<
>

Muhammad Wilkerson to play out final year if deal not reached by season

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The clock is ticking on a potential contract extension for New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.

Wilkerson, who reported to training camp Wednesday despite being unhappy with his current contract, intends to play out the final season of his deal if an agreement isn't reached by the start of the regular season, according to sources.

It's not an unusual approach. Many players prefer to table negotiations during the season to avoid the distraction. This gives Wilkerson and the Jets about six weeks to hammer out a deal.

Wilkerson is due to make $6.97 million, the amount of his fifth-year option. He will be a free agent after the season, but the Jets have the franchise tag at their disposal. The projected amount is about $16 million.

The Jets have said they'd like to extend Wilkerson, one of the top young defensive linemen in the league, but there doesn't seem to be a great deal of urgency. Talks have picked up, but no agreement is imminent.

Wilkerson wasn't available to the media, but he said at last month's minicamp that he remains hopeful a long-term deal can be hammered out. That hasn't changed. He grew up in nearby Linden, New Jersey, and said he would like to play the rest of his career with the Jets.

At the same time, Wilkerson, who skipped the voluntary portion of the offseason program, indicated last month that he was "frustrated" because he expected a deal to be done. But he also added, "It's a business. These things take time."

Wilkerson, a first-round pick in 2011, is one of the Jets' best players. A four-year starter, he has 24 sacks and seven forced fumbles in his career. He has unusual value because he can play any position on the defensive line.

The landscape changed in April, when the Jets selected Leonard Williams with the sixth overall pick, giving them a surplus of talented defensive linemen. They also have Sheldon Richardson, who is signed through 2016.

It will be difficult, but not impossible to re-sign Wilkerson and Richardson, who cast some doubt on his long-term future by violating the league's substance abuse policy -- resulting in a four-game suspension.