FLORHAM PARK: Muhammad Wilkerson is still waiting.
Very, very patiently.
After the news broke on Thursday that the Buffalo Bills had awarded former first-round pick defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with a new six-year, $100 million contract extension, the Jets first-round pick in that draft, who has been awfully vocal about his desire for his own new deal, spoke to the media.
"Congrats to him," Wilkerson said. "I'm happy he got rewarded with his contract."
For the last several months, Wilkerson's agent and the Jets have been working on a new contract that will keep the 30th pick in the 2011 draft in green. To this point, no financial figure has been agreed on. Wilkerson is reported to be looking for near $14 million per season. The Jets aren't willing to pony up that kind of cash.
Throughout the entire negotiation process, there's been optimism from both Wilkerson's reps and the Jets that a deal would get done, but the dateline for that to happen has been constantly changing. First, it was before the NFL Draft, then before organized team activities, mini-camp and the preseason. With just three days remaining before the Jets kickoff the 2015 season against the Cleveland Browns, the two sides are running out of time.
Has that early optimism turned to pessimism?
"You'll have to talk to the people upstairs and my agent," Wilkerson said.
At 25, Wilkerson has already established himself into one of the game's best 3-4 defensive ends. He earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2013, has recorded 237 tackles and 24.5 career sacks. Two years ago, Wilkerson set a career-high with 10.5 sacks. Last year, while hampered by a turf toe injury, Wilkerson finished with 55 tackles, 5.5 sacks a forced fumble in 13 games.
Playing on the final year of his rookie deal, Wilkerson will make just under $7 million this year. If no deal is reached before next season, and the Jets don't want Wilkerson to hit the open market, the team could place the franchise tag on him. If that were to happen, Wilkerson would play 2016 on a one-year deal worth the average salary of the top five highest paid at his position.
For now though, Wilkerson isn't worried about that. In fact, he isn't even thinking about it. If a new deal isn't reached by Sunday, he'll play out his rookie contract and turn his complete focus to the football field where he says he believes the Jets defense has a chance to be the league's best.
"We can be as good as we want. We can be great," Wilkerson said. "We can be the No. 1 defense in the league. We just need to come in each and every week and prove it, and do our jobs.
"Im excited to get the regular season going. Myself, my teammates, were ready to get going."