Catching up with the New York Jets:
1. Waiting game: Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson may not get that contract extension, after all. Like all first-round picks in the 2011 draft class, he could get burned by the fifth-year option in his contract.
Wilkerson signed a four-year contract, plus an option. It was widely assumed that Wilkerson and the other stars from that class would sign new, long-term deals after the third season, but an article by Jason Cole on National Football Post explains why that's not likely to happen. Turns out those fifth-year option salaries (based on a formula) aren't projected to be as big as anticipated, so it makes dollars and sense for teams to simply pay the option year instead of renegotiating a new contract. Teams have until May 3 to exercise the option.
In Wilkerson's case, the option is worth about $5.25 million. It could increase to about $6 million, but even that would be a bargain for the Jets. He's due to make $1.2 million in 2014, which means the Jets could have Wilkerson's rights for two years at about $7.2 million if they exercise the option. Let's stretch it further. They could hit him with a franchise tag of, say, $12 million in 2016, meaning they'd have him for three years at $19.2 million -- once again, a bargain for a player of his caliber. The NFP article, which surveyed 10 general managers and cap specialists, said they expect almost every first rounder in 2011 to be tendered for the fifth year rather than receive a long-term extension this year.
It stinks for Wilkerson and the others, but they're getting jobbed by a pro-management collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect for the 2011 draft. Yeah, the Jets still could do a long-term deal this year with Wilkerson, but because they hold the leverage, they'd demand a team-friendly deal. He could hold out, but the language in the CBA makes it difficult. Wilkerson, drafted 30th overall, would've been better off getting picked in the second round. Those players received straight, four-year contracts.
2. A new summer home?: It sure sounds like the Jets are ready to leave SUNY-Cortland, where they've held four of the last five training camps.
On Friday, the Jets said on their website they will explore other venues, as permitted in their contract with the school. They didn't rule out the possibility of returning to Cortland. In fact, there's a quote from general manager John Idzik, saying how much they've enjoyed Cortland. Basically, it's an option year, which was widely reported last summer. At the time, school officials thought their chances of hosting the 2014 camp would be greater if Rex Ryan remained the coach. Ryan was the driving force behind the decision to go to Cortland in '09.
Well, Ryan is sticking around, but the Jets actually started exploring their options as far back as September, according to sources. That tells me they're serious about going somewhere else or maybe staying home in Florham Park, N.J. The Jets conducted internal meetings Sept. 16 to discuss alternate sites, sources said. In fact, they were in contact with SUNY-Stony Brook, which had expressed interest in hosting camp. The Jets dispatched a staffer to check out the facilities. As it turned out, the school withdrew because it couldn't collect on short notice the amount of data required by the Jets. It still remains interested in hosting the annual Green & White scrimmage.
It'll be a sad day at Doug's Fish Fry in Cortland if the Jets go camping elsewhere.
3. The case for Sheldon: On Super Bowl eve, the major post-season awards will be announced, including NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. The top candidates are thought to be defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso. I have one of the 50 votes and, for the record, I voted for Richardson. He didn't have a gaudy sack total (3.5), but he impacted the defense. Example: The Jets allowed the fewest yards per rush (3.4) between the tackles, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Richardson was a big reason why. My gut tells me that Alonso will win the award. They're both deserving.
4. Like Mike: I'm sure Ryan is proud that Mike Pettine, a former protege, is the new coach of the Cleveland Browns. I'm also sure that Ryan is flabbergasted (and ticked off) that his twin brother, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, can't get a sniff of a head-coaching job. Rob has a better coaching resume than Pettine, but we all know there's more to it than that. Ryan believes his brother would be more marketable if he cut his flowing mane of gray hair.
"I can't explain it. Is it the hair? I don't know," Rex told the New York Post. "I'm trying to get him to get a haircut. Hopefully, this is one of the things that motivate him to do so."
5. Pepper shaker: New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick got all mushy and gushy in a statement about longtime linebackers coach Pepper Johnson, who announced he's leaving the team after 14 years. "Pepper made me a better coach and person and helped create some of the greatest moments of my career," said Belichick, who spent 24 years with Johnson in player/coach and coach/coach relationships. "He is a great player, coach and lifelong friend."
Johnson had that effect on coaches. I remember a game in 1997, when Johnson was playing for the Jets and suffered a season-ending leg injury. Bill Parcells became emotional in his postgame news conference as he described Johnson writhing in pain in the trainer's room. Johnson meant so much to Parcells that, as we later found out, he delivered his postgame address to the team in the trainer's room, cramming all the players and coaches in there just so Pepper -- unable to walk -- could be part of it. Every team needs a Pepper Johnson.