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Jets' big-money choice: Sheldon Richardson or Mo Wilkerson?

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Welcome to our New York Jets mailbag, the training camp version. This week's question focuses on the future of Sheldon Richardson, their most enigmatic player.

@RichCimini: First of all, I think they're still open to trading Richardson. From what I hear, they'd like to bolster the cornerback position and he's obviously their best bargaining chip -- maybe their only chip.

But back to your question: Can the Jets afford to sign him to a contract extension? I sincerely doubt it. With their current defensive line situation, it makes no sense from a salary-cap standpoint to have three interior-type linemen on long-term deals. Heck, the coaches can't even figure out a way to get all three on the field at the same time, so why pay them all? They'd be better served allocating their resources to other positions.

Richardson says he'd like to remain with the Jets -- every pending free agent says that about his team -- but he also believes he's the best defensive lineman in the league, according to a quote in the New York Daily News. He's probably the only person on the planet with that opinion -- he's not even the best on his own team -- but, hey, it's OK to be confident. What he's really saying is he wants to be paid like a premier defensive lineman in the league, which almost certainly means he wants more money than Muhammad Wilkerson ($17.2 million per year).

And therein lies a potentially tricky decision for the Jets: If Richardson has a lights-out season, stays out of trouble and earns his way back in the team's long-term plans, it could force the Jets to make a choice: Richardson or Wilkerson? We know Leonard Williams, eligible for a new deal starting next year, isn't going anywhere.

Wilkerson's cap number next year is $20 million, a league high for defensive ends. Forget about the fact that he's signed through 2020; he'll be a goner if he repeats last season's lackluster performance. For $20 million, anything short of a Pro Bowl would be a disappointment. That's franchise-quarterback money. Frankly, they might have to restructure it if they want to keep him around, which would mean pushing money into the latter years of the deal.

They could use the franchise tag on Richardson, buying another year, but that would be an extremely pricey proposition. The current values for defensive tackle and defensive end are $13.3 million and $16.9 million, respectively -- and they'll be higher in 2018. I don't see the franchise tag as a realistic option.

So, yes, I think there's a good chance Richardson will be gone by 2018, perhaps sooner.