According to Jason La Canfora of cbssports.com Wilkerson is skipping the voluntary workouts because he wants a contract extension. There’s no doubt that because of the fact that Wilkerson is one of the Jets best players, and new head coach Todd Bowles has never coached Wilkerson, that this is news but the significance of this news is very much open to debate.
You could choose to make this a big deal, just as every other player who seeks an extension is made into a big deal, and question whether this new regime in control of the Jets is committed to keeping Wilkerson here long-term or you could take a measured approach and realize the vast majority of these disputes eventually get worked out before they become a problem.
The ones that don’t tend to workout are usually because the player either wants to move on or he perceives himself to be much more valuable than the market says he is. Neither is the case with Wilkerson, he wants to be here and he’s every bit as good as he thinks he is. Sure his agents will likely want to use J.J. Watt’s contract as a starting point in negotiations, and he is not J.J. Watt level of good, but that will just be a starting point in a standard negotiation.
Wilkerson is entering the fifth-year of his rookie deal, due to make $6.969 million this year and while you could argue his absence from the voluntary workout as significant because he was always happy to play the good soldier in the past it would make more sense to look at this as the player simply flexing the tiny bit of leverage he has.
Wilkerson and his agent, rightfully so, will have looked at how the Jets have spent enough money to fund a decent sized army this offseason and wonder why he hasn’t been a higher priority. But it’s not that simple because new GM Mike Maccagnan took over a team in need of a drastic overhaul with an owner who wants to start winning immediately. If the Jets were already a playoff team then extending Wilkerson would have been priority number one but considering the state of the roster Maccagnan needed to focus on upgrades first.
Now it’s just down to the draft and extending Wilkerson and the smart money is still on an extension getting done before the season starts.
The Jets still hold the lion’s share of the leverage, not only can they choose to not extend him before this season they could also place the franchise tag on him next year. That would of course give Wilkerson a big bump in salary next year but he still wouldn’t have a long-term contract in place. The only sliver of leverage Wilkerson has is to not attend offseason workouts and really he and his agent would be foolish not to use that leverage to his advantage, especially now since these workouts are only voluntary and he can’t be fined for skipping them.
If the mandatory workouts, OTA’s and training camp starts and Wilkerson still is not showing up then his absence becomes much more significant. Under the new CBA player’s are fined much more heavily for missing mandatory offseason activities which tends to make player’s holding out much more counter productive but as long as the holdout doesn’t last very long teams usually end up offsetting those fines in the new contract.
All of this is just standard operating procedure with player’s of Wilkerson’s caliber. There’s no real reason to think it’s anything more than that. No one should blame Wilkerson for using the little leverage he has and no one should blame Maccagnan, yet, for not paying him immediately. This is just how contract negotiations are handled for elite, non-quarterbacks, in this league.