FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- J.J. Watt's new contract extension with the Houston Texans is good news for Muhammad Wilkerson and other defensive linemen from the first round of the 2011 draft.
Watt set the top of the market, agreeing late Monday night to a six-year, $100 million extension that includes a $30.87 million guarantee at signing. By 2016, the guarantee will reach $51.876 million, making him the highest-paid defensive player in history.
The Texans locked up their cornerstone player. Now we'll see if the Jets will do the same for Wilkerson, who is under contract through 2015 after having his fifth-year option exercised by the team in May. The two sides have been talking, but saying nothing publicly. When asked last week if he'd like a new deal before the start of the season, Wilkerson replied, "If it happens, it happens" -- which kind of suggests it's within the realm of possibility.
The Jets have the leverage because they have Wilkerson for two years at $8.2 million, obviously well below his market value. They also have the franchise tag at their disposal, so they could have him through 2016.
The Texans were in the same boat with Watt. He and Wilkerson were part of the first draft under the new collective bargaining agreement, which dramatically lowered rookie salaries. All first-rounders are required to signing four-year contracts, with a fifth-year team option. The Texans opted to be proactive, taking care of the face of their franchise.
If Watt is the standard for the defensive-line market, averaging about $16 million per year, Wilkerson should come in somewhere around $13 million or $14 million a year. The Jets are sitting on $21 million in cap space, and it makes sense to utilize it. Wilkerson isn't a flash-in-the-pan kind of player; he's arguably the best player on the team. To paraphrase the old marketing slogan for Fram oil filters, they can pay him now or pay him later. Later probably will cost more money.