The popular opinion about the Jets’ approach to defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson’s impending free agency is that the team will use the franchise tag to ensure that their 2011 first-round pick doesn’t leave the team unless it is in a trade that leaves the Jets well compensated.
Using the tag on Wilkerson would leave the Jets with a cap hit over $15 million if Wilkerson winds up playing out the season under its auspices. Signing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is also on the agenda and the Jets don’t head into the offseason with voluminous cap space at their disposal, which could make it difficult to re-sign defensive tackle Damon Harrison as well.
On Wednesday, General Manager Mike Maccagnan said that no decisions have been made about how to proceed with Wilkerson or Harrison and didn’t rule out any possibility, including using the tag on Harrison, if it means keeping both on the roster.
“I know a lot of people have speculated, ‘Can we keep all of them?’ It’s not outside the realm of possibility but it would be a very big investment in that area,” Maccagnan said. “Everybody here from the other teams are all trying to guess what everybody else’s game plan is. … We like both Mo and Damon, and we’re going to figure out a way to ideally keep both of them.”
Any current investment in the defensive line will have to keep in mind a possible extension for Sheldon Richardson in the near future, something that would only add to the amount of money the Jets would commit to the position.
Harrison’s tag would cost less than Wilkerson’s, but there’s been no sign that a long-term deal with Wilkerson is a likely prospect before March 1. If that remains the case and the Jets do break out the tag as expected, the chances of losing Harrison will go up regardless of how much the Jets would like to keep the band together up front.