he doesn't do well. Whether it's against the run or pinning his ears back and heading for the quarterback, he's a complete lineman and a ridiculous athlete.

Let's slow that play down for a second.

In a passing situation late in a game, linemen can focus on bringing down the QB. But, what Wilkerson does here just isn't fair.
In a passing situation late in a game, linemen can focus on bringing down the QB. But, what Wilkerson does here just isn't fair.Photo Credit: NFL/CBS via

Wilkerson's swat move on Brown pretty much ended this one-on-one bout quickly. Once Wilkerson knocked Brown off balance and got his opening, this play was already over.

Wilkerson's speed and power is too much for Colin Brown to keep up with.
Wilkerson's speed and power is too much for Colin Brown to keep up with.Photo Credit: NFL/CBS via

If Wilkerson gets an open track like he created with the swat move, there is no doubt that a sack of EJ Manuel is happening. He's big and frightfully strong, but it's his speed that also helps separate him from the other tiers of defensive linemen in the NFL.


Prediction for Wilkerson in 2016

Outside of Von Miller and Josh Norman, there doesn't appear to be a better free agent in the NFL than Wilkerson. When he's healthy, he's arguably the most versatile lineman in the league today and has somehow remained off many people's radars since entering the league five years ago.

The franchise tag is in play for Wilkerson and the Jets before the March 1 deadline, while rumors have circulated about New York's other team having interest in Wilkerson's services. The New York Giants have a defensive lineman free-agency issue of their own, as Jason Pierre-Paul is slated to be a free agent.

Along with the Jets and Giants, the Oakland Raiders could also express some interest in Wilkerson. With Justin Tuck's retirement and Khalil Mack's breakout season in just his second year, Wilkerson would be a great addition for Oakland.

In the end, New York would have to spend $15.5 million to tag Wilkerson and without their quarterback situation in flux, there's no telling what the Jets are looking to fix this offseason.

But, Wilkerson is the leader of the league's best defensive line.

He's a former All-Pro (2013), a Pro Bowler this season before the injury and he's only 26 years old. There's no way the Jets can just let him walk to someone like their in-city rivals, even off a lower leg fracture and a deep defensive line class in this year's draft.

Wilkerson is tagged by the New York Jets, then both sides work on a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline.