This week has seen a break in the seemingly never ending Ryan Fitzpatrick news cycle, but a new one might have been born—the Muhammad Wilkerson contract news cycle. Wilkerson has been both holding out from OTAs while also recovering from a broken leg that he suffered in the final game of last season. The New York Jets have placed the franchise tag on Wilkerson for the 2016 season, but to this point have shown no desire to offer him a long-term deal.
The Jets defense is constructed in a way that should enable it to survive the loss of its best pass rusher. The team has continued to reinforce its ranks through the draft. In the years after drafting Wilkerson, the team also drafted Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams, both in the first round. Richardson was the AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 and is already on his way to becoming a feared lineman. Williams was considered by many to be a steal at pick #6 when he dropped into the Jets' laps at the 2015 draft and recorded 63 tackles in his rookie season, just one behind Wilkerson's 64.
The Jets also added more depth to the defensive line via free agency. The two major additions for this season are Steve McLendon and Jarvis Jenkins. McLendon will fill in as a run stuffer and replace Damon Harrison on rushing downs. Jenkins has more versatility to play all around the defensive line, which would allow the Jets to move around their Big Three to create mismatches. McLendon and Jenkins are both veterans who—while not the sexiest signings in terms of their career numbers—are solid performers and good role players to work behind Wilkerson, Richardson and Williams.
But pass rushing and tackles are not limited to defensive linemen. The Jets also have some talent at linebacker. While it's true they did lose two pass rushers in Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples, there is still young talent on the rise. Lorenzo Mauldin saw his playing time increase at the end of last season, and he earned four sacks in the season's second half. The Jets also used the 2016 draft to replenish the linebacking corps. With their first round pick, the team drafted Darron Lee from Ohio State. Then, in the third round, Mike Maccagnan drafted Jordan Jenkins from the University of Georgia. While it isn't yet known what role those two will play exactly, it's likely that the Jets will try to get them into the mix early on.
No single one of these players can equal what Wilkerson brings to the table, but with all of them together, the Jets are in a position to minimize the loss of a player of Wilkerson's caliber.null