FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Elite defensive linemen are like tickets to "Hamilton": They're hard to get, and the cost will make you swallow hard.
The Philadelphia Eagles did just that Monday, securing defensive tackle Fletcher Cox with a six-year extension for $103 million -- a mega-contract that sent tremors all the way up the New Jersey Turnpike to One Jets Drive. The Eagles identified Cox as a cornerstone player, and they paid him handsomely -- an understatement.
The monster deal, which includes a reported $63 million in guarantees, has a direct impact on Muhammad Wilkerson's long-term future with the New York Jets, meaning: He has no long-term future. If there was any doubt, the Cox contract clinches it.
The market just went up, and the Jets aren't likely to go up with it.
And that's too bad.
They've been stringing along Wilkerson for two years, reluctant to pay market value for their best defensive player, so there's no way they will take a leap into the stratosphere. They should've locked him up a year ago, when they could've signed him for a lot less.
Wilkerson believes he's a better player than Cox -- he's right -- and he won't accept a penny less than the Eagles' talented defensive tackle. Who can blame him? Cox recorded 22 sacks in his first four seasons, Wilkerson made 24.5 in his first four. They don't play exactly the same position, but it's close enough.
Cox gets a $26 million bonus for signing his name on the contract, the NFL Network reported. Wilkerson will have to play two seasons to make $34.5 million on the franchise tag times two.
You bet Wilkerson is upset, and now the question becomes: How long will he stay away? Forget this week's minicamp; there was never a chance he'd show for that. The real issue is training camp, which begins July 27. I believe there's a very good chance he won't report. By then, the league-imposed deadline for a new contract will have passed (July 15), so a camp no-show wouldn't be a leverage play for a long-term deal. But he could try to force the Jets to make a no-tag agreement for next year. It also would be a pride play, an anger play -- and maybe a way to force a trade if he gets really, really ticked off.
Chances are, Wilkerson will end up playing for the $15.7 million tender. That would bring his career cash earnings to $25.9 million -- still less than Cox's signing bonus. Next year, the team can tag him again (that would get real nasty) or let him walk as a free agent, receiving a third-round compensatory pick in 2018.
Or -- here's a novel concept -- sign him.
The Jets' reluctance to do that is hard to figure. Wilkerson is an excellent player, he's only 26 years old, he's homegrown, and he doesn't get in trouble off the field. You're supposed to build around players like that. Owner Woody Johnson showed last offseason that he's willing to spend money, so you'd love to hear his explanation on why he's hesitant to pay a still-in-his-prime player the Jets drafted and developed. They say they want to re-sign him, but the words sound hollow.
Imagine how they sound to Wilkerson.