Jets' course could be dictated by outcome of Mo Wilkerson saga

Muhammad Wilkerson finished sixth in the NFL last season with 12 sacks, and he's only 26. Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

The New York Jets' master plan is to build methodically through the draft, but sometimes they act like they want it all now. They're teetering between two philosophical approaches -- too good to rebuild, but not good enough to make it Super Bowl-or-bust. Basically, they're stuck between a rock and a title chase.

It's a fascinating study in roster building.

A looming decision could shed light on the organizational path, and it involves their talented, unsigned defensive end -- Muhammad Wilkerson, he of the franchise tag and the trade rumors.

If the Jets trade Wilkerson for draft picks, it would show they're willing to take a step back this year to help the long-term health of the roster. If they package him to draft a quarterback, who probably wouldn't help right away, it would be a classic building-for-tomorrow move.

Teams that view themselves as contenders usually don't trade valuable assets, especially if the asset is only 26 years old. The Jets' most important players -- Brandon Marshall, Darrelle Revis, David Harris, Nick Mangold, et al. -- are older and aren't interested in building for tomorrow.

Thing is, the brain trust doesn't see a roster that is only one or two players away from making a championship run; it sees a roster rapidly approaching its expiration date -- or at least that's what it wants you to believe. That's why it's intrigued by the possibility of what Wilkerson could bring in a trade.

With a surplus of defensive ends, they could seek to parlay their best bargaining chip into, say, two eventual starters -- or perhaps two immediate starters. They'd also be able to shed Wilkerson's $15.7 million cap charge, creating flexibility in post-draft free agency.

But they'd also be dealing away a top-5 defensive lineman. It's a tough decision.

If they don't get a legitimate offer for Wilkerson, it's a moot point and they roll with him for at least another year, helping their chances in 2016. After leaning toward win-now for the last two months, you get the feeling they see a trade as a great equalizer, adding balance to the offseason.

Coming off a 10-win, almost-playoff season, the Jets want to remain as competitive as possible -- and that should be the objective. After raising hopes in Year 1 of the Todd Bowles-Mike Maccagnan regime, it would be unacceptable to downshift into a mini-rebuilding mode, especially in a demanding market like New York.

At the same time, they're trying to overhaul a roster that has become too old and too thin, the direct result of poor drafting by previous administrations. There are a number of ways to illustrate this point, but this factoid jumped out over the weekend: The New England Patriots have 38 players with a cap charge of at least $1 million, as noted by Patscap.com and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss. A quick check shows the Jets have only 27.

That is a huge difference, especially when you consider New England's 38 includes one of the greatest quarterbacks in history.

The Jets began the offseason hoping to get younger and build depth, yet we've seen a few examples where the win-now urge was the overriding factor in a roster decision. Of the five starters who are gone -- Antonio Cromartie, Demario Davis, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Damon Harrison and Chris Ivory -- four were replaced by players who will be at least 30 years old on opening day.

Matt Forte for Ivory. Steve McLendon for Harrison. Ryan Clady for Ferguson. Erin Henderson for Davis. They've yet to replace Cromartie, but that could be an in-house move. If the Jets had been drafting well in recent years, they'd have in-house alternatives at the other positions, too.

It's hard to get younger in free agency; that's a fact of life in the NFL. You can also see the team's logic behind each of the positional swaps. In most cases, money was the driving factor. We get it. But the plain truth is, the Jets have the oldest starting lineup in the AFC East -- 11 starters in the 30-and-up category, including unsigned quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Actions speak louder than words, and the Jets are acting like a franchise that wants to make one last run before the window closes. But the offseason isn't over. The narrative will change if they move Wilkerson.