The Jets entered today with uncertainty surrounding two of their most important players: franchise defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and unsigned quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. A deal for one got done today, and that could facilitate a deal for the other.
Wilkerson signed a long-term deal just before the deadline for franchise players to sign, which means he will not play this season on the one-year, $15.7 million franchise tender. Although the full details of Wilkerson’s contract are not yet known, it will most likely lower his 2016 cap number below that $15.7 million figure.
And lowering Wilkerson’s 2016 cap hit comes gives the Jets more room to pay Fitzpatrick this season. Before Wilkerson’s deal got done, the Jets were slated to have just $2.9 million in cap space this season. Adjusting some other contracts was going to be necessary if they were going to get Fitzpatrick’s deal done, and now the Jets have adjusted Wilkerson’s deal, lowering what was scheduled to be the second-largest cap hit on the team, behind only the $17 million tied up in cornerback Darrelle Revis’s deal.
It remains unclear just how far apart the Jets and Fitzpatrick are, but signing Wilkerson is one step toward freeing up the cap space the Jets will need to meet Fitzpatrick somewhere in the middle and get their starting quarterback in camp.