Despite their quest to find Tom Brady’s successor at quarterback, the Patriots arguably have a more pressing need to improve the front-seven this offseason. It’s simple … Tom Brady is likely still going to be elite in 2018. If the Patriots can’t improve the defense up front, they could continue to get gashed like they did in Super Bowl LII.
Could Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson represent an immediate improvement?
Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv puts Wilkerson at the top of his list of the Jets players who are most in danger of being cut before March 16, which is the third day of the league year. Leaving him on the roster past that date would trigger a fully guaranteed $16.75 million salary in 2018, so the Jets will almost certainly cut bait.
The reasons for that aren’t exactly related to Wilkerson’s performance on the field. Although he’s dipped in the past two seasons, there’s little doubt that he still has the talent to be a force when he’s fully committed.
The problem with Wilkerson is that last part.
Wilkerson’s biggest issue since signing a five-year, $86 million extension with the Jets in 2016 has been chronic tardiness. He got benched twice at the end of the 2017 season for repeatedly arriving late to team meetings. On the field, he amassed just 8 sacks in 28 games. And apparently, he still felt like he earned his contract.
it’s well-known in New England how seriously Bill Belichick takes punctuality. He wouldn’t put up with any player who acts like Wilkerson does off the field. So perhaps the Patriots will stay far away from him this offseason.
But this is not a normal offseason. And especially if the 2018 season turns out to be Belichick’s last in New England, maybe he’s more willing to take a chance on a player with Wilkerson’s talent.
Should They Take A Chance?
In the final season before signing his extension, Wilkerson amassed 12 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 7 passes defensed in 16 games. He was named a second team All-Pro that season. He’s still just 28 years old. So it’s not far-fetched to believe that Wilkerson can still be an extremely disruptive player if he’s in the right program and the right system.
If any organization could set Wilkerson straight, if only for one season, it’s the Patriots. And at the same time, Belichick likely wouldn’t feel the need to be patient with Wilkerson if he’s still up to his usual antics in Foxboro. And he probably won’t get more than a team-friendly one-year deal anywhere, anyway. So maybe there’s an opportunity for the Pats to get the most out of an undeniably talented player for an area of great importance.
Now Hiring: Defense
The Patriots are absolutely going to need to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks next season. They’ll need to be more disruptive up front in general. Their secondary play won’t matter if they’re giving passers several seconds to find open targets on most passing plays. Trey Flowers can’t do it by himself, and promising young players like Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers can’t necessarily be counted on to reach Flowers’ level as soon as 2018.
Wilkerson could. The guy obviously has issues with his commitment to working hard enough to be the player he can be. But he will also have a chance to earn another lucrative contract with a big year on his next team – after the Patriots. It would be a win-win if New England can get Wilkerson on track for a season and he can help them get that sixth Super Bowl. It would be in Wilkerson’s best interests to actually go to team meetings on time next season, let alone play his best football.
The Jets may be taking money out of Wilkerson’s pocket this offseason, but they’re also giving him a chance at redemption. The Patriots could present his best opportunity for that – and he could be one of the team’s best chances to add immediate, high-end defensive talent.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.