FLORHAM PARK, NJ - "In a perfect world, we'd keep everybody on the roster," Mike Maccagnan said today. "But we'll see how that unfolds."
That was Maccagnan's response to multiple questions about the team's interest in bringing back Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison. Many people have been assuming at least one of those two players, if not both, have played their last game for the Jets but keeping them both wouldn't be as crazy as many people think.
"Hypothetically, or philosophically, it's not impossible," Maccagnan said about both players returning. The prevailing thought is the Jets can't bring them both back because they can't afford to have that much money invested in the defensive line but the reality is they would be the only two on the line who have big money contracts as Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams are both on their rookie contracts.
Richardson will be going into his fourth-year next season and the Jets will certainly pick up his fifth-year option before the deadline, which means they will be able to avoid giving him a big contract until after the 2017 season. Williams has three years left on his rookie deal, plus an extra year if he keeps playing well and they eventually pick up his fifth-year option, which means the Jets can avoid paying him until after the 2019 season.
So, the Jets have options and a lot of flexibility. They could sign both Wilkerson and Harrison and hold off on a decision on Richardson for two more years or they could eventually look into trading Richardson. Maybe they could even give Wilkerson and Harrison contracts that are structured so they could move on after two or three years if they decide they'd rather keep Richardson. Either way by the time they have to pay Williams, Wilkerson's and Harrison's contracts will be running out. Of course it's unlikely both return but it's not as crazy or impossible as many people seem to think it is.
But as Maccagnan was peppered repeatedly with questions about Wilkerson and Harrison, and between the generic GM speak of "in a perfect world we'd bring everyone back," Maccagnan actually gave some useful quotes about, specifically, Wilkerson.
Maccagnan said the timetable for Wilkerson's rehab process, from the broken leg suffered in Buffalo, is about six months, which would have him ready in time for training camp, and he "doesn't believe" the injury will impact their evaluation/decision on Wilkerson. Of course it could potentially impact other teams decision/desire to offer Wilkerson big money if he is still rehabbing as all the big money is being doled out in the early stages of free agency and he can't even workout for a team.
"It's about a six-month rehab process. It's a significant injury and there always can be setbacks that you can't anticipate," Maccagnan said. "But that's kind of the timeframe."
This could work out in the Jets favor to bring Wilkerson's number down to a level they are more comfortable with, but even if that's not the case there is always another option, the franchise tag.
"Potentially, yeah," Maccagnan said about the possibility of using the tags on Wilkerson. "I mean, it's not a big secret or anything."
The Jets have between Feburary 16 and March 1 to decide if they want to place the tag on Wilkerson, which would cost them around $16 million for the 2016 season (the tag really isn't an option for Harrison though because it would cost them around $14 million for the year and as good as Harrison is he's nowhere near close to being worth $14 million). If they decide they aren't happy with the state of negotiations but aren't quite ready to lose him they could slap the tag on him and hope to continue to work towards a long-term deal, or they could slap him with the tag then start shopping him on the trade market.
Maccagnan was very careful to avoid saying anything of substance, like all GMs do, because he doesn't want to reveal his plan to the rest of the NFL or negotiate through the media, and he's absolutely right that the franchise tag being an option isn't a secret, but just the fact that he would even say that let's you know that it's an option they are certainly going to consider.
If the Jets don't end up bringing Wilkerson back they have to figure out a way to trade him. Maccagnan's mantra is all about return on investment and even though he didn't personally invest in Wilkerson the Jets did and you can't let a player of his caliber walk and get nothing in return. Does it happen occasionally? Of course but not to the organizations that have achieved sustainable success.
Placing the tag on Wilkerson would give the Jets the leverage to control the outcome to a more favorable one from their perspective. From there they can decide if they want to pay him for the year, workout a long-term deal, or simply trade him for some draft picks which they could use to address other needs.
"The simple answer is we would very much like to have Muhammad back in the organization," Maccagnan said. "How we manage to do that, time will tell."
Chris Nimbley is the Editor-in-Chief of JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@cnimbley), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)