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What does the Muhammad Wilkerson contract mean for the future of the New York Jets

Muhammad Wilkerson got his long-term deal, but what does it mean for both the immediate and years down the road future of the Jets roster?

It's easy to admit you were wrong when everyone else was also wrong and we were all wrong on this Muhammad Wilkerson contract. Not a single reporter, myself included, expected a deal would be made and most, if not all, fans has resigned themselves to the "fact" that the 2016 season would be Wilkerson's last with the Jets. As it turns out this season definitely won't be Wilkerson's last with the Jets, but now it opens up some new questions to wonder about?

What does Wilkerson's contract mean for the future? Does it mean anything for the immediate future involving Ryan Fitzpatrick? What about the still a couple of years down the line future of Sheldon Richardson? Does this mean the Jets will be looking to trade him next offseason? 

Let's start with the immediate future, does this signing tell us anything about whether the Jets intend to re-sign Fitzpatrick? The short answer is no. Look none of us saw a long-term deal for Wilkerson so it would be foolish to try and predict Mike Maccagnan's next move with any certainty, but the Jets did free up more money that could go to paying Fitzpatrick if that's what the decide to do.

Wilkerson's deal is for five year, $85 million with $54 million guaranteed over three years and $37 million fully guaranteed through the first two years. But the key number for Fitzpatrick is the $10 million cap hit Wilkerson will cost the Jets this season. Wilkerson would've cost $15.7 million against the cap if he played under the franchise tag, so this long-term deal frees up an extra $5.7 million in cap space. The Jets had $3.4 million in cap space before the Wilkerson deal, now they have $9.1 million to work with. Again this doesn't mean the Jets are definitely going to re-sign Fitzpatrick and it certainly doesn't mean they are now going to up their offer to him, though it could mean that.

That $9.1 million in cap space is nice, but it can't all go to Fitzpatrick. The Jets would still need to leave room to protect themselves and make some signings once training camp cuts start happening or incase they need to make a move to cover themselves because of an injury. But if they are still intent on bringing Fitzpatrick back the extra $5.7 million will make it a lot easier for Maccagnan to create that room by restructuring some current contracts without losing too much future flexibility. 

So the long answer is the Wilkerson deal makes it far more likely/easier for the Jets to re-sign Fitzpatrick but it could also be simply about freeing up more space for the flexibility to make moves once training camp cuts start happening, like say maybe look to upgrade the offensive line. But if I had to guess, and I don't but it's the middle of July and I'm bored without football so I will, I'm going to go ahead and say Fitzpatrick will re-sign before the first training camp practice.

Now as for what this deal means for Richardson, I've seen a lot of people saying this mean they'll look to move Richardson next offseason but I don't think that's a safe assumption to make. In fact this is a good time for me to point out that I wasn't always wrong about Wilkerson getting a long-term deal. During the season last year I was arguing the Jets could easily re-sign Wilkerson and keep him with Richardson and Williams because of the timeframes on their deals. 

Wilkerson is signed for the next five years, but this is the NFL so it's really a three-year deal that the Jets could move on from without taking much of a hit after all that guaranteed money is paid. Richardson still has one original year left on his contract plus the fifth-year option so he won't need a new deal until between the 2017 and 2018 seasons and Williams still has four years, including the fifth-year option, on his rookie deal. This means the Jets could be done paying Wilkerson all that guaranteed money before they have to give Williams a new deal and would only have one year where they'd have to pay both Wilkerson and Richardson big money, whether they hit Richardson with the franchise tag or gave him a new deal.

After the third year of Wilkerson's contract is up the Jets could keep him through the other two years, look to trade him or simply cut him and begin focusing that money on the younger Richardson and Williams. Wilkerson turns 27 in October, so he will be almost 30-years-old after the first three years of this contract is over.

It's also important to keep in mind that Maccagnan has done a great job of keeping future flexibility, in 2018 only Darrelle Revis ($10.893 million cap hit), Eric Decker ($9 million), Buster Skrine ($7.25 million), James Carpenter ($6.8 million), Marcus Gilchrist ($6.625 million) and Williams ($5.9 million) along with Wilkerson currently have a cap hit over five million and all of those players could be cut, except for Williams, with little-to-no penalty against the cap. 

This means Maccagnan could time the contracts of Wilkerson, Richardson and Williams in such a way that they could fairly easily keep all three together for the next three years then move on from Wilkerson and just focus on paying Richardson and Williams. This, of course, does not mean that that's what they will do, they could decide it's more important to use that money elsewhere but if they want to keep these three together it's a much easier task than many people are making it out to be.

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Chris Nimbley is the editor-in-chief of JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@cnimbley), or via email (cnimbley@gmail.com)


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