Bowles: Wilkerson's frustration not a distraction to Jets
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. >> Muhammad Wilkerson's frustration is no distraction to the New York Jets.
The Pro Bowl defensive end, speaking on his contract situation for the first time this offseason, told the New York Post for a story published Thursday that it's "shocking" that the Jets haven't yet signed him to a new deal. Wilkerson received the franchise tag, but has yet to sign his tender, which is worth $15.7 million.
He told the newspaper he believes he has earned a big payday from the Jets and it "just shows they don't want me." That has some wondering if a discontented Wilkerson could have a negative effect on the locker room.
"You can ask any player in the league and they're going to have the 'underpaid' answer," coach Todd Bowles said after the Jets' final minicamp practice. "It's not a distraction. It's just part of the business. People get frustrated. People vent out. It's no different than your kids. You get frustrated, you vent out and you move on."
Wilkerson's situation, Bowles said, is no different, although the coach didn't want to go into detail about the team's official stance on the defensive end.
"I'll talk to them and Mo about it," Bowles said. "I'm not going to talk to everybody else about it. It's something that I've always done."
Wilkerson has been seeking a new deal for two years, spanning two front-office regimes, first with John Idzik as general manager and now with Mike Maccagnan. The Jets have said they'd like to keep the player they drafted in the first round out of Temple in 2011.
But so far, Wilkerson has not been able to cash in.
"It's shocking," Wilkerson told the Post. "It's frustrating because I feel like I've earned it and I deserve it. It would be different if I was just a mediocre player. I feel like each and every week I'm dominating and it's showing. The stats speak for themselves. Basically, what more do I need to do?"
Wilkerson had a career-high 12 sacks last season and has 36 1/2 in his five years. The big defensive end isn't happy with how the team has handled his contract situation. The Jets are also dealing with a well-publicized contract stalemate with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who remains a free agent.
"Do I feel that they want me back? As of right now, no," Wilkerson told the newspaper. "I don't feel like they want me. I'm a talented guy. Everybody knows that. I feel like they're going to get the best they can out of me and just let me go. That's how I feel. Do I like that feeling? No. I'm a New Jersey guy, born and raised, and would love to raise my family here."
Wilkerson, from Elizabeth, New Jersey, was at the facility during minicamp, but didn't practice as he continues to rehabilitate from a broken right leg suffered in the season finale at Buffalo. Because he hasn't signed his franchise tender, he's technically not on the roster so he couldn't be penalized for not participating in the mandatory practices anyway.
The two sides must come to an agreement on a long-term deal by July 15 or Wilkerson will have to play this season under the amount of the tag. He could, however, choose to hold out of training camp — a scenario he hasn't decided on.
"No, it doesn't bother me," Bowles said of Wilkerson's comments. "I was 20-something once, too, and I said a lot of things that I said or didn't want to say. When you're younger, you say things. But he said things he means, so he obviously meant them."
Wilkerson was in the locker room during media availability Thursday, but did not speak to reporters other than to say hello. He has been in touch regularly with his teammates, particularly with good friend Sheldon Richardson, who tries to not discuss business with Wilkerson.
"That's between Mo and the front office," Richardson said. "That stuff is going to shake itself out. If it happens, it happens. Regardless, he's going to get a deal (somewhere). If he gets his deal, I'm going to get a deal, but they can't pay all of us and we know that. That's my brother, though, so the best thing I do is just don't talk about it. We talk about everything else outside of football."
The market is making things even tougher for the negotiations. Earlier this week, defensive lineman Fletcher Cox signed a six-year, $103 million extension with Philadelphia. Richardson is also looking at the situation with some interest because he could be in for a big payday himself after the 2017 season.
"I'm happy for guys like Fletcher Cox, who are getting big deals and setting the market high for defensive lineman," Richardson said. "That's something you've got to take heed of and it makes you go harder, that type of deal. When my situation comes around, it's just do what Mo's doing: Listen to his agent and if he wants to go with it, you go with it. That's why you pay your agent."
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